Julianne Moore: Now you see her, now you don't

LOS ANGELES - Julianne Moore, the 52-year-old star of such acclaimed films as Boogie Nights (1997) and The Hours (2002), has heard the hype about how actresses over 40 rule Hollywood these days.

But she does not quite buy it.

"I read that article too. I have no idea," she says of a recent piece in The Hollywood Reporter, which cited her, along with the likes of Sandra Bullock, 49, and Cameron Diaz, 41, as proof that older women now have more star power than younger actresses.

Speaking to a group of journalists about her new horror movie Carrie, which opens in Singapore on Thursday, Moore insists that the movie business has "always been a buyer's market" for those in her profession.

This is why she hesitates "to make any sweeping generalisations" about the apparent triumph of those in her age group.

Even with Moore's enviable career as one of the most respected dramatic actresses of her generation, with four Oscar nominations to her name, she insists that "it's not like we have a tremendous amount of control".

"You don't say, like, 'I think I want to do a comedy next.' It's really about what comes along, and then you read it and make a choice based on that material," she says to reporters at a Beverly Hills hotel.

It is hard to know whether to believe her, though, because as the interview progresses, her responses suggest that this extremely successful actress - who has a handful of high-profile movies out this year and next, including Don Jon, Seventh Son and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - still perceives herself as something of an outsider.

Perhaps it is because of her lowly start as a soap star in the 1980s, when she appeared on daytime dramas such as The Edge Of Night and As The World Turns.

After As The World Turns won her a Daytime Emmy in 1988 for playing the archetypal double role of a pair of look-alike half sisters, she had a spotty career in television and theatre.

It was not till 1997 - at age 36 - that she landed her breakout role in Boogie Nights, director Paul Thomas Anderson's prosthetic-enhanced homage to the 1970s pornography industry.

The role of Amber Waves, the porn star who becomes a mother figure to Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler character, established her as a sizzling screen presence and earned her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

It would be the start of a long and successful run in independent films, where she showed a knack for embodying tortured female characters, including the unhappy wives in The End Of The Affair (1999), Far From Heaven (2002) and The Hours (2002).

Oscar nominations followed for each of these and critical approval has become almost a given for the actress, who took home a Golden Globe last year for her uncanny portrayal of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin in the telemovie Game Change.

In person, there is an animated, buoyant quality to Moore that she rarely displays on screen.

The actress is warm and rather entertaining throughout the interview, breaking into occasional bursts of hearty laughter and putting on different accents to illustrate her anecdotes.

She also displays a distinct lack of preciousness about her current status as a serious dramatic actress, and wears her humble beginnings on daytime TV as a badge of pride.

"Who cares what medium it is? Also, there are so many outlets for entertainment. I'm watching almost everything on my computer. So I do think it doesn't really matter."

The A-lister readily agreed, therefore, to appear as a guest star on an episode of As The World Turns three years ago, when her character returned for the wedding anniversary of her parents.

"I wanted to. The actors I met on that soap were amazing and so generous to me. It was an amazing experience."

She adds that it does not matter whether she is doing indie films versus more mainstream productions such as Hannibal, the hit 2001 movie in which she took over Jodie Foster's FBI agent character from The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), or the science-fiction thriller Children Of Men (2006).

"If you say, 'I'm going to do only this or that', you limit yourself as a person and as an actor."

Her latest project, an adaptation of Stephen King's classic 1974 horror novel, seems to represent yet another departure.

But Moore did not abandon her dramatic sensibilities even though this is a gory, special effects-heavy horror flick. She insisted on putting her own stamp on the role of Margaret, the repressive mother of the titular character with supernatural powers (Chloe Grace Moretz) - to distinguish it from Piper Laurie's portrayal in the iconic 1976 film by Brian De Palma.

To do this, she made requests that you would not expect from one of the most agelessly beautiful women in Hollywood, including asking to have her signature red tresses turned frizzy and grey.

Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, 1999) confirms that the bad hair was Moore's idea, as was an unflattering close-up where the camera zooms in on her thigh as she hurts herself.

The actress, who has modelled for fashion and beauty lines such as Bulgari and Revlon, says it is all part of the job.

"I want you to come to the movie and I don't want you to see me - I want you to see the character and understand who she is. And hopefully you don't think, 'Wow, Julianne Moore looks like hell.' I want you to think, 'That's Margaret White.'"

The actress was ultimately drawn to Carrie's outsider status: The story of a girl who did not fit in because of her weird mother, disadvantaged background and how she looked and dressed.

Moore, who holds both American and British citizenship and bounced from school to school as a child because of her father's army career, was herself always the new kid in school - "the one at the bus stop whom no one was talking to".

Being teased about her appearance then led her to write her Freckleface Strawberry series of children's books, which are about a girl who is teased because of her freckles and bright red hair.

She vows that her own children with 43-year-old director husband Bart Freundlich - son Caleb, 15, and Liv, 13 - will never be the ones standing around making fun of others. "I'm highly, highly aware of what it is to be on the outside. Whenever you come to a new environment, you're automatically on the outside. Everyone's already established a relationship and a community.

"And what was interesting to me growing up were the people who saw that you were on the outside and let you in. So I've always really encouraged my children (to do this). I'm like, 'Is there a new person? Are they by themselves? Did you talk to them? Did you invite them to lunch? Do you want to invite them over? Do you want me to call their mom?'

"And my kids are like, 'Urgh! Mom!' But I feel like they are both very generous and they do notice."

As an in-demand actress, she appears to realise that she is part of the inner circle now, but at the same time, seems acutely aware that it could all end some day. "It's difficult to keep any kind of career going as a freelancer. It's not like you know you're going to have this job in the next five years. So I'm always grateful to keep it going because, gosh, you never know, right?"

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.