For Julianne Moore, everything comes down to the vision thing.
Not hers. Her director's. "I don't care what kind of vision it is, as long as they have one," says Moore, 38, who in just eight years has become one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. And it's not just anyone who's been doing the seeking: since 1992, when audiences first noticed her as Annabella Sciorra's unfortunate friend in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," Moore has been recruited by an impressive roster of directors.
The list includes Robert Altman ("Short Cuts"), Steven Spielberg ("The Lost World: Jurassic Park"), the Coen Brothers ("The Big Lebowski"), Louis Malle ("Vanya on 42nd Street"), Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights"), Gus Van Sant ("Psycho"), James Ivory ("Surviving Picasso") and Todd Haynes ("Safe"). Not a bad list, and her work hasn't been shabby, either -- an Oscar nomination for "Boogie Nights" and Independent Spirit Award nominations for "Short Cuts" and "Safe" testify to the high regard in which she's held.
Moore says that success has been a matter of picking projects carefully and refusing to be pigeonholed -- it's not every actress whose co-stars have included Anthony Hopkins, Burt Reynolds and a tyrannosaurus rex. That, and making sure the filmmaker in charge really is in charge. "The most important thing for me as an actor is that the director have a very strong vision of what they want, and be able to communicate it," says Moore. "If they have a vision, something that they're passionate about and that they're following and that I can lend myself to, then that's what I need. But what I can't abide is somebody who doesn't know where they stand. Then there's nothing I can do to help them, because they don't know what they want."
Currently Moore is on screen in two high-profile, high-prestige films, Neil Jordan's "The End of the Affair" and Anderson's "Magnolia." Both Jordan and Anderson must have known what they wanted, for Moore has produced standout, emotionally charged performances in both films.
In "The End of the Affair," based on Graham Greene's autobiographical novel, Moore plays Sarah Miles, a woman in wartime London whose marriage to the staid, stolid Henry Miles (Stephen Rea) began to unravel when she succumbed to the charms of his rakish friend, Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes).
A fateful bomb blast and a moment of possibly divine intervention, however, ended the affair ... maybe. A chance postwar meeting between Henry and Maurice threatens to rekindle all sorts of dead embers -- and force Sarah to reconsider the toughest decision she was ever forced to make. "What I really like is, she's a very ordinary woman," Moore says of Sarah, whose life becomes endlessly more difficult when her prayers are answered, and whose love for Maurice exacts a spiritual price that nearly destroys both of them. "She's a very ordinary middle-class woman, who has been living an extremely compromised life. And through her love for this man, and the situation that occurs, she becomes something absolutely extraordinary, someone who is as close to a saint as we can get. Her love for this man is so extreme that there's nothing that she wouldn't do to make sure of his well-being."
Moore, who lives with her boyfriend, director Bart Freundlich ("The Myth of Fingerprints"), and has a two-year-old son, Caleb, said she most admired Sarah's resolve, her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness for the man she loves. Yes, she says, she could see herself making the same painful decision. "When you're in a relationship, and you have family, and you have children, that's just something that's at the bottom of all of it," she explains. "That's what I loved so much about it, [Sarah's motivation] was so clear to me and so very understandable. It's something that is inherent in true-love relationships."
As Linda Partridge in Anderson's "Magnolia," Moore is part of an ensemble cast that includes Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Philip Seymour Thomas, Melinda Dillon, William H. Macy and Philip Baker Hall. Though screen time is fairly equally divided among the cast, Moore's performance as the emotionally wrecked trophy wife trying to do the right thing by her dying husband may be the film's most heartbreaking. "The great thing about her is, she's not who she appears to be," Moore says. "And she's not who she wants to be. She's not her best self. And she definitely wants to be her best self. "She's a trophy wife, a young, attractive woman who married a much older man. I said to Paul that I wanted her to look good in every single scene. As crazy as that may sound, this is who she is. We see this woman when we're driving around L.A. She's driving a Mercedes, her hair is beautiful, she has her make-up on, she's wearing a fur coat, she has on a beautiful sweater and boots and a Gucci bag. That's who she is, that's how she defines herself. "She hasn't spent a lot of time figuring out what she's feeling or who she is on the inside. The outside is what matters to her. And now, at this moment, her husband is dying, and she can't even articulate what she feels. She has feeling upon feeling upon feeling, but she can't articulate them."
Fleshing out a character who can't even flesh herself out wasn't easy, Moore says. "She really says everything she's feeling; there's no emotional subtext. For me, as an actor, that was really challenging, because you have to find a way to feel on the outside, not from within."
The North Carolina-born actor's career has taken her from the soaps (she played twins on "As the World Turns" from 1985 to 1988) to bit parts in horror-film anthologies (1990's "Tales From the Darkside, The Movie") to Oscar nominations and critical acclaim. Currently enjoying a break from acting, Moore's only concrete plan is appearing on Broadway toward the end of the year in Noel Coward's "Design for Living." The comedy about a menage a trois represents another acting challenge for a woman who's made a career of such challenges.
"It's boring to do the same things all the time," she says, adding that she's in negotiations to appear in a film, but can't talk about it. "I did 'Lost World' after I did 'Boogie Nights,' and it was a real relief, to just be able to run around for four months and do really physical stuff. And then I did 'The Big Lebowski,' with the Coen Brothers, which was great.
"But sometimes, you need to take a break," she says, taking advantage of the relative downtime of a telephone interview to clean her floor. "At least, I need it, anyway."