Having dabbled in screen lesbianism before — in isolated scenes opposite Toni Collette in “The Hours,” Amanda Seyfried in “Chloe” and Blake Lively in “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” — Julianne Moore finally goes all the way with Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right.”
Directed and co-written (with Stuart Blumberg) by lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko (“High Art”), the new movie casts Moore and Bening as Jules and Nic, a longtime couple. When their teen children, played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, decide to make contact with their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo), alternately humorous and heartfelt complications ensue.
Moore, 49, a four-time Oscar nominee (“Boogie Nights,” “The End of the Affair,” “The Hours,” “Far From Heaven”), spoke about the film during a recent interview in Los Angeles.
Georgia Voice: What usually draws you to a project — the character or the story?
Julianne Moore: In this case, I was just sold on Lisa Cholodenko. We met several years ago, and I’m a big fan of her movies. Every time we’d run into each other, I’d joke with her: “Why hadn’t I seen the script for ‘High Art’?” (She laughs.) I signed on to “The Kids Are All Right” almost five years ago, but it took a while for all of the financing to finally come together. In all honesty, though, I probably would’ve done anything she sent me. One interesting thing about the evolution of this script was that, from the time she first gave it to me until the time we actually did it, it just kept evolving and getting better and better.
You have an admirable track record working with other openly gay filmmakers (Todd Haynes’ “Safe” and “Far From Heaven,” Tom Kalin’s “Savage Grace”).
It’s interesting. On the one hand, I’ve been asked that before and it’s a valid question. But, at the same time, I don’t like categorizing people based on their gender, sexuality, race or nationality, you know? I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career to work with so many talented filmmakers, many gay filmmakers among them, but I’ve never found that their sexuality had very much to do with anything. It’s all about telling stories, sometimes extreme stories, about what it is to be human. That’s what I’m attracted to — filmmakers with that sensibility, whether they’re gay or straight.
Is it any different shooting love scenes with women as opposed to men?
No. I’ve done love scenes with both, and the only thing that really matters is that you have a partner you can really trust, where both of you know what the tone of the scene is, and that you’re in it together. I would imagine those scenes are only difficult if you’re uncomfortable with the other person you’re working with, and fortunately I’ve never been in that situation.
Talk a little at first about your scenes with Mark Ruffalo.
They were easy, because we know each other so well. We’d done “Blindness” together, where we basically never spent a moment apart, but I’d been really good friends with Mark and his wife for years before that.
In terms of playing Jules, how did you justify her relationship with Ruffalo’s character?
There’s nothing conscious about what she’s doing. She’s just searching. She’s at a point where she’s freaked out about where she is in her life. Her oldest child is leaving for college, and the younger child isn’t far behind. Jules has been a stay-at-home parent all these years. All her stabs at working outside the home have fallen through. She’s just trying to figure out what she wants, and Mark’s character validates Jules in a way the rest of her family doesn’t. He sees her differently. It’s not necessarily a sexual or romantic attraction. It’s just a connection she feels because he actually sees her.
Had you also met Annette Bening?
Once, during Oscar season. (She laughs.) I love saying that. It’s so actorly. We were nominated together years ago, so for a couple of months we’d keep running into each other at award functions. “Hey! How ya doing? Nice to see ya.” That was pretty much the extent of it.
So was it harder playing that relationship, because you didn’t have a personal history with her, like you did with Ruffalo?
Well, one thing Annette and I had going for us was that we’ve both been married a long time. When you’ve been living that sort of life — as spouses, as parents — it gives you the sort of shared sensibility that made it very easy to connect that way in terms of these two characters. These two women have been together for 20 years. They have two children. They have a lot invested in each other, in that family, in that relationship. As with most couples I know who’ve been together a significant amount of time, there are any number of bumps along the way.
What do you think about the statement this film makes about gay parents?
To be honest, I think the greatest thing about it is that it’s making no statement at all. People always ask me whether I think movies influence culture, but I actually think that movies more often reflect society. That’s why we’re able to have a movie like “The Kids Are All Right.” It presents a situation that’s fairly prevalent in our society right now. For my own children, this is a reality for them. They know other kids with two moms or two dads, so it’s not unusual for them. It simply is. If only the older generation could be that accepting and understanding, right?
You have a great line in the film about porn movies and how a lot of girl-on-girl sex scenes are “inauthentic,” because they’re usually performed by women who are straight as opposed to lesbian. You and Annette Bening are straight, too, and yet your relationship in the film feels totally authentic. Why do you suppose that is? Is it just that the two of you are great actresses?
It’s all about great writing first. The acting is important, too, but it’s secondary to the writing. I’ve been thinking a lot about that Newsweek article, that f-ing asshole who made the comment about gay actors not being able to play straight. [“Straight Jacket,” by Ramin Setoodeh, published April 26, 2010, at newsweek.com] Come on. Gay actors have been playing straight roles for centuries. It goes both ways. Annette and I are acting.
Did you write a letter to the editor in response to the Newsweek story?
No, but I’ll never buy a copy of that magazine again. As actors and filmmakers, our job is to channel stories like this about what it means to be alive. The relationship in the film is the relationship, whether it’s two women, a man and a woman, or whatever. Like all long-term relationships, it can be challenging, but it can be rewarding, too. At the end of the day, “The Kids Are All Right” is a portrait of a family. That’s why it’s so touching and relatable.
Photo: In ‘The Kids Are All Right,’ Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple shaken up by the sperm donor, Mark Ruffalo, who helped them become parents. (Photo by Suzanne Tenner)