InStyle was born in the ’90s, a decade that continues to inspire for its fashion extremes, from sleek and sexy minimalism to ahead-of-its-time grunge. Julianne Moore relives the magic of the madness.
Helena Christensen: You’re on the 25th-anniversary cover of InStyle: What is your proudest accomplishment of the past 25 years? Don’t say your children [Caleb, 21, and Liv, 17] because that is a given.
Julianne Moore: [laughs] Then can I say my marriage [to director Bart Freundlich]? Twenty-three years with the same guy. It’s pretty amazing. We like each other; we’re invested in each other; we’re a family. I think being a family helps. There’s nobody who’s as interested in your children as the other parent.
HC: It’s actually the biggest accomplishment anyone can share, having kids together. A lot of people don’t make it after the kids. But you guys...
JM: Well, he’s a romantic partner, a work partner, and also a parental partner. I’ve talked about this with my kids. I said, “You know, if you want to have a successful career and family, you have to find somebody who is as interested in that as you are and is willing to share the work with you because otherwise you can’t do it. It’s too hard.”
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HC: So, two kids: One is in college; the other is on her way. What plans do you and Bart have for the empty nest?
JM: I had a girlfriend who, when somebody said to her something about her empty nest, went, “It’s not empty. I’m in it.” I thought that was a really good answer because it’s true. Michelle Obama was asked this question too, and her response was something like, “I’m so happy for my children that they’re at the beginning of their adult lives.” So, I’m excited for them, and I want them to have every opportunity available to them.
HC: Since we’re here to talk fashion, can you walk us through this shoot? This issue marks your sixth InStyle cover.
JM: Yes, the theme was ’90s fashion—different kinds of iconic ’90s looks. We did a Marc Jacobs grunge look, which was really cool. And then we also did Prada, like “geek chic,” where I tried to emulate [model] Karen Elson. That was my goal with that one because I love Karen Elson. And we did a bombshell-y Versace. Calvin Klein was a simple slip dress, to kind of have that waifish thing. And Donna Karan — a really sexy, shady look.
HC: What is your earliest fashion memory?
JM: When I was 17, I was going to a dance, and I wanted a black dress. I wasn’t allowed to wear black because my mother thought it was too sophisticated a color for young girls. We were living in Germany, and I was working as a cashier every weekend. I took however many marks it was that I had saved up, and I brought home a little black slip dress, and I said, “You can’t say anything to me because I bought it with my own money.” Isn’t that horrible?
HC: Thus began a lifelong affair with little black dresses.
HC: Well, since you mentioned growing up in Germany, I want to ask about your childhood. Your dad was a paratrooper, and you were born at an Army camp, right?
JM: Well [laughs], I was born in a hospital at an Army base. There was a lot of moving around [when I was growing up]; I attended nine different schools. But the great thing was that I learned that environment is not permanent. If you’re not happy somewhere, it’s possible to be somewhere else; you can change. The idea that everything is mutable was good to realize. On the other hand, it’s hard to develop a sense of identity.
HC: Now you’ve been in New York for years, and you’ve raised your family here. They are obviously your priority, and of course that includes keeping them safe. You’ve been using your voice and your platform to work with Everytown for Gun Safety. What prompted your involvement?
JM: The thing that galvanized me was Sandy Hook [the elementary school shooting in Newton, Conn.]. I’ve told this story so many times, but it was December 14 of 2012, and my daughter was already on break from school. I brought her to work with me that day because Bart was working too, and Cal was at middle school. The news broke, and I didn’t know what to do, so I told the guy who was driving us to work, “Please keep the radio off.” I was going to wait until we were home later that night and explain it to her and her brother as a family, when I could assure them that they were safe.
HC: Oh, wow.
JM: We were decorating the Christmas tree, and she had recently gotten a phone. It was very carefully monitored, but anyway, she looked at it, and she goes, “Mommy, did a bunch of little kids get shot today?” I was ashamed of myself because I realized that my idea of keeping my child safe by not exposing her to horrific news was not responsible. I also felt I needed to do something to keep her and all the other children in our country safe from gun violence, so I started speaking out against it and following other activists on Twitter. I learned that [former N.Y.C.] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg had formed this organization called Mayors Against Illegal Guns [which eventually joined Everytown for Gun Safety]. I worked with them to start the Creative Council, where I asked people I knew, other actors and artists, to speak out about gun violence. The majority of Americans are in favor of common-sense gun-safety regulation. This is really about us bonding together and forming a real opposition to the NRA.
HC: Was it challenging to assemble people?
JM: Yes. What I did was go to the most famous people in my contact list and ask them first. When they said yes, I would say, “Jennifer Lawrence and Reese Witherspoon and I are going to be on this thing. Will you do it?” Then that person would add his or her name. Now I think there are 200 very active members.
HC: If you can use your fame for something like this, then that is the best reason to have acquired it.
JM: It’s not just celebrities. Shannon Watts [of Moms Demand Action] was a mom of five who sat at her kitchen table and started the Facebook page when Sandy Hook happened, saying, “Who can join me?” It’s really emotional work. There are people working to change legislation in the face of terrible tragedies.
HC: I wanted to touch on the gender issue in Hollywood. Why is it so hard for women to get paid the same as men?
