Julianne Moore talks about playing an incestuous mother in the shockingly dark ''Savage Grace'' and what it was like seeing it for the first time at Cannes

By Missy Schwartz
Updated May 22, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Francois Durand/Getty Images

The last time Julianne Moore premiered a movie in Cannes — An Ideal Husband in 1999 — she spent all her time doing press in a stuffy hotel room. Luckily, the setting for her interview with EW at this year’s fest wasn’t quite so demoralizing. In town for just a day and a half, the Oscar-nominated actress met us on a pier stretching out into the Mediterranean. ”I don’t remember it being this gorgeous,” she said, marveling at the blue sky and sun-kissed sea surrounding her. Moore chatted with us about Savage Grace, a drama debuting here in the Director’s Fortnight in which she stars as the deeply disturbed Barbara Baekland. Based on a true story, the film explores Barbara’s failed marriage with Brooks Baekland, the heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune, as well as her incestuous affair with her schizophrenic son, Tony, who ultimately murders her with a chef’s knife. Fun stuff!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The movie has some pretty shocking content, including incest. Were you nervous to premiere it?
JULIANNE MