Julianne Moore for “Far from Heaven”

When Oscar time rolls around, one name is bound to feature prominently: Julianne Moore. Already a Best Actress recipient from this year’s Venice Film Festival for her remarkable performance in Far from Heaven, the new mother is getting people talking, including Paul Fischer who spoke to her in Los Angeles.

Julianne Moore, looking a radiant 41, is at the pinnacle of her career. Once the queen of independent American cinema, Moore divides her time between the height of mainstream [Hannibal, Evolution] to the more anarchic world of independence that began when she worked with up-and-coming director Todd Haynes in 1995. That was her 15th film by then, but the beginning of a noticeable career. Seven years and some 24 films later, Moore has come full circle, re-teaming with Haynes for what is arguably the pair’s most arresting work, Far from Heaven. “Nothing has changed,” muses Moore in a Beverly Hills hotel room, as she reflects on the differences between their first and latest collaboration. “That was what was kind of great about it, in that our relationship is the same and we work very much the same way, except that we probably have a little more confidence. I know I have more confidence in myself than I did when I did Safe because it was very early in my career, and he’s got, even more technical aptitudes, so I love working with him. He knows everything.”

Far from Heaven is stark contrast to Haynes’ early work. A bold tribute to fifties melodramas such as All that Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life, Far from Heaven recreates an artificial, Hollywood fifties. Set in the tranquil autumn of 1957, The Whitakers make their home in Hartford, Connecticut. Their daily existences are characterized by carefully-observed family etiquette, social events and an overall desire to keep up with the Joneses. Cathy Whitaker (Moore) is the homemaker, wife and mother. Frank (Dennis Quaid) is the breadwinner, husband and father. They have two pre-teen children, a boy and a girl. As the story unfolds, Cathy’s pristine world is transformed. Her interactions with her gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert; her best friend, Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson); and her maid, Sybil (Viola Davis), reflect the upheavals in her life. Cathy is faced with choices that spur gossip within the community and change several lives forever. Though the film is set in the height of post-war American idealism, Moore makes it clear that Far From Heaven is hardly a traditional fifties-set film by any means. “I think it’s important that you realize we’re not making a movie about the Fifties but a movie that uses the style of films of the Fifties. So, in a sense, the Fifties could not have existed for us to make this film, only the films of the Fifties could. In a bubble you could take that because there’s almost no real reference to the Fifties themselves.”

The challenge, then, was to play a character not so much a product of a real decade, but someone borne of Hollywood’s take on that period at the time. “It was really fun, and as an actor to have that much shape to work with gives you a lot to hang your hat on in a sense because you have this kind of incredible visual style that Todd’s working with,” Moore explains. “It was fascinating to work on the specificality in terms of the actor and the way you move and the way you speak. At the same time you also have this duality that is completely filled with emotion. So for an actor to have that kind of challenge where you have style, artifice and emotion at the same time you kind of couldn’t ask for anything more. It gives you a sort of a design for everything. I really quite enjoyed it.”

The artifice was apparent but her character needed to be played with a certain emotional truth, and Moore found herself identifying with Cathy. “I admired and hope to emulate her basic decency which is one thing that I love so much about her as well as her tremendous kindness to people and her very kind of optimism. Todd has made a movie I think where the character is the traditional American optimist, the kind of person who believes that they can change the world and community and their life and everything then runs up against the wall and finds out that now the world is stronger. I think one of the things that I thought was extraordinary about this movie that he made and the character that we created is that she is very much a character of that time. Todd has made a movie that is not only about racial and sexual and cultural bias but also it’s also about gender politics in that you see the men are able to kind of go away and make different lives for themselves and the women want to stay. They are the ones who are the contrast in this house. I think one of the reasons this film speaks to people is that things have not changed so terribly much except with women, in that, we have more choices, and I think that their sexuality are not so difficult. But these issues are still hot button issues.”

Though there are so many fundamental differences between Cathy and actress, the latter found herself admiring her. “I liked her focus, and the fact that she believed in her life and believed in the possibility of her life. That was something that was important and successful and I think that she could have a husband and be a hostess and have children and be involved with her community and it is important to respect those things. Those are real things that are important and good. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with being somebody who works in your home. We don’t do that as much these days because it’s not economically feasible for the most part and one has other opportunities and choices. But that’s what Cathy’s presented with in her life and that’s what she wants to do well and I admire that about her that she made every effort to make it work.”