JM: Why? Sexism. Another thing I really resent in our culture is the conversation about aging. Everybody’s aging all the time — men, women, and children. But why has that become a narrative for women? It’s because, traditionally, the only currency that women have had was how they looked and who was going to marry them. So, if all your power is derived from your beauty and your youth, then that’s going to be something people hold on to. That’s no longer true. We do not need to subscribe to that narrative. It doesn’t matter. That’s why I always want to get that question out of interviews. That’s an old question, a sexist one.
HC: Remember when you were telling me about the woman who told you that she felt invisible?
JM: Yes, it’s like, invisible to whom? That’s not our narrative either. I see all my girlfriends. I see women everywhere I go.
HC: Maybe women give up on themselves sometimes.
JM: Put it this way: A 75-year-old man, if he did the work he wanted to do, had a successful career and a family, he’s probably not going to say, “I feel invisible.” Visibility is about your value as a human being and what you have to offer the world. Nothing other than that.
HC: Your career is about being visible. Are there times when that’s helpful and others when you’re vulnerable?
JM: I don’t like to be looked at.
HC: Well, wrong job. [laughs]
JM: It’s really hard to be with you if I don’t want to be looked at, as everyone sees you. [laughs]
HC: As an actor, you can go and do a role for months, but then you come home and leave that character behind.
JM: When you’re acting, all you have is yourself to draw on. I always think of it as a form of self-hypnosis. You’ve convinced yourself it’s really happening, but you also have a third eye that sees everything technically, where you know where the camera is, where the light is. It’s very clear, very focused. And then being a parent allows me to go home and snap out of it.
HC: Both you and Bart are among the producers of [the new film] After the Wedding [adapted from a Danish film, about a manager of an orphanage in India who comes to New York to meet with a wealthy benefactor]. Bart is also directing, and you’re starring. What’s it like collaborating with him?
JM: Well, that’s how we met, on a movie years ago called The Myth of Fingerprints . I was initially not involved in [After the Wedding]. Somebody came to him to do an American adaptation of it, and I watched the original and loved it. He said, “There’s this one part.” I said, “Wow, I love that part. I would play that.”
HC: As a Dane, I’m very proud of you for remaking a Danish movie. And you switched the gender roles too.
JM: It’s like, “Why do an adaptation of something? How do you do it differently?” Bart and the other producers thought it was a much more modern way to tell the story if you made the two leads female rather than male. Both my character and Michelle Williams’s are very certain about the choices they’ve made. They don’t particularly like each other, and they’re drawn into this kind of weird relationship where they need each other to solve a problem.
HC: It was moving to watch both of you play women who are in charge, each in your own way. You don’t really think too much about it when a man plays a very powerful boss lead.
JM: Yet I know so many women who could. What was interesting, after the première screening at Sundance, so many [women] came out saying, “Oh my god, that was like my life.” Women have great big jobs, big lives, and children.
HC: You’re known for all of that and also for being a true chameleon onscreen. Do you still get that thrill when you embody a new character for the first time?
JM: I really love it. I like being in movies. I love cinema. I think I like film acting more than anything else. There are a lot of actors who prefer the theater, but I don’t.
HC: What are you ambitious for? Everyone has different ideas of the word.
JM: I feel like ambition is interest — interest in the world and a desire to keep moving forward. I’m very ambitious for my life to grow, just in terms of my work, my relationships with my husband, children, and friends. I want to travel and build a house someday. All these things I want to experience. I always feel like, “Why do I always want so much?”
HC: Because you’re alive. I’m the same way. But back to fashion. What are you drawn to fashionwise? I know you have a thing for jumpsuits.
JM: I only have four. I have a dressy one, a blue linen one, a green zip-up Rachel Comey one, and another shiny Rachel Comey number. I wear them a lot, which is why you think I have more.
HC: How many pairs of Birkenstocks?
JM: Oh, I can’t even count. I’ve stopped buying them because I have too many, and I want to make sure I wear them until they die. My favorites right now are the Rick Owens. Then I also have an all-green pair that’s a special edition I got in Berlin. They’re excellent.
HC: What have you learned about yourself through fashion?
JM: One of the things I learned was from [designer] Tom Ford. Tom, for all of his glamour and everything, is never mysterious about fashion. He’s not precious about it. He’s like, “Oh, that armhole needs to be tighter; the skirt needs to be this length; that color looks good on you.” He’s very specific about it, so I always think it’s nice to demystify fashion. Get a good tailor and make sure it fits. Do you feel good in it? Do you feel like it’s appropriate for the occasion? And the best thing that’s happened to me regarding fashion is the iPhone, because taking a picture of your outfit before you leave is one of the best things you can do. [laughs]
HC: One more question related to the anniversary: Do you remember what your life was like 25 years ago?
JM: God, in 1994 I was not very happy. I was spending a lot of time building my career but not my personal life. I had moved to L.A., and I was thinking about what kind of personal life I wanted to have. From then until now is actually what I’ve been able to accomplish, which is kind of good. You have to think about what you want and what you value. Women are taught that you have to work very hard at a professional life, but your romantic life is something that’s just supposed to — poof — happen. That’s not true. If you want it, you have to be active about it.
HC: Know who you are.
JM: Know who you are. In 1994 I was like, “I want this career, but I also want a family.
I want to find a way to do both.” It did happen. I got lucky.
Photographed by Phil Poynter. Styling: Karla Welch. Hair: Serge Normant. Makeup: Hung Vanngo. Manicure: Gina Eppolito. Set design: Kate Stein.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 16.