Award-winning actress and writer Julianne Moore’s latest children’s book is inspired by her late Scottish mother. The Hollywood star tells HANNAH STEPHENSON about her enduring grief and why family always comes first
Julianne Moore, star of stage and screen, mother of two and successful children’s writer, remains the most unaffected of actresses despite her illustrious career.
There’s no hint of a diva or huge vanity behind that petite frame. She’s never had cosmetic surgery - and with her beautiful, almost ethereal, looks, nor does she need it - but is happy to live with the few fine lines she has.
“I don’t judge people for doing it. If it makes them feel better about themselves then great, but I like seeing me with a natural face,” she says.
Looks aside, the career of the four-time Oscar nominee, whose films include Hannibal, Far From Heaven and What Maisie Knew, is still on the rise. She’s starring as a religious fanatic mother in the forthcoming remake of Stephen King’s Carrie, in comedy Don Jon and family fantasy adventure Seventh Son, all due for release in the coming months.
But today we’re discussing her latest children’s book - My Mom Is A Foreigner, But Not To Me - inspired by her Scottish mother Anne Love Smith, a psychologist and social worker who died suddenly in 2009 following an embolism.
She was a month from retirement and Moore was on a plane to see her at the time, so never got to say goodbye.
“It never goes away. It’s the greatest loss of my life,” says the actress. She was my role model, the one who told me I could do anything I wanted to do. She was only 20 years older than I was, so I had an expectation that we’d be old ladies together. You don’t cope. People have this idea that grief is something you get over, but I don’t think you ever get over that kind of a loss. It’s simply folded into your life and becomes an unfortunate reality.”
Her picture book pays homage to all mothers who come from different countries, celebrating the diverse world we live in.
“My mother came here [to the US] from Scotland when she was 10 years old. It’s a challenging thing. In the United States we talk so much about assimilation, that we’re all multicultural and we all assimilate, but that was not my experience growing up. My experience was that my mother was very Scottish. She was only 20 when I was born and she hadn’t changed or become ‘Americanised’. When I was growing up, she’d say, ‘Remember you are not American’.”
The tales in the book are reflective of the experiences Moore had as a youngster, having a ‘foreign’ mum. “People would say, ‘Why does your mom talk so funny?’ I knew that she was different. She’d always braid my hair, we’d eat different kinds of food. Even something as simple as a mince pie, which we’d have at Christmas, other Americans didn’t have.”
The actress, who’s lived in New York for 30 years, is no stranger to a feeling of displacement. She had a peripatetic childhood, born at an army base in North Carolina, the daughter of a paratrooper and later a military judge. The family moved to 23 different locations, with Moore attending nine different schools.
“I found it difficult moving around,” she admits. “I mean, you are who you are, and your upbringing shapes you and I’m happy with my life and the way things turned out. It made me more interested in the world and gave me a tremendous education.”
Books helped the young Julianne find security. She could take them with her and immerse herself in stories wherever she was.
“They were my way of understanding, learning about things, they were a constant companion and a friend. In literature you learn that you’re not alone.”
She wasn’t a confident child, she’s admitted. “I didn’t mind my [red] hair, but I just hated my freckles. You wanted to have skin like everybody else’s, not pale and freckly. I didn’t like not being able to go to the beach and get a tan.”
It’s this which inspired her successful children’s book series, Freckleface Strawberry, all now New York Times bestsellers, with a message that children can overcome hurdles.
Moore studied drama at Boston University, working as a waitress in the early days to support her acting. Her extensive career in theatre, TV and films is testament to the hard work she’s put in, although family always comes first. She’s managed to juggle home life - she’s married to director Bart Freundlich with whom she has two children, Caleb, 15, and Liv, 11 - with a hectic career, which she modestly puts down to good luck.
“I’m so fortunate that I work in a creative field where I’m allowed a tremendous amount of flexibility. That’s what every parent wants. The fact that I have periods when I’m very busy, and then I’m completely off, has been tremendous. And, unlike a lot of businesses, I brought my kids with me, especially when they were infants. In my job, having a baby in your trailer wasn’t a big deal. The entertainment business is very kind to working women.”
To her children, she’s just their mother, not some movie superstar. “Believe me, I’m as dull as they get, mom-wise,” she insists. “Their dad’s the entertaining one. I’m the one who does all the mundane stuff. I just want them to see me as their mom.”
The kids don’t generally go to her premieres, although she proudly recalls her son being her date for the opening of 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. “It was amazing to have him walk the red carpet with me, and people were asking him questions in my interviews. He was a great date, so conscientious, never left my side.”
Moore claimed British citizenship in honour of her mother in 2011. The dual nationality’s made her feel closer to her.
“She became a US citizen when she was 27, when my father was applying for a job where you couldn’t have a foreign national as a spouse. She came home crying because they’d made her renounce her British citizenship. That was hard for her because it wasn’t her choice.”
The last time Moore visited Scotland was with her mother, to see elderly relatives: “We went to Greenock and Edinburgh and just hung around. It was pretty amazing. I’d like to bring my children to Scotland one day.”
For now, home is Greenwich Village: “I don’t think we’re going anywhere. My kids have always been in New York, my husband was born and raised here. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life.”
As for her career, she’ll do the best work she can, but family remains priority: “As you get older, the faster you go, the faster you get to the end. I’m not interested in moving quickly or going anywhere,” she says. “It’s not about hopping from goal to goal, but it’s the process of doing what you enjoy and not wishing your life away.”
My Mom Is A Foreigner, But Not To Me by Julianne Moore is published by Chronicle Books, priced £10.99, and is available now.