Julianne Moore: "I'm an Actress Because I Read"

Julianne Moore
Photo: Foc Kan/FilmMagic

“I’m an actress because I read,” said Julianne Moore, elegantly seated in a conference room at The James hotel in downtown Manhattan earlier today. “Books opened up the world to me. I felt like acting was a way of literally being in the story.”

It’s no surprise to those familiar with the star’s impressive oeuvre, which ranges from playing a struggling porn star to the president of a post-apocalyptic district, each with her own fascinating character arc. We’re here on the occasion of International Literacy Day—Moore has teamed up with the global nonprofit Project Literacy to raise awareness and help tackle the problem of illiteracy. Below, she talks more about the pressing issue, what’s on her nightstand, and a chance meeting with Maurice Sendak.

Why does this cause deserve our attention now?
The literacy rate has remained stagnant since 2000. People aren’t aware that one in 10 individuals globally are illiterate. Fourteen percent of the global population is illiterate. It impacts every global development issue we have: poverty, gender inequality, crime, disease—all of those issues are boosted by literacy.

To help advance Project Literacy’s initiative, each advocate has adopted a letter from the Alphabet of Illiteracy that corresponds to a specific social cause. Yours is “L” for “life expectancy.” Is that significant to you personally?
If you can’t read the instructions on a bottle of medication, obviously you’re not going to thrive. Literacy is beyond being able to read a novel. It’s about functioning in the world and being a part of the world. We’re all sharing a universal consciousness. Imagine how disenfranchised you’d feel as a human being if you weren’t able to read and write. It’s terrifying.

You’re getting the word out through social media, too. What are your thoughts on Twitter as a social platform?
I tend to like Twitter more because I like language, but I do think the platform has changed somewhat. I feel like social media is less and less about real stuff and more and more about advertisement and people venting. It’s tough to get a hold on it. In five years, who knows what we could have? My kids never go on Twitter—they’re on Instagram and Snapchat. There’s always something else out there.

Are you on Snapchat?
I am! But only with my children. I don’t post stories.

Have you discovered the filters yet?
Oh, hell yeah! Everyone likes the dog. I use it primarily as a communication tool. I know that my kids are more likely to open a Snapchat, so if I’m like, “Where are you?” on Snapchat, they’ll answer that faster than they will [answer] a text.

What are you reading right now?
George Saunders’s new book, Lincoln in the Bardo, which is super sad. The Bardo is a Tibetan word for purgatory, so it’s basically all about these people in purgatory. The book starts when William Lincoln has died, so President Lincoln is grieving. It’s his first novel.

You also just released the fourth installment of your children’s book series, Freckleface Strawberry and the Really Big Voice. Why did you decide to get into the children’s book game?
I met Maurice Sendak once a long time ago, and he’s amazing. I kept asking him, “Why children’s books?” He said, “It comes out how it comes out!” Listen, I’m not comparing myself to Maurice Sendak—I consider myself an actor first—but it was fun and interesting for me to do because I love to read.

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