Skip to main content

Julianne Moore, who is in the third installment of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, opening Nov. 21, and is also in David Cronenberg's new film, "Maps to the Stars," in New York, Aug. 26, 2014.JAKE CHESSUM/The New York Times

Does getting an Academy Award nomination (her fifth) for the drama Still Alice mean anything to Julianne Moore? "Hell yeah!" she says, guffawing over the phone. "It would be disingenuous to say: 'I don't care.' Of course I care."

I've talked to Moore, who is 54, many times over the years, and her conversation is always like that: frank, and full of exclamations and guffaws. Oh, she has immediate access to darker emotions, too. On a film set, she's famous for being able to yuk it up until the moment a director calls "Action," and then slam into whatever heightened state is required. During her scenes in I'm Not There, as a Joan Baez-like singer who's clearly furious but thinks she sounds calm, she had director Todd Haynes laughing so hard he had to leave the room. When she won the best actress Golden Globe last Sunday, her acceptance speech began with giggles and seamlessly ended in tears, as she recalled her late mother telling her that a happy person is someone who has work and love. But Moore's default mood is gleeful. She wants to be happy, and she wants to revel in it when she is.

"Oh my god, yeah," Moore agrees. "I don't think anybody needs to feel tortured [to make art]. I believe in finding work that the actual doing of makes you feel good and keeps you interested. I believe in having people in your life that you love, and continuing to explore those relationships. There really is nowhere that you're going – that's the thing you learn as an adult. If you keep moving forward really fast, you're just going to get to the end, and nobody wants to do that." (She burst into giggles at the word "end," and laughed for the rest of that sentence.)

The cliché about Moore's career is that she plays emotionally troubled women, and she's certainly given us a few, including her Oscar-nominated turns in The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours. But she prefers the term "emotionally adventurous."

She's also done thrillers (Hannibal, Carrie), action-adventure (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), comedies (Don Jon, Crazy, Stupid, Love), art house (Chloe, Blindness, The Kids Are All Right), cult favourites (Boogie Nights, Children of Men, The Big Lebowski) and television (she played evil twins on As the World Turns, and won an Emmy for channelling Sarah Palin in Game Change).

Last year alone, Moore played a desperate actress in David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars (and won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival); a revolutionary leader in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Part 2 is due this year); and a woman coping with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice, which opens today in select cities.

She "went after" that Hunger Games role, she tells me: "I picked up one of my daughter's books and thought, 'This is fantastic,' really interesting and politically relevant. I called my manager and said, 'Who's playing President Coin, I want that part.'" So, check, she has the work.

As for the love, Moore has been with the director Bart Freundlich since 1996 (they wed at home in 2003), and they have two children, Caleb, 17, and Liv, 12. Liv, who's already Moore's size, calls her "Little Mommy," Moore says proudly, and Caleb's a varsity basketball player; the morning after the Golden Globes, Moore and Freundlich got on a plane after three hours' sleep to make it home to Manhattan for one of Cal's games (his team won by two points). Her friends include actors (Hope Davis, Ellen Barkin and Sarah Jessica Parker are her neighbours in Greenwich Village), chefs (Wylie Dufresne catered her wedding lunch), artists (Roderick Wolgamott built a stunning playhouse made of bent wood for her garden). She loves yoga and travelling, and though a few years ago she went to Oslo to co-host the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, she still claims with a straight face: "I don't do anything terribly original. I think I do all the kinds of things that working mothers do."

Moore and Freundlich have a running gag about how she's one Juli at home and another to the world. "Because I'm so not fancy, my husband will say to me: 'Why don't I ever get red-carpet Juli? Why do I get the one in sweatpants?'" Moore says, laughing again. "He gets Regular Juli. He knows the rest is all for show."

At this point in our call, Moore has audibly gotten out of a car, climbed the stairs to her brownstone, and is now standing on her stoop, city noises swirling around her. "I forgot my keys, because I keep changing purses," she says. "I'm hoping someone's home. But let's keep talking."

The irony that she forgot her keys during an interview pegged to an Alzheimer's movie is not lost on her. Because Moore has no personal experience with the disease, and she "didn't want to represent anything I hadn't seen or had explained to me," she threw herself into four months of research. The head of the U.S. national Alzheimer's Association set up three Skype calls with women who, like her character Alice, had been diagnosed with early onset. A neuropsychiatrist at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital administered the standard cognitive tests to her, and she met with various support groups at the New York Alzheimer's Association, visited a long-term care facility to talk with caregivers and families, and "watched every doc I could get my hands on," she says.

"I felt a tremendous responsibility to learn as much as I could, to get it right. I was most touched by how marginalized the women I spoke to felt. They'd lost their jobs, and the identity that comes with them, and they'd experienced so much loneliness, because some friends suddenly disappeared. So it was important to me that they felt they were seen."

In addition, the co-writer/directors of Still Alice, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (who are married), were going through a life change similar to Alice's: Glatzer has ALS. By the time they shot in March, 2014, Glatzer could no longer speak, and had almost no function in his upper body; he directed by typing with a few fingers on an iPad. "But he and Wash were on set every single day," Moore says. "It was extraordinary to watch them, and inspiring."

It's not as if making Still Alice suddenly convinced Moore to pay attention to fleeting moments. She'd long done that, and the death of her beloved mother in 2009 reinforced it. (Moore's mother went to school later in life and became a social worker; her father was a military judge, and during Moore's childhood, the family lived in two dozen towns in Europe and the United States) Moore's happiness is no accident. "You have to really think about, 'How do I want to live my life, what do I value, who do I love?'" she says. "You can't let things disappear."

At this point in the call, Moore makes it inside. She's home. And this point in her life, she says, is "less about planning goals, and more about experiencing things. I want to try stuff I haven't tried, think laterally. You have to take every day as it comes and enjoy whatever's happening. Because you never know anything."