As the resilient title character in Gloria Bell, Julianne Moore drives from one personal crisis to the next, in the front seat of her car, singing with indiscriminate joy to whatever is playing on her classic hits station.
For particularly avid fans of Moore, this may remind you of the first time you saw her in a movie.
That goes all the way back to 1992 and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, in which she had a small but typically vivid role as the real estate broker who thinks her best friend’s prospective nanny is a psycho and advises her not to make the hire. “Never let another woman occupy a power position in your home,” she warns at one point.
That pre-feminist line would probably be deleted today, but what you couldn’t erase is the impression made by Moore — the formidable redhead, alone her car, smoking a cigarette and wielding a mobile phone (the five-pound ’92 kind) while she multitasks in the front seat, giving us a quick sketch of a hard-driving career woman delivered with a soloist’s virtuosity.
“I’m genuinely touched that you even remembered,” Moore said laughing, speaking from home, where she was doing her own multitasking, feeding her dog and fielding questions on the phone.
“That role at the time was a very big deal to me. It was just a very big deal that I got that part. And I remember that [director Curtis Hanson] gave me a lot freedom in that space to just be really angry and to just really play.”
These days, acquiring plum roles has become easier for the sought-after Oscar-winner, who’s made more than 70 movies since, and who works as hard as the woman she played in Hand.
She was in Paris a few years ago on business when she met Chilean director Sebastian Lelio and told him how much she loved his movie 2013 Gloria, about a divorced woman on the cusp of 60, fighting the kind of invisibility that can afflict women that age. Lelio, in turn, talked about how much he loved Moore’s work, they talked about working together, and on that day, they conspired to remake Gloria for U.S. audiences — the film that became Gloria Bell.
She’s done remakes before — famously Gus Van Sant’s exacting duplicate of Psycho in 1998, but she cautions that this is a different undertaking.
“Psycho was really quite different. What Gus Van Sant was attempting — he really wanted to say, let’s recreate this, and let’s see what happens when we do that. What we did with Gloria is completely different. It’s reimagined, really. It’s been described as a shot-for-shot remake, but that’s just something some reporter said,” Moore cautioned.
Anyway, she’s right. Even moving the story from Santiago to sunny California has brightened it considerably, as has Moore’s interpretation of the title character.
Moore doubles down on Gloria’s optimism. The character’s (almost) unflagging good nature is infectious, and almost transgressive — a form of rebellion against the forces marginalizing her. She’s divorced, her adult children are pulling away, she has an unreliable new boyfriend (John Turturro) who’s probably full of beans and who is increasingly absent when he should be present.
“She’s someone who has such an incredible desire to be fully alive. She so insanely invested in all of her experiences, in loved ones, in trying new things,” said Moore, who has found that this role has stayed with her more than most.
“And I’ve taken some of that with me, you know? I find myself thinking, ‘What would Gloria do?’ ”
Gloria’s attitude, she notes, also runs agreeably against the tenor of the times. There are a couple of instances in the film when Gloria turns a conversation that’s about to become bitterly combative or political and steers it into different territory.
It reveals Gloria’s subtle intelligence, and also her conciliatory nature.
“It’s a tough time right now, in our country and in the world. I was talking about that with Sebastian, and he said a wonderful thing: The best kind of film is the kind that reminds you to live, to be inspired, to be engaged, I think we all could use a little bit of that.”
Moore has made her share and been recognized for it. She’s been nominated for Oscars five times, and won best actress for Still Alice.
“I’d like to say that I’m impervious to that stuff, but I’m really not,” she said, laughing. “It’s your peers, and they’re recognizing what you do, and that means something.”
It especially means something to Moore, who early in her career wondered whether she’d ever get a chance to work with top industry talent.
“I was working in soap operas and trying break into movies or Broadway, but I could not get those jobs. It just wasn’t happening. I and was like, OK, this is probably going to be my career, and then in the early ’90s, I made Vanya on 42nd Street and Safe and Short Cuts, and all of a sudden I’m this independent film actress with all of this credibility.”
It cemented a relationship with Todd Haynes that extended to Far from Heaven (netting her an Oscar nomination) and Wonderstruck, and it made a Moore an A-lister with access to Oscar-nominated roles in The Hours, Boogie Nights, and The End of the Affair. And, of course, she bedded down with the Dude in The Big Lebowski.
She’s at the top of her game and profession now, so much so that Julie Taymor pegged her to play Gloria Steinem in the director’s forthcoming biopic.
“From now on, I play only women named Gloria,” she quipped.
Moore, who’s fanatical about research, said she’s a bit ashamed to realize how much she didn’t know about Steinem and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I was a kid, a teenager at that time. You don’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on when you’re 15,” said the 58-year-old star. But beyond the particulars of the politics of the ERA, she came to be impressed by the persona and intellect of Steinem, which also runs counter to the tenor of the times, in its own way.