Julianne Moore: Suburbicon's 50s themes of intolerance and fear are all too relevant today
“These are difficult times. But in a way it’s an opportunity because it’s a chance to speak about it, to change our behaviour,” she says
Julianne Moore feels that it’s time to speak out: on racism, President Trump and the sexual abuse of women in her industry. “I think it takes awareness and vigilance and activism,” she says. “We have to keep moving forward and we have to keep talking about it.”
Moore isn’t one to keep quiet. She is one of the biggest Hollywood voices to have spoken out following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, tweeting that director James Toback, who was accused of sexual harassment by more than 30 women in an LA Times article, approached her in the 1980s and asked her – twice – to audition for him in his apartment.
“These are difficult times. But in a way it’s an opportunity because it’s a chance to speak about it, to change our behaviour,” she adds.
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In her new film, Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney and co-starring Matt Damon, she addresses another issue close to her heart, the racist underbelly of white-picket-fence American suburbia. It’s set in the 1950s and based around a real event in Levittown, Pennsylvania, where a black family were harassed and threatened by their white neighbours in an effort to force them out of town. As Moore points out, not much has changed in the intervening years.
“This film was written years ago and shot a year ago but it’s still so relevant. History repeats itself, unfortunately,” says Moore. “We shot this movie last fall and the riots in Charlottesville hadn’t happened yet. When they did, I couldn’t believe it.” In Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this year, Heather Heyer, a 32-year old legal assistant, was killed when a man drove a car into a group of anti-racism protesters. They had gathered to oppose a Unite the Right March, which attracted neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“A lot of this had to do with Trump’s issues on immigration. It was all about xenophobia and being an something that Trump has stirred up tremendously – that idea of ‘America for Americans’. He has ignited this horrific neo-Nazi nationalistic movement.
“Trump is in way over his head. He’s not the leader we need; he’s not the leader that the United States needs, that the world demands. Hopefully, people will wake up and there’ll be some change come the midterm elections.”
For Moore, the immigration issue is personal. Now 56, she is the eldest of three children born to Peter (a colonel and later a military judge) and Anne, who was from Greenock, Scotland. Moore has dual US and British citizenship.
“I’m a first-generation American. My mother came to the US when she was 10. She didn’t get her citizenship until she was 27. Her identity was always very Scottish and she imparted that onto us. There’s this idea that there are ‘100 percent Americans’. But we are all people who migrated from somewhere else, and that’s an important part of my identity.”
After studying theatre at Boston University, Moore moved to New York and worked as a waitress before getting a part in US daytime soap As the World Turns. In 1987, after three years on the show, she left to pursue opportunities in films. By the 90s, with roles in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Friday Sky Action) and The Big Lebowski, she had established herself as one of the best actresses in Hollywood.
She was Oscar-nominated for Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair and Far from Heaven, before she finally won the Academy Award in 2015 for her heartbreaking portrayal of a professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice.
She lives with her husband, Bart Freundlich, and their two children, Caleb (19) and Liv (15), in Greenwich Village, New York, and is as busy as ever. After Suburbicon (released in cinemas on Friday 24 November), she stars in Wonderstruck, which reunites her with her Far from Heaven director, Todd Haynes. She has also just finished filming Bel Canto, in which she plays an opera singer who is held hostage in South America.
“I’m lucky I have the opportunity to have both a career and a family,” she reflects. “I don’t take either one of them for granted. I never take my family for granted and I don’t take my work for granted. But my family always takes priority. It’s hard work sometimes, but that’s fine. “I know I’m lucky, especially getting to work with people like George Clooney. He’s funny, warm and observant.”
Clooney is another outspoken Trump critic, but does he ever get angry? “No. I’ve seen George when he’s worried and concerned. He has a very keen sense of morality and what is right and wrong, and how people should be treated. But I’ve never seen him yell at anybody.” You can’t imagine Moore yelling either, but her new film with Clooney roars.
“The fact that the story of Suburbicon is based on something that really happened is horrific, shocking and abhorrent. But retelling it on screen is a way of looking at our history and reminding ourselves that these things are never that far away, that it’s only with vigilance that we prevent them from happening again.”
Suburbicon is in UK cinemas from Friday 24th November