It was the first day of class for New York City public schools, and Julianne Moore came prepared. After making sure to eat a substantive breakfast, she headed to a small studio at the James Hotel in Soho, ready to talk about literacy.
It’s a cause she’s pursued in earnest recently, alongside an organization called Project Literacy, which launched a social media campaign last week. The effort highlights the potential effects of illiteracy, which correlate (although perhaps not causatively) with shorter life expectancy, gender inequity, malnutrition and poverty in general. Reading, Moore says, is often thought of as a personal pursuit, but the problem is: illiteracy is a social one.
It’s fitting that Moore, who is often typecast as a cerebral, confident character (Maude in “The Big Lebowski,” Julian in “Children of Men”), would be an evangelist for such a cause. She’s starred in a bevy of book adaptations, including “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “A Single Man,” “The Hunger Games,” and a forthcoming film based on a historical children’s novel, “Wonderstruck.” And her love of books, she says, is responsible for her interest in acting in the first place.
“More than anything else, I loved reading,” Moore told The Huffington Post. “It was my constant companion. We moved around a lot, and that was one thing I could always count on. Once I started acting, I realized that I was seeking the same sensation I had when I was inside a book. When you read, you enter into a story, and you feel like the story is around you. And that’s how I feel when I’m acting.”
It’s important to have a sense of individuality and a sense of community at the same time, and I feel like that’s inherent in reading.
Moore says her passion for reading has influenced her specific approach to acting. When deciding which roles to pursue, she’s most interested in a film’s storyline, rather than her character’s personality as it exists in a void. Moore said, “I think it’s why when people say, ‘What character do you want to play?’ I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t think in terms of character, I think in terms of story. What narrative would I like to be in the middle of? What’s happening in this narrative? What engages me?”
One recent part that caught her attention was that of a German academic, opposite Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig in “Maggie’s Plan.” Moore showed her range as an actress in the film; her character was brainy and humorless, but caught up in a whirlwind, screwball story. Moore’s interest in the power of language comes through as she talks about the role.
“What’s interesting about that movie is, we were working on a scene, and what I love about it was that we were having an intellectual argument and a marital argument at the same time. And so it’s all in this academic language that can be potentially obfuscating. And academics do that deliberately,” she said. “That was what was kind of fun, playing with all of those ideas in their so-called work, and also setting up the argument [with Ethan Hawke’s character, John], which is, ‘you’re too practical,’ and ‘you’re a dreamer,’ which basically means, ‘get a job.’”
Moore’s devotion to literature goes beyond playing bookish characters, or characters in book adaptations. She’s a published author herself, and has written nine children’s books, including Freckleface Strawberry, the story of a young girl who learns to embrace her differences. Moore takes pride in the fact that her book is instructive; “It’s important to have a sense of individuality and a sense of community at the same time, and I feel like that’s inherent in reading,” she says.
One of her upcoming films, “Wonderstruck,” is based on a kids book, too, by the same author who penned the imaginative book-turned-film The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It’s set in both the ‘20s and ‘70s in New York City, and Moore will play a handful of characters, but the details, she says, are a surprise.
In spite of her schedule ― now that “Wonderstruck” has wrapped, she’s at work on a crime mystery and a spy comedy, both out in 2017 ― she makes time to read, too. Although, she hasn’t caught Ferrante Fever just yet. “I’m like, is there something wrong with me?” she joked of Elena Ferrante’s popular Neapolitan novels. “I couldn’t get into it. I wanted more of the female friendship.”
One book she does appreciate, however, is Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s story A Wrinkle in Time, which, she says, is due for a proper film adaptation. “I feel like there’s never been a really good production of A Wrinkle in Time,” Moore said. “I mean, I know they tried. I think they can do better than that. I know it!” (Ava DuVernay has recently signed on to direct a Disney adaptation of the novel.)
Here’s hoping that Moore, with her passion for storytelling and her subtle, affecting approach to acting, helps to make that happen.