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The ’Savage Grace’ Of Julianne Moore

Originally Posted: June 04, 2008

Tom Clavin

Julianne Moore is radiant as Lauran Brown in "The Hours".

Julianne Moore is, obviously, an actress of exceptional range, having delivered outstanding work in both box office hits and independent features. She has recently wrapped "Blindness," a film adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Jose Saramago's book of the same name, under the direction of Fernando Meirelles and starring opposite Mark Ruffalo. It was screened last month at the Cannes Film Festival and received a rave reaction from the audience. And just released in the U.S. is "Savage Grace," which again shows how Moore, who with her family lives in Montauk, is one of the most versatile actresses working today.

And work she does. Moore is the ninth person in Academy history to receive two acting Oscar nominations in the same year for her performances in "Far From Heaven" (Best Actress nomination) and "The Hours" (Best Supporting Actress nomination). "Far From Heaven," the critically acclaimed film from Focus Features directed by Todd Haynes, also co-stars Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert. She was the recipient of many critics' honors for her performance in this film including the National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics, and Broadcast Film Critics, among others. She won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film and received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations in the same category. "The Hours," directed by Stephen Daldry, was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Michael Cunningham, and also starred Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep. Among numerous honors for her performance in this film, and in addition to her Oscar nomination, she received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress.

Moore's additional film credits include the Todd Haynes film "I'm Not There," in which seven characters embody a different aspect of the life and works of Bob Dylan; the action-thriller "Next" with Nicolas Cage; Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" with Clive Owen; and Joe Roth's "Freedomland" with Samuel L. Jackson. It was in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" that she made a big splash on screen as a porn actress, and she was rewarded with Academy Award, Golden Globe, and SAG Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. And we should never forget "The Big Lebowski," starring Jeff Bridges and directed by the Coen Brothers.

Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne in "Saving Grace".

Like many of the better actresses in the business, Moore began in the theater. After earning a B.F.A. from Boston University for the Performing Arts, Moore starred in a number of off-Broadway productions, including Caryl Churchill's "Serious Money" and "Ice Cream/Hot Fudge" at the Public Theater. She appeared in Minneapolis in the Guthrie Theater's "Hamlet," and participated in workshop productions of Strindberg's "The Father" with Al Pacino and Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter" with Meryl Streep. Moore made her Broadway debut in 2006 in the Sam Mendes production of "The Vertical Hour," an original play written by David Hare.

"Savage Grace," based on the award-winning book, tells the true story of Barbara Daly, who married above her class to Brooks Baekeland, the dashing heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. Beautiful, red-headed, and charismatic - a perfect role for Moore! Barbara is still no match for her well-bred husband. The birth of the couple's only child, Tony, rocks the uneasy balance in this marriage of extremes. Tony is a failure in his father's eyes. As he matures and becomes increasingly close to his lonely mother, the seeds for a tragedy of spectacular decadence are sown.

Spanning 1946 to 1972, the film unfolds in six acts. The Baekelands' pursuit of social distinction and the glittering "good life" propels them across the globe. We follow their heady rise and tragic fall against the backdrop of New York, Paris, Cadaques, Mallorca, and London.

From Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago and acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardener" and "City of God") comes "Blindness." It is described as "the compelling story of humanity in the grip of an epidemic of mysterious blindness. It is an unflinching exploration of human nature, both bad and good - people's selfishness, opportunism, and indifference, but also their capacity for empathy, love, and sheer perseverance."

It begins in a flash, as one man is instantaneously struck blind while driving home from work. His whole world is suddenly turned to an eerie, milky haze. One by one, each person he encounters - his wife, his doctor, even the seemingly Good Samaritan who gives him a lift home - will in due course suffer the same unsettling fate. As the contagion spreads, and panic and paranoia set in across the city, the newly blind victims of the "White Sickness" are rounded up and quarantined within a crumbling, abandoned mental asylum, where all semblance of ordinary life begins to break down.

