Sex, aging and the very strange career of Julianne Moore

By Sonya Bell, Maclean's

Photo © Getty Images

In a year in which so many Oscar decisions can be rightly questioned... there’s one thing the Academy got right: Julianne Moore took home the best actress award, her first ever Oscar.

It’s an honour that was long overdue. Moore first floored critics 22 years ago, with her breakout role as a struggling artist in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. If you know anything about the movie, it’s probably that Moore spends a solid three minutes naked from the waist down. If you know anything about Moore, that probably doesn’t surprise you.

At 54, she has done something conventional Hollywood wisdom says is impossible: built a mainstream A-list career by taking on sexually progressive, often provocative, roles. She wowed us as a directionless lesbian housewife in The Kids Are All Right, as a maternal porn star in Boogie Nights, and as an aging actress whose ambition lands her in a threesome in last year’s Maps to the Stars.

Read that list of roles again and try to imagine Meryl Streep taking any of them.

Streep, widely regarded as the greatest living actress, still reigns supreme in Hollywood. Oscar presenter Jared Leto joked at Sunday’s ceremony that she had been nominated for best supporting actress “in accordance with California State Law.”

But it’s Moore who’s mapping out a new way for women to age in Hollywood.. [She] continues to pick out parts with a razor-sharp edge, into her mid-50s. The biography she’s bringing to the big screen this year is Freeheld, the real-life story of a terminally ill detective who fights to secure benefits for her lesbian partner. It will be the fifth time Moore, who is straight, takes on a queer role.

“I would simply call her the best actress of her generation,” actress Ellen Barkin said at a career tribute for Moore in January. “She is the most determined and maybe the most courageous actor I know.”

In a 2010 interview, a Guardian reporter asked Moore if there is anything she’s ever balked at doing on-screen. ”Nothing within the realm of human behaviour,” she replied.

Read the rest of this column at Maclean's.

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