She's best known as an off-beat, almost-star: in The Lost World, Nine Months, Assassins and others. But a better key to Julianne Moore is her most striking role: as a housewife destroyed by her environment in Todd Haynes' hallucinatory Safe. Moore identified with the part, and gave it more of herself than any other she had played. She put on weight. She made herself ill, to make a housewife tragic.
The daughter of a nomadic military man, as a child she learned to fit where she was put. As an actress, her deepest pleasure is to enter the environments of others, the visions of directors. She has no vanity. She's not sure she should be an actress at all. "It doesn't seem very useful," she says. "It's very pleasurable for me. It's quite a selfish pursuit, I'm not curing a disease. It keeps me awake at night, wondering what else I could do."
In the next few months, Moore's abilities will be displayed as never before. She'll soon be seen in Paul Thomas Anderson's porn industry epic Boogie Nights, as porn superstar Amber Waves; then in the Coen Brothers' long-awaited The Big Lebowski, as an experimental painter. But it's in The Myth of Fingerprints, currently on release, that she is stretched most. Working for writer-director Bart Freundlich - they've since married - her character Mia is a creature of rage.
When we spoke, Moore - somewhere in her thirties - was a week away from giving birth to her first child (he was born as Fingerprints opened here). She's about to vanish, for a while. "Mia is an angry, disappointed character," Moore says, with fierce conviction. "I don't think she's sure of her identity at all. I think she's a bully. She's angry, and completely inconsiderate of the feelings of others because she's so angry. And she's weak. She's weak the whole time."
Boogie Nights will bring Moore closer to her good-natured self. But typically her character, Amber Waves, is nice in a way that destroys her. She stars in porn films to advance herself, and to support a child; but her end is tragic. Moore sighs: "It is the most good-natured part I've ever played. She wants to mother, but she does so in disastrously inappropriate ways, she tries to mother the porn community. And she's fearful, always fearful." Moore felt fear deciding to play her. "I feel frightened every time I take a role."
Amber's tragedy comes from wanting to be a star. Does Moore see a difference between porn and movie stardom? "No," she says. "They're both chasing an illusion. I think if you chase after stardom, it can become restrictive and debilitating. I think it's a trap. Some people have stardom thrust upon them, and it's unfair of me to talk about them. But I never wanted it. There's no connection between my work and stardom."
So what does Moore relate to in Amber, in her desperation for stardom? What is she desperate for? She pauses, not wanting to give that much away. "Nothing, at the moment," she says. "At the moment, everything's going too well to think like that. There's nothing I don't already have that I want that much."
It's her baby she's thinking of. "I hate being pregnant," she says. "I hate being so inactive. It's so strange, having another human being inside you." So those nights when she lies awake questioning whether she should act at all ... does having a child qualify?
"I would hate to think of him as my achievement," she says. "He'll be his own person from the second he's born. My job is to love him, and to guide him. People say you don't know how much you can love someone till your child's born. I'm looking forward to that." Does she think it will change her work? Give her new emotions to use? "I don't know what'll happen in my work, or when I'll go back to work. But I know that I will go back. Because I think it's important for a child that his parents are happy. And I'm happy when I'm working."
`The Myth of Fingerprints' is out now; `Boogie Nights' is out on 16 Jan; `Safe' is screened on Channel 4 on 21 December.