Moore also had to immerse herself in the world of Douglas Sirk, making Far from Heaven, who created these original Hollywood melodramas. “What’s interesting to me is that these movies are that they are such a commentary couched as melodramas. So, it’s remarkable that Douglas Sirk and Todd Haynes are able to talk about people who are disenfranchised or kind of outside of their community in some way or feeling the pressures of what it’s like to live in a town in the United States at that time or whatever. I mean, that’s what’s so exciting about these, but the content is actually so kind of rich and interesting and humane.”

Shooting Far From Heaven could have been made stressful due to her being pregnant at the time, but Julianne saw it more as a diversion. “Mostly, it was difficult for Sandy Powell, our costume designer. If she were here, she would complain loudly about the amount of work that had to be done. It was really a pain for them because I would change from week to week. But from my perspective, being pregnant is a fairly normal condition. [Producer] Christine Vachon was saying they were driving her nuts with “Oh, she’s gonna be tired, she’s gonna be this.’ It’s like, most women work when they’re pregnant, you know, so it’s not a big deal. was actually fine because being pregnant was so tedious, that it was nice to have something to keep your mind off it.”

As both mother and actress, Julianne, who has starred in some controversial films in her career, may need to rethink her choices, now that she is fully ensconced in motherhood. “You know what, there’s only been one time that something was offered to me that I turned down because I found the subject matter too difficult. It was about kids being hurt and I couldn’t deal with it. But there’s not a whole lot, really. It’s not like it’s because I have children, I’m only going to do family movies. Not that I wouldn’t. But I do think that – I’ve made some movies that have been really difficult I think, but I’ll be able to tell my children that I made them because they are about interesting and important things.” As for her returning to the world of Clarice Starling, she’ll be back if asked, she says unhesitatingly. “You betcha, of course I would.”

Unlike Cathy in Far from Heaven, Julianne is able to divide her time between family and career, and she says that she feels blessed to able to achieve such a delicate balancing act. “I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate about my family and my children. I have two really healthy wonderful children, and to have them be okay is just an extraordinary blessing. And then the fact that I had a relationship and house plus a career too. Now, I feel lucky all the time and I’m grateful for it.” Not that she remains unconcerned that any of those things could disappear. “Bart always says, ‘If there’s nothing to worry about, you’ll find something.’ I’ll be like, ‘I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m tense, and I’m worried.’ So, I can always find something to worry about, believe me. And I have to remind myself all the time that it’s okay and don’t get ahead of yourself and it’s true. Anything can go wrong at any moment. Right now, I feel really fortunate and I think that it’s important to acknowledge that things are going okay,” says Moore, half smilingly. Moore adds that as she was able to strike a harmonious balance between a personal and professional life, she has, in the process, become a better actress. “It’s been imperative to have a happy personal life. I really felt early in my career that I worked mostly on my work, and that was my biggest concern, that I wanted to have this career and stuff. Then I got to a point where I was saying to myself: This is not good. I’m not happy and I thought it can’t be about working all the time. I really actually feel that my pursuit of my personal life and having this family has made me a better actor. You just learn so much and you grow so much, it’s made me able to go further in my work actually, which I didn’t expect.”

Her growth as an actor is evidenced by the critical praise that has already been heaped on Moore since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. With Oscar buzz now on the horizon, the actress refuses to concern herself too much with awards and hype. She just wants her movie to be seen. “We were so thrilled by Venice and so very, very excited. It meant a lot to us because it’s a small and very specialized movie. It’s easy for a movie like this to slip through the cracks so, when we got those awards, we were kind of shocked and thought maybe there is an audience for this movie. That’s our biggest excitement, to just sort of feel like okay and it was nice to have that kind of trumpeting of the film. We came to Toronto with it and now in the states and so it just gives us hope that people are going to be excited and interested in it and I think, at the end of the day, that’s what everybody gets excited about with awards. It’s that it means that people will see the movie, because it’s gotten so pressurized in the film business. You either have these giant blockbusters with huge advertising campaigns behind them that people are going to see because they all want to see the next Spider-Man, or you have these little teeny movies. And people will only see the little teeny movies if they get attention from these prizes, so you just hope that people will see it.”