As an Actor and Activist, Julianne Moore Has Never Been Afraid to Take a Stand

Djeneba Aduayom

On screen and off.

As a teenager in the ’70s, Julianne Moore wore an Equal Rights Amendment button given to her by her mother. “I was very clearly taught by my mother, who had very few advantages, what the women’s movement had brought,” Moore told Departures in a Zoom interview from her porch in Montauk, New York. “She was my women’s history teacher, but not everyone has that.” Moore will play one of the movement’s leaders when she appears next on screen as one of three Gloria Steinems in The Glorias, a biopic from Frida director Julie Taymor.

Related: What We're Watching, Reading, And Listening to Right Now

Inhabiting an activist wasn’t a leap: Moore is a member of Everytown for Gun Safety; she is a founding member of its Creative Council, which unites actors, writers, musicians, designers, and artists in the fight against gun violence. She has also been a leader within Time’s Up, the Los Angeles–based organization created in response to the #MeToo movement. Here, Moore talks about feminism, changing Hollywood, and why she’ll never simply shut up and act.

Related: How Los Angeles Became La-La Land

Q: How did you feel about Gloria Steinem before The Glorias? I saw her at a restaurant once but was too paralyzed to say hello.

JULIANNE MOORE: I still have the same problem with her. Even though I’ve met her, and she’s so incredibly kind and open and easy, I’m always slightly paralyzed when I’m with her. She’s somebody I idolize. She’s an emblem of everything that was cool about being a young woman in the ’70s. What really struck me is how incredibly patient she is, and how slowly those games were won. Her perseverance is extraordinary.

Q: You’re also an activist. Did you learn anything new from playing Steinem that you’ll bring to your off-screen work?

JM: Gloria doesn’t react out of a place of hotness, but always out of a levelheaded thoughtfulness that seems to move her platform forward. Whenever I’m in a situation where I feel stressed, I literally think, What would Gloria do? She’s really modest, and she believes in giving voice to others. She’s always passing the credit off.

Q: Did the role reinforce anything about feminism for you?

JM: Women are not a special-interest group. We’re 52 percent of the population. To allow ourselves to be divided is only going to divide our power. I think Gloria will always say that she learned feminism from Black women; that’s where she learned about organizing. The first time I met Gloria was in one of the early Time’s Up meetings. She talked about the power of meeting in person. For a lot of us in entertainment, oddly, we didn’t know each other. There are so few women on sets. To suddenly be in a room with women of different ages, of different ethnicities, of different positions in the business, and to be there as a collective, it was a different power. That’s what she was trying to say: Get together. Work together.

Q: You’ve been a leader in Time’s Up since it started three years ago. Is there specific progress that has been made? Is Hollywood actually different?

JM: Yeah. In New York, we changed the length of the statute of limitations on sexual assault and rape charges. I called Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office to get the list of SOLs in various crimes, and I discovered that it always works for the perpetrator, not the victims. Why were there SOLs, why are there nondisclosure agreements, who does it benefit? This has been such a traumatic time, with Harvey Weinstein, Trump being elected, with racial injustice. The pandemic is so inequitable. Things keep happening, and what will finally change things? I think persistence is key.

Q: You get a lot of pushback, particularly on your Instagram posts about gun violence. The Glorias shows the impulse—mostly by men, although by some women, too—to undercut and devalue Steinem. Why do women with a voice make people so angry?

JM: The only assumption that I can make is that someone feels that they are being threatened. If you feel like you have to give something up to make someone equal, it’s really hard for people. There’s actually a clip of [Steinem] on The Phil Donahue Show where this guy stands up and says, “Are you saying that women are better than men?” and she says, “No, I’m not. We want parity.” Gloria’s feminism is in the world of men and women. She talks about the tragedy of her father’s life, that he didn’t have a home, he was always on the road, and the tragedy of her mother’s life, that she didn’t have the road, she didn’t have a job, she just had a home. She said in order to be a whole human being, you need to have both. We all deserve that, no matter our gender, our economic stature, our race, our culture.

