There are two reasons why, on this otherwise gloomy Manhattan day, Julianne Moore is invigorated: the first film she’s produced, After the Wedding, is hitting theaters this Friday; and the NRA—her sworn nemesis—is bordering on bankruptcy.
“Thank God,” she mutters of the cash-hemorrhaging gun-lobbying organization.
Moore, the Academy Award-winning star of too many memorable films to mention—Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, Far from Heaven and Children of Men among them—is promoting her new film, a gender-flipped reimagining of Susanne Bier’s 2006 Danish drama directed by Moore’s husband, Bart Freundlich. The film stars Moore and Michelle Williams as two resolute women—the former a multimillionaire businesswoman, the latter co-founder of an orphanage in India—brought together by a dark family secret.
Oh, and in addition to the movie-release news and the pathetic state of the NRA, Moore has finally seen one of the greatest GIFs in the history of GIFs: Antonio Banderas’ glorious, hand-kissing laptop reaction from their 1995 film Assassins.
When I show her the GIF on my phone, she shrieks with glee. “Do you think he’s happy or confused? Elated, perhaps! Oh, my computer! I love that. This is so great.” She laughs. “I played a computer expert in that movie and didn’t even know how to turn a computer on!”
One thing Moore is all too familiar with is the mass-shooting epidemic in America. She has been moonlighting as a gun-control crusader since 2015, when she partnered with the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook that left 26 people—including 20 small children—dead. Moore helped form the Everytown Creative Council, a group of 80 Hollywoodites tasked with recruiting gun-control activists. J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence and Spike Lee also count themselves as members.
When our conversation turns to the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 30 people dead, words fail her, and she becomes distraught.
One thing I’ve admired about you—in addition to your acting—is your activism. And you’ve done a lot of work on behalf of gun control, with Everytown. But this past weekend, with what happened in El Paso and Dayton, has been insane.
It’s devastating. One of the things we’re asking everybody to do is to call their senators and demand that they come back from recess so that they can have a vote on universal background checks and red flag laws. It’s urgent. This is a national emergency and a public health crisis. If people are feeling that there’s nothing that they can do, this is something that they can do. I think it’s Trump’s responsibility to tell Mitch McConnell to do it, and he should tell him publicly so that we know what’s going on. Every single country has the same issues with mental illness and video games, and those are NRA talking points.
The video game red herring is so ridiculous and I can’t even believe people are still bringing it up. I mean, just look at Japan. They play more video games than almost anyone and have very few gun deaths due to strict gun-control measures.
Exactly! Exactly. So, we all have access to the same kinds of entertainment and similar mental-health issues but the main difference is we have easy access to guns. But it’s shocking. And it’s important to think about these individuals. Every day 100 Americans lose their lives to gun violence.
You’ve been sounding the alarm on guns for a while. Was it after Newtown that you got involved?
It was Newtown. I actually wrote the forward to Shannon Watts’ book, Fight Like a Mother, and in it I tell the whole story of when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. My daughter was with me because she was already out of school for Christmas break, so I brought her to work. And I thought, OK, how am I going to keep the news from her all day long? I kept the radio off in the car, the TV off in the makeup room, and told the other actors not to tell her—because she was 10 or 11 years old at the time. I didn’t want to tell her until her father and brother got home, so that we could all talk about it as a family. So we got home and we’re all decorating the Christmas tree together, and she had a brand new cellphone—embarrassingly enough, she had a cellphone at that age, but it was monitored—and she looked up from it and said, “Mommy… did a bunch of little kids get shot today?”
And that’s when I realized that I was not being responsible as a parent or as a citizen—that I wasn’t keeping her safe by shielding her. The idea that you can keep something from your children is patently false, so I started speaking out. I did that for a couple of years and was getting enormous blowback on social media and in the media in general. I was really disgusted, and felt I wanted to help change the culture around this and have more actors and artists join me to speak out about gun violence in the U.S., so I went to Everytown and said I wanted to get a group of actors together to do this thing, so we formed this creative council. That was four years ago.
And the situation has only grown more dire.
