For the last two decades, Julianne Moore has been a powerful presence in indie films, bringing a cool rationality and a fiery passion — sometimes in the same film — to a range of unusual roles in stories that don’t adhere to Hollywood paradigms. Her latest is Chloe, an adaptation of the French film Nathalie… by Canadian director Atom Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. In this erotic psychological thriller, Moore plays a Toronto doctor who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is having an affair, and so she hires a call girl (Amanda Seyfriend) to test his loyalty. The results are not what anyone expected.
Recently, Moore sat down to talk with MaryAnn Johanson about working with Atom Egoyan, why she considers Amanda Seyfried a peer, the challenges facing actors seeking challenging roles, and more.
MARYANN JOHANSON: What made you go for this director, this role, this film?
JULIANNE MOORE: Atom is somebody whose work I’ve admired for years. We both started in independent film in the early 90s, so I was very aware of him and his work. And I went up to him at the Toronto Film Festival, and told him I loved his work and he said the same thing about me, and we hoped that someday we would find something. That was years ago. And then this literally landed on my desk. I was delighted to get an opportunity to work with him.
It’s a very difficult story and in the wrong hands could be horrible and prurient. But I knew that because it was Erin and Atom it wasn’t going to be. Atom particularly is very interested in exploring the nuances of behavior. I said to him that I wanted to make sure that we played it so truthfully, so close, so that every step that Catherine takes seems to be a logical one. Because what she of course is seemingly illogical, it’s somewhat theatrical in a sense. I wanted to keep it so that everything she does leads to its inevitable conclusion, and Atom is always interested in that. Which was really reassuring.
You don’t see any depictions of middle-aged marriage on the screen. So many movies are about, “Oh I wish could get married!” “I wanna meet a guy and then we’ll get married!” And the she does, and they get married, and it’s the end! And most of us know that marriage is anything but that, that’s the very beginning of something, and it ends up taking up a major piece of real estate in your life. Marriage is a big, big deal, and sometimes it’s many years, and sometimes it’s wonderful or treacherous or has its ups and downs. Whatever it is, it’s certainly compelling. This was a story about where you are when you’ve been with somebody for 20 years, and you never get to see that. And then feeling within it also that you’re in the middle of your life, and disenfranchised from the person who’s supposed to be your life partner, and the relationship has somehow become adversarial, and you don’t know how that happened. It’s about being in the middle of your life, which I thought was really different.
JOHANSON: How did you and Amanda Seyfried communicate when it came to talking about the sex scenes?
MOORE: Amanda is incredibly professional. She’s been working since she was like 12 years old, so she’s not a novice to film. She’s definitely very prepared, she was very present, very receptive, and incredibly easy to work with. We had a lot of scenes together all through the film, and we spent a lot of time together before we had to do any of the sexual scenes. So we knew each other really well by that point, and it was choreographed — Atom was really careful about it. So we felt sure of what we were doing. The most important thing is to know exactly what you’re doing.
JOHANSON: Was your relationship one of friends, or mother-daughter–?
MOORE: Peers. People have asked about this a lot throughout my career: “Who’s your mentor?” or “Did you mentor her?” I think one of the interesting things about what we do for a living as actors is that, because of the way we work, somebody’s who’s 17 years old could have more experience than somebody who’s 35, depending on how long they’ve been in the business. So the older person is not necessarily going to be the expert. I’ve had leading men who were 77, I’ve worked with boys who were 5. I’ve worked with people in all different age groups. With children it’s obviously a whole separate thing, but you do work in our business with peer-based relationships with people of all ages and levels of experience. And that’s kind of interesting. In very few businesses do you get that opportunity.
JOHANSON: Do you ever feel frustrated as a creative person because roles for women are so limited? Are there roles you’d like to do that you aren’t being offered?
MOORE: No. I don’t. I don’t like that whole conversation: “Women have it so hard getting good roles in the business.” I think everyone has a hard time getting good roles in the business. I think they’re hard to come by in any age range and for any gender. But I do think that they’re out there, and I do think you can find them. I felt really great about A Single Man, that was a great part, I feel really good about The Kids Are All Right [which will open later this year]. And Blindness, which I did not long ago. I feel pretty fortunate.