Julianne Moore discusses her new film What Maisie Knew
What Maisie Knew is a contemporary New York City re-visioning of the Henry James novella by the same name. It revolves around unwitting 7-year-old Maisie, caught in the middle of a custody battle between her mother Susanna, (Julianne Moore) an aging rock star, and her father, Beale, (Steve Coogan) a major art dealer. Here, I spoke with Julianne Moore who discusses playing the role of an aging rock star, the dynamics of working with a great director, and much more.
In this movie you play an aging rock star. Are you a musician as well as an actor?
I never played a rock star before but I thought the story was really interesting. That was me singing, but I have no musical background other than three chords on the guitar. I do not play the piano so you could tell that was above me. I actually did learn something on the piano so I could look like I was actually playing it. We had a great musical supervisor. He was so encouraging and so helpful. He really was there for me.
Did you channel a bit of Courtney love during the years with her band Hole?
Yes, I watched that VH-1 special on Courtney Love and Hole with that volatility and angry type of energy that they had and Allison Mosshart from the Kills. She and I emailed a lot and she actually let me use their songs in the movie. It was so nice for her to let us use them. She was incredibly kind, kinder than she needed to be. I also love Patti Smith and I listened to her.
What did you think of your character as a mother and what’s it like when your co star is so young?
She is such a terrible mother. All of my instincts as a parent helped me with the actress who is playing my daughter in the film. I told Onata Aprile, the actress who plays my daughter Maise, “look I am going to yell at you, don’t be scared. I am going to slam the door and maybe in this scene today I am going to cry so she knew it was pretend”…Other days I would say, “is it ok if I tickle you?” and just go over what we were going to shoot. As a parent I took extra care to not scare her. I do not believe you should scare a child or trick a child or put them in a place where they feel at all in danger.
She was pretty obsessed with her career and she was in a terrible marriage.
The story is about this person who is not able to be a parent, she’s not able to raise this child. She has no real way of communicating with anyone except through her music. That is the only real relationship she has, which is with music. You see her singing to her daughter Maisie at recording sessions. You see her talking to her daughter about doing a duet. Those are her only devices. That’s no way to be a parent. It’s saying if you can be with me and music then we can have a relationship.
So your assessment of this mother is what?
It’s hard to pass judgment on whether a mother loves her child or not, but in the end she does love her child though she is a terrible parent. At the end of the movie, she says to her daughter, “I used to be just like you.” My character probably had a mother like that, one she doesn’t know, but she does come to the realization that she is a terrible mother and that’s heartbreaking. She did not mean to be, but she is and she knows it.
Do your kids see your movies?
I don’t usually offer up this opportunity to them. My son came to my premiere of Crazy Stupid Love because it’s the kind of movie he loves and it was going to be a great premiere. My daughter, well I looked at those last scenes of What Maisie Knew with her when they were sent to me because Liv (my daughter), wanted to see them. We looked at it during the summer at our beach house and she looked at the last scene. I said do you really want to watch this and she said yes. She had not seen the whole film and was not aware of what was really going on. She visited the set a few times. She kinda knew I was playing this horrible mother. She was sensitive about the film and felt more sorry for the mom than the daughter actually and I thought, wow! It was really kind of remarkable because she understood the dilemmas of all the characters. I was thrilled because it meant I played it well! I was also touched that my little girl who was ten at the time understood that. She’s very perceptive. But I’m not like, hey Mommy’s movie is on, let’s watch. My kids never ask about seeing my movies. I don’t think they care.
You do such a wide range of projects. How do you make your choices?
Now I am material driven. I am always looking for something different. This was very close to home to shoot. We literally shot right next door to my house. Her fence is near my back yard. It was so close that it was pretty enticing.
So your projects seem to have a theme in a way ?
Yes, I work with a lot of writer/directors. That has been a thread in my career. A lot of first time directors have written their own scripts. With Boogie Nights for example, someone told me that movie is about porn, then I read it. I said this is not about porn, this is really touching. Really really touching and clearly very personal. It was something that had been written with such clarity about the subject. That I was really struck by it. So when I talk to a director who has already written the script, they have a very clear idea of what direction they are going in.
So what do you search for in a director?
I am always looking for a kind of intensiveness and vision in a director. Always. It’s such a relief when directors have this vision. As actors, we are a conduit to the audience and the director allows this to happen. If they don’t have that vision, it’s really difficult to accomplish making a great movie. This script was written about 12 years ago. Inspired by one of the writers, he is divorced and the other writer of the script (a man and woman wrote the script) she was the child of divorce. So they kind of came at the same story with different perspectives.
What Maisie Knew starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, and Alexander Skarsgård is in theaters.