“Compared to Carrie, I must say, my childhood was pretty benign,” says Julianne Moore, unsurprisingly, while talking about her upcoming role in the remake of the iconic horror film. But the 52-year-old’s childhood was far from the traditional American stereotype, full of white picket fences, home-baked cookies and cheerleader pom-poms.
The four-time Oscar nominee was born in North Carolina but spent much of her childhood touring the United States, her family following her father, a US Army judge, from one military posting to another. She’d settle into a school in Alabama and then have to up sticks and move to Virginia, Georgia, Nebraska, Texas or even as far afield as Panama and Alaska.
The isolation and loneliness she felt as a child as a result of this transient lifestyle gave her an invaluable well of emotion to draw upon while filming Stephen King’s terrifying tale of high-school bullying. “It gave me sympathy for the idea of isolation and what it is to be a new person in the room, where everyone else has some amount of familiarity and comfort,” says Moore. “The other kids know each other and they know the school. It is hard to be new. The effects of social isolation can be tremendously dangerous.”
This is a central motif in Stephen King’s debut novel, Carrie, which tells of a girl who’s bullied at school to such a degree that she unleashes her telekinetic powers, with horrifying results. King based his 1974 horror upon two girls from the town in which he grew up; both were outsiders, and both died young.
Director Brian De Palma adapted King’s novel in 1976, with Sissy Spacek starring as Carrie White and Piper Laurie playing her mother in what became a seminal ‘70s horror movie. “I queued around the block to watch that film when it opened,” recalls Moore. “The kids that were coming out of the earlier showing were all ashen-faced!”
“And if anything,” Moore continues, “the story and its themes are even more relevant now than when King wrote it. Bullying is in the news every week.” Indeed, the film (in cinemas from today Friday 29 November) has been updated to reflect the online abuse epidemic: the famous shower-room scene that opens De Palma’s film is expanded, Carrie’s classmates filming their hapless victim on their smartphones. One of them then posts the video clip on the internet.
As a mother of two, does Moore, who earned Academy Award nominations for Boogie Nights (Monday Sky Select), The End of the Affair, Far from Heaven and The Hours (Wednesday Sky Drama/ Romance), believe today’s high school is a more forbidding environment than when she was a child? “My son is in high school right now and extreme bullying is not his experience. I think that it’s the same. Read literature – history repeats itself.”
As an example she cites an American high-school phenomenon called “slam books”, which she says are banned in many US educational establishments. “Slam books were around when I was in junior high where people would take a notebook and they would write the name of a person on it and then you would pass it around and people would write their comments anonymously. “People would write the cruellest, meanest things. Nowadays you see something similar with anonymous comments on the internet. I think it’s reprehensible.” Was she hurt by the slam book experience at school? “No. I’m sure they wrote about me, but that was 150 years ago now!”
As well as a successful actress, Moore is also a children’s author. Her first book, Freckleface Strawberry, was published in 2007 and became a New York Times bestseller. It is a semi- autobiographical story, with the be-freckled Moore using the name with which she was teased at school.
Moore is married to film director Bart Freundlich – the couple worked together on the films The Myth of Fingerprints (1996), World Traveler (2001) and Trust the Man (2006) – and they have a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. “I don’t think either of us takes the relationship for granted,” she says of her marriage, “and we certainly don’t take our children for granted. I think that’s something, the miracle of happy, healthy children, and we’re in that together.
“The one thing you want for your own children is that they feel as though they can tell you anything,” she adds, “just because it is that sense of isolation that is most damaging. As long as they feel they can come home and talk to a parent or a friend then that’s OK. My daughter tells me everything right now, but she is only 11!
“In parenting terms, I think the most important thing is that you have rules in your family and that the children know what the rules are. There is safety in that, too. Children are not adults and they shouldn’t be treated as adults. They need protecting and that is what rules are for.”