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Julianne’s Journey

The Oscar winner stars as iconic women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem in the timely new film The Glorias

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An upbeat Julianne Moore bounds into the Marram resort in Montauk in late June, happy to be seeing collaborators and friends for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit. “Hi, I’m Julie,” she says, introducing herself to everyone on set as if the Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe–winning actress wasn’t instantly recognizable to almost anyone she meets.

After all, she’s been the star of dozens of films, including The Hours, Magnolia and Still Alice, and TV shows (she earned a 1988 Daytime Emmy for her role in As the World Turns) and has appeared in advertising campaigns for brands like Bulgari and L’Oreal Paris. She’s a familiar front-row face at fashion weeks around the world, and any New Yorker will gladly recount a sighting of Moore floating through the West Village neighborhood she calls home.

The 59-year-old Moore was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and moved around regularly as a child thanks to her father’s career in the Army, but she’s lived in New York City for decades with her filmmaker husband, Bart Freundlich, and has become a recognizable part of the city’s celebrity landscape. The couple raised their two children, Liv and Caleb, in a townhouse in Manhattan but today find themselves with something like an empty nest—well, almost.

Since mid-March, Moore has been holed up with her husband and daughter in their Montauk home. “We felt so lucky to have it,” she says. “It was so, so cold in the winter, but amazing.” Liv graduated from high school and turned 18 during the quarantine, and Caleb finished his final year at a North Carolina college. “It’s always wonderful to be with your family.”

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore

“My husband cooks and I clean,” she explains. “But we’re both so sick of the endless loads of laundry and dishes.” Moore has been staying sane thanks to daily walks, puzzles and lots of books on tape, including Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, Cathleen Schine’s The Grammarians, and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half; she also binged on Hulu’s Normal People.

Like everyone else, she’s had her frustrated, stressful moments. “It’s been a lesson for all of us,” she says. “Online yoga classes from The Shala in New York City have helped me anchor my day and be present. The same teachers, the same community. It’s the one thing I had to do every day.” But none of us are immune from worrying about the future. “Trying to go forward as if nothing has changed is a bit of a fool’s errand,” says Moore. “We just have to accept that we don’t know what’s happening with anything.”

Prior to the lockdown, Moore had been on set at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn shooting the television series Lisey’s Story, based on the Stephen King book, with Clive Owen for Apple TV+. “I love Clive [the two starred in the 2006 film Children of Men] and Stephen couldn’t have been more lovely or generous with his time on set.”

The Glorias, out this month on Amazon Prime Video, is a biopic of activist, feminist and author Gloria Steinem. Moore plays her in her 1970s heyday and beyond. The film, based on Steinem’s 2015 memoir My Life on the Road, is a real labor of love and tribute to Steinem and her work. It’s also timely, coming out 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore

In the film, directed by Julie Taymor, several actresses play Steinem over the course of her life, including Alicia Vikander in her early years. Steinem visited the set and was available to the filmmaker and actors. “It was intimidating,” Moore says of meeting Steinem prior to filming and having her around. “She’s such a magnificent and formidable woman and the definition of an activist.”

Did Steinem offer Moore any pointers on set? “She’ll gently correct you, but she’s so modest,” says Moore. Steinem’s openness caught the actors off-guard. “I remember all three of us being in the room together, and Julianne and I were giving each other looks and sharing a ‘pinch me’ moment across the table,” says Vikander. “We couldn’t believe that we were sitting with Gloria Steinem, asking her questions and talking about her life.”

Even during her most frustrating moments, Steinem never seems to lose her cool or raise her voice—tools that likely made her work so successful. “As an actress, it was a challenge to portray her, because her mannerisms and her vocal quality are so subtle,” says Moore. “Watching her speeches and interviews, I’m so aware of how much abuse was inflicted on her. But she’s never rash and doesn’t yell. She never took the bait.” Moore’s co-star, Bette Midler, who plays Bella Abzug in the film, was impressed by her characterization of Steinem. “Aside from looking so much like her, the one thing she caught that was so true was Gloria’s speech pattern, a kind of a drawl that never goes above a certain volume.” Taymor, of course, agrees: “I knew that she would breathe in the challenge through meetings with Gloria herself, obsessive research of the woman and her times and her deep concern in mastering the physicality and vocal qualities that Gloria possesses.”

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore

But the film isn’t a straightforward biopic. “Julie is a real visual artist,” says Moore. “The fantastical element of the film was so appealing to me. She cinematically encompasses who this person was to all of us.” Furthermore, Moore was impressed by all her co-stars. “You never walk into a trailer and see the kind of diversity that we had on set. So many women are represented in the film and that sense of Gloria being about all women.” In this uncertain political landscape, it’s all the more relevant to be celebrating the figure who made such major strides for women’s rights. “The film is a real reminder on whose shoulders we stand and the rights we take for granted now—like birth control,” says Moore.

While The Glorias might look back at the life of one particular titan, Moore knows that the battle for civil rights is far from over, citing Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement fighting to protect people from gun violence, as an equivalent of Steinem for the 21st century. “Shannon has inspired so many people with her activism,” explains Moore, who has become involved in the cause, epitomizing the idea that the greatest role isn’t always one played onscreen.