But inside the quarantined hospital, there is one secret eyewitness: one woman (Moore) who has not been affected but has pretended she is blind in order to stay beside her beloved husband (Mark Ruffalo). Armed with increasing courage and the will to survive, she will lead a makeshift family of seven people on a journey, through horror and love, depravity and beauty, warfare and wonder, to break out of the hospital and into the devastated city where they may be the only hope left.

Julianne Moore with Mark Ruffalo in "Blindness".

Moore, who is known for her subtly nuanced and deeply emotional performances, was recruited by the filmmakers to play the Doctor's Wife. She said she felt an instant link to the character which she views not necessarily as a heroine but rather as someone driven, like all of us, to survive, a drive that takes her to dark places but also leads to strength inside her she had not understood was there.

"The Doctor's Wife" is just a normal human being and I think that's one of the great things about the novel," Moore said. "She is fallible, and a lot of what she does initially just skims the surface of what she really could be doing - keeping things clean, tying up wires. Her biggest concern in the beginning is simply her husband. But her ability to see ultimately both isolates her and makes her into a leader. I think with this character, Saramago poses the idea of responsibility. He asks who are we and how responsible are we for one another, for the world we live in and for what we do in it? You have to consider how aware you are of the consequences of your actions, which really comes into play with the Doctor's Wife."

Moore said that she had long been yearning to work with Meirelles when she received the script for "Blindness." "When I heard he was making this movie, I really wanted to do it. He's a brilliant director with an astonishing point of view," she said. "Then, after reading the script, I also felt that 'Blindness' was massive and important and a story we need right now."

The actress delivered a shock to the filmmakers when she arrived on set as a blonde. Meirelles had asked Moore to cut her hair for the film, but she took the transformation a step further, an idea that occurred to her while reading the screenplay. "I just had an instinct that it was right for the character," she explained. "Red hair makes you stand out because you are in the minority. I wanted the Wife to be a majority figure."

Meirelles has been quoted as saying that when on the set he was astounded by Moore's combination of skill and emotional tenderness. "Technically, she's like a machine; you say something and she responds immediately, she perfectly understands the story, the moment, the plot, and she knows precisely how close to be to the camera," he said. "At the same time, she is pure cinema. She has something, and I'm not even sure what you call it...Charisma? Expressiveness? Whatever it is, every day I was overwhelmed by her performance."

Julianne Moore with Dennis Quaid in "Far From Heaven".

If the Doctor's Wife becomes the eyes of "Blindness," the character known as the "Man with the Black Eye Patch" provides access to the story's soul. A patient of the Doctor and a man who was already blind in one eye when the "white sickness" struck, the Man with the Black Eye Patch is in a unique position to navigate the world of the blind, having been halfway there already. He comes to the fore when he brings news - or is it rumors? - of what happened in the outside world in the days after the first blind people were interred, spinning stories of overturned busses, planes crashing into one another and government dissolution. But as the film goes on, he becomes its inner voice, his observations, ultimately floating, disembodied above the proceedings.

The Man with the Black Eye Patch would require an actor of maturity, soulfulness and grace, which ultimately led to Danny Glover, the veteran star who has played an astonishingly broad diversity of roles and has been a frequent presence in the Hamptons.

"The Man with the Black Eye Patch comes into this new world of blindness already half blind, so I think he understands where he is within his own truth, within himself. I did feel like this character was very much like Saramago because he is completely unapologetic - he is who he is and he accepts who he is," explained Glover.

Most of all, Glover was taken in by the depths of "Blindness" and all the swirling thoughts it provoked. "Our human aesthetic is based on our ability to see," he observed. "And I think Saramago is saying that when we take that away, the kind of relationships we form and the journey to forming those relationships must be transcendent and sustainable. How people come out of this experience is the key, and I think it all relates to the idea that if we march into the 21st and 22nd centuries without a new ethos, we will be lost."

All images courtesy of their respective production companies.

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