But I’ll tell you, there’s a convention every year of volunteers for Moms Demand Action, and my daughter and I were just down there, and there were 2,000 volunteers—and those are 2,000 leaders of organizations across the United States. Moms Demand Action is the fastest-growing grassroots movement in the U.S. because there are so many people, primarily women, who are willing to talk to legislators and fight for gun reform.
Let’s discuss the film. After the Wedding gender-flipped two of the roles from Susanne Bier’s original. What do you think that lent the project?
It heightened the stakes. In the original film, there’s some information that people don’t know about—so there’s a revelation in that film. In this movie, people have made choices that have been really, really deliberate and thus have a lot of consequences, so it implicates the characters in a deeper way and heightens the stakes considerably. My husband didn’t want to do a straight adaptation of the film, and didn’t want to diminish Susanne’s accomplishment, so as he was working on it, he realized that this gender-flip allowed for a different interpretation, and a way to explore these dynamic lives of two really different female characters whose ideologies are so far apart. I loved how they’re so extremely judgmental of the choices the other has made, and as the movie progresses, you realize they become peers due to the circumstances they’re in.
You and Michelle Williams bring such different energies to your characters. How did you manage that sharp contrast in performance?
We didn’t talk about it. The disparity in the characters is evident in the script, and you don’t know what the energy’s going to be until you’re on the set. The great thing about having a scene partner as formidable as Michelle is you know she’s gonna bring it, so that’s exciting. And it’s also unusual to have two female characters who have an equal amount of weight in a story who are in a struggle for dominance. You never see that. If women are in some kind of power struggle it’s usually about a man, and their struggle here is about their own personal power with each other. Also, the boss I play who’s built an empire, sometimes the female boss is depicted as a non-well-rounded character—she’s paper thin, has never had a family, and it’s all “poor lady!” But here, we were able to play two women who were very self-built, had strong senses of identity, and are in an interesting clash of wills.
This film certainly passes the Bechdel test with flying colors but there does seem to be a frustrating dearth of films that do these days.
This is the first one I’ve done—well, and The Kids Are All Right. That’s another one. But there aren’t a lot, and you realize too that the last female road movie was what, Thelma & Louise? One of the things that’s happening right now with all these possibilities opening up as far as delivery systems for films—streaming, etc.—there’s a need for content everywhere, and these types of stories are developing. Plus, you have people like Reese Witherspoon producing, Laura Dern producing, this is the first film that I’ve produced, so you have women in the industry saying, well, I’ll find the material and develop it myself.
And yet the onus shouldn’t be entirely on women to produce projects like this with deep female characters. There are very powerful men in the industry that frankly should be doing more. An example would be Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s never worked with a female director.
I think everybody has to make a decision for themselves about the kind of life they want to have, career they want to have, and decisions that they make. You have to make the right choices for you and you can’t make those choices for anybody else.
Well, you’ve made some excellent choices. And 20 years ago—1999—was a big year for you. You had a bunch of movies come out that year including The End of the Affair, which earned you your first Best Actress Oscar nomination, and Magnolia, which has become something of a cult classic.
It’s funny, because someone mentioned that to me the other day and I was like, I don’t remember that! I don’t remember having five movies out in 1999! I don’t think I felt a shift in my career at that point; I think I felt a shift in my career in the early ‘90s, when I had Short Cuts, Safe, and Vanya on 42nd Street come out. Suddenly I went from having nobody know me at all to being a “film actress.” That was a big shift. And then my first Academy Award nomination for Boogie Nights, that was another big shift I felt. When that happened, I thought, did this actually happen?! That was weird! And after that happened, somebody told me, now you’ve crossed over into this other category. It was just nuts.
And you were in Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski and Magnolia in consecutive years. I mean, that is quite a run and those films have held up remarkably well.
I’ve been really fortunate with the filmmakers I’ve met and had an opportunity to work with. To have worked with Paul [Thomas Anderson] a couple of times, Robert Altman a couple of times, my husband four times, Todd Haynes four times—it’s always great to get repeat business! And to have worked on such magnificent films… I do not take it for granted!