Actress Julianne Moore has played a porn star and a daring, 1950s housewife; she has hunted Hannibal Lecter and has been hunted by dinosaurs.
Now, Moore plays a seeing woman in a sightless world in Blindness, the film adaptation of Jose Saramago's apocalyptic novel about an epidemic that suddenly robs whole cities of sight.
Moore plays a doctor's wife who, as the mysterious "White Sickness" spreads, finds that she is immune to the contagion. She pretends to be blind to stay with her stricken husband (Mark Ruffalo) when he's quarantined with other affected victims.
Moore talks with Melissa Block about her role in Blindness and about working with director Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener and City of God).
The doctor (Ruffalo) and his wife (Moore) are sent to an abandoned mental asylum to be quarantined. The space is filthy, violent, crowded and depraved; as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that no one will come to the aid of the victims.
Moore's character finally breaks down when her husband simply asks her what time it is, and she realizes she has forgotten to wind her watch.
"It's really about a lack of control," Moore says. "It's about the little things ... That's the stuff that we grieve over."
Moore says she loves these moments of "real tragedy" in literature and film — and modestly wonders whether she did justice to the scene as it was originally laid out in Saramago's book.
Fade To White
The blindness epidemic does not pitch the world into darkness, but rather into an eerie white blankness. The film was shot with an overexposed, milky quality, which Moore says she did not know about until she saw the footage cut together.
The film's editing, mixing and sound is the "director's medium," she says — that's the director's "prerogative." What Moore says she does need to know during filming is exactly how her shots will be framed.
"I think there's this misnomer about acting sometimes," she says, "that [actors are] just out there just feeling stuff, and the camera's going to pick up what we're feeling ... I need to have an awareness of where the story is being told."
Moore often asks to see storyboards or shot lists, and pays careful attention to camera angles. She says the position of the camera tells part of the story.
"Fernando is eloquent with his camera," Moore says. "His shots are very, very emotional, the way they're framed. There's intention in every shot."
An Atypical Heroine
Moore is known for playing difficult, nuanced roles — a 1950s housewife whose perfect world crumbles around her in Far From Heaven; a militant activist in the dystopian, infertile world of Children of Men; and a troubled woman struck by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in The Hours.
Her role in Blindness is similarly complex. She is set apart as a leader only by her immunity to the epidemic. She slowly comes to embrace her role as a heroine, leading those who cannot see.
"I'm not playing the girl in the action movie," Moore says. "At every stage in your career, there's a time to play a certain kind of role."