Interview: Julianne Moore Takes A Page From Courtney Love In ‘What Maisie Knew’ [Exclusive]

When one thinks of an aging rock star the person that immediately comes to mind isn’t exactly Julianne Moore, but after a viewing of What Maisie Knew that might change. In one of her most volatile roles as of late, Julianne Moore takes the stage as an absentee mother slash rocker, in the middle of a bitter custody battle for her six-year-old daughter.

While the words Julianne Moore and rock goddess shouldn’t be synonymous, she proves otherwise. Clad in leather pants and smeared eyeliner it’s a look that’s drastically different from what she’s done in the past, but one that seemingly fits. It’s obvious that Moore has done all the homework. Her performance as Susannah is reminiscent of troubled rock legend Courtney Love, which she admits to studying in preparation for the role. In addition, Moore learned how to play guitar, and offered impressive vocals to the film’s soundtrack.

The through line in Moore’s career lies within the sincerity she takes with each role, that makes each performance, no matter how different, just as believable as the next. In Maisie the award-winning actress owns this mess of a mother and because of this she’ll make you rage as she often misplaces her daughter, and in the same turn will beg for sympathy when she realizes she’s in way over her head.

Much like her turn in The English Teacher, Moore makes it all look incredibly easy. The Inquisitr’sNiki Cruz caught up with the versatile actress for the second time this week to discuss her inner rock goddess, working with children, and her role in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon.

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THE INQUISITR: This was a very brave role for you to take. You did it justice.

JULIANNE MOORE: Aw, thanks!

THE INQUISITR: You must be at the point of your career now where you have more of a choice.

MOORE: Yeah. Absolutely. I think when you first start out you do whatever that comes along. Now I’m material driven. I’m always looking for something different. This was happily very close to home, location wise, which makes a big difference to me. We literally shot next-door to my house. Susannah’s house was shot in a town house that shares a fence with my house. It was pretty enticing. I never played a rock star before, so I was really interested in that [LAUGHS]. That was a real challenge, and I thought the story was really interesting.

THE INQUISITR: That was you singing and playing?

MOORE: Yes. I played the guitar and I learned to play three chords. I don’t play the piano but I did learn something on the piano so I can look like I was actually playing it. I did all the singing. We had a great music supervisor who was so encouraging, and was really there for me. Alison Mosshart, who’s in The Kills, those are her songs and they very nicely let us use them.

Julianne Moore

THE INQUISITR: You’re on the soundtrack too.

MOORE: Yeah, I guess so if the songs are on there.

THE INQUISITR: Yeah! It’s in the notes!

MOORE: Well then I’m on a record! Yeah! [LAUGHS]

THE INQUISITR: You need a Grammy nomination now!

MOORE: Yeah, right!

THE INQUISITR: Did you have to divorce yourself from all of those natural instincts as a mother, because you play someone who’s so inept.

MOORE: I know, she’s so terrible. What’s interesting is that all of my instincts as a mother helped me to work with Onata. What I did with her was I talked really quiet and said, “Listen we’re going to do a scene and I’ll yell at you. Don’t be scared. If I slam a door, don’t be scared. Maybe in this scene I’ll cry and when I cry know that it’s pretend. Is it okay if I tickle you? Or hug you?” I would tell her everything because I am a parent. I took extra care of not scaring her. I don’t believe that you should scare a child, or trick a child, or put them in a place where they feel any danger. Oddly there was this thing going on with who I am personally with Onata and who the character is.

THE INQUISITR: Did you have any initial hesitation about taking the role?

MOORE: No the story is about this person that’s not able to be a parent. She doesn’t know how to do it. She doesn’t have any way of communicating with anyone except through her music. When you see her sing to Maisie or bring Maisie into the recording studio, those are all her efforts to say, “I love you.” That’s not the way to parent. She’s basically saying, “Be in the music and then you can be with me.” Because that’s all she knows.

What Maisie Knew

THE INQUISITR: Was there any redeeming qualities? She was trying to be a good mother.

MOORE: That doesn’t make her a bad person; it just makes her a bad mother. How do you qualify how somebody is? In my opinion she’s a terrible mother but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her child. She does love her child and she says that, and the conclusion I came to is that when she says to Maisie, “I used to be just like you.” She probably had a mother like that. The horrible thing is that she thinks she was different than her own mother. To have that realization that she’s a terrible mother, that’s heartbreaking. She didn’t mean to be but she is, and she knows it.

THE INQUISITR: Did you feel differently towards your own children after doing this project?

MOORE: No! [LAUGHS] I have a great family and they don’t enter into my work life. It’s important that my family life is my family life and that always stays the same.

THE INQUISITR: Will your kids see this movie?

MOORE: No. They’re fifteen and eleven. I don’t usually offer them the opportunity to see my movies. My fifteen-year-old son came to the premiere of Crazy, Stupid Love. That’s the kind of movie he would enjoy. Last summer when Scott and David sent me the movie to take a look at, and my daughter Liv wandered in at the very end, and I said, “Are you sure you want to watch this?” And she said, “Yeah I’ll just sit.” And I thought, “Oh well, this is just the last part she’s not going to know what’s going on.” She was sitting there and she started to cry, and I said, “I know. It’s sad. She’s got a terrible mommy. That poor little girl.” And she said, “Yeah but that poor mom, because she knows she’s a bad mommy.” Then I started to cry. It was really remarkable because she understood the dilemmas of all the characters. I was really touched that my little girl understood that.

THE INQUISITR: For this role did you take any notes from any rockers out there?

MOORE: Yeah [LAUGHS]. I listened to a lot of Patti Smith, who I love. I watched VH1 Behind The Music with Courtney Love and Hole. I wanted that kind of very tough and energetic volatility with the personal life. I had an e-mail relationship with Alison Mosshart who’s the coolest girl in the world. She was so sweet and encouraging, so I looked at her physicality.

THE INQUISITR: You had said earlier that you’re material driven. You recently finished up Don Jon with first-time director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. How often does the filmmaker come into play for you?

MOORE: I work with a lot of writer-directors. That’s the one thing that’s been a through line in my career because generally a lot of first time people have written their own script. With Joe, what’s interesting about that movie to me, is that I had heard, “Oh this is a movie about porn.” And I was on the airplane with my husband and I said, “Okay I’ll go through this really quickly.” And then I was like, “Oh my God this isn’t about porn. This is really touching.” It was clearly very personal, and it was something that had been written with such clarity about the subject matter that I was really struck by it. When I talked to Joe that’s what I was reacting to. There’s usually a connection when it’s a writer-director and the material. You’re always looking for the intensity of vision. We’re like a conduit between the material and the audience, and the director is the one that allows it to happen. Joe did a great job.

WHAT MAISIE KNEW HITS THEATERS MAY 24.