Q: You’re reminding me of Steinem’s Mother’s Day post on Instagram. She said: “I am living out the unlived life of my mother,” and she hopes that “mothers are also women who are living out their own lives as unique human beings.”

JM: She says that often, and it just kills me. I think how fortunate I’ve been and how fortunate so many of us are, who’ve been given this tremendous opportunity because of the times that we lived in, because of the education that we had. Not everybody has that. My expectation growing up was that I was going to be able to have a job and a family. That was not my mother’s expectation, and we were 20 years apart. My mother always made it very clear to me what we gained in those years when she was a young woman. Birth control was illegal before 1972, and you couldn’t get a credit card by yourself until 1974. You had to be a married woman.

Q: You got involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after Sandy Hook. What compelled you to act?

JM: What compelled me was shame. My daughter was ten. We had spent the whole day trying to keep the news from her. She literally said, “Mommy, did a bunch of little kids get shot today?” I was like, I’m not being a responsible parent or a responsible citizen if I don’t become involved in this movement. I started speaking out on social media, or when I did interviews. I got so much blowback. “You stupid Hollywood liberal living behind your gate with your bodyguards.” That’s actually when I went to Everytown. We have the right to bear arms, but a conservative justice like Antonin Scalia was the first to say that the right to bear arms is not without restriction, that it’s not without responsibilities. We must institute common-sense gun-safety laws. We have a patchwork of gun laws in our country. We don’t have a universal background check law. It doesn’t work, obviously.

Q: What is your reaction to that criticism that movie stars should shut up and act?

JM: We all have a responsibility as citizens. My father was in the Army, and so it was like, “You have a responsibility to this country to participate. You have a responsibility to vote. You have a responsibility to use your voice.”

Q: Was there ever a calculation that speaking out could threaten your career?

JM: No, that was not a consideration. Somebody said to me, “Aren’t you worried that you’re going to get shot?” I was like, “Well, we should all be worried we’re going to get shot.” That’s the point. If you go to the movies, if you go to church, if you’re playing baseball, if you’re in an elementary school, at a concert—none of those people were safe. That means that none of us are safe, ever. That’s shocking to me.

Q: How do you sustain action, and hope, on the issue of gun violence, because it’s a uniquely difficult, heartbreaking issue. What is it going to take to implement even those common-sense reforms? 

JM: A lot of it is the Senate. The background checks bill passed in the House and majority leader Mitch McConnell never brought it to a vote in the Senate. Turning a lot of seats over will make a difference. The country’s changing, and there are a lot of people who have to get out. The movement has been so intersectional at Moms Demand and Everytown, where there are Black and brown communities involved. Hadiya Pendleton’s parents— Hadiya was the girl who was shot a week after she performed at Obama’s inauguration. Lucy McBath, who’s now a congresswoman in Georgia—her son Jordan was shot at a gas station for playing music too loud. It is agony, and they’re telling their stories through this tremendous grief and loss, again and again, because they might wake somebody up.

Q: Your daughter and son are now 18 and 22, respectively. What is the conversation like now, with adult children, about gun violence and racism?

JM: My daughter actually started a chapter of Students Demand at her school. She’s on the board of Students Demand Action. She was the person who started my activism and became an activist along with me. My son is very involved in the social-justice movement. They’re both awake and aware. Sometimes I feel like there’s this real burden on young people: “Oh, the young people will change things.” I’m like, “That’s not fair. They’re kids.”

Q: How do you see the role of entertainment in creating change?

JM: Entertainment is about reflecting people’s selves back to them. There’s a huge amount of identification that happens when you watch a movie and when you read a book. That’s why we love it because, ultimately, it’s about us. One of the things that Gloria says all the time—and it’s so, so wonderful—is that we are linked, not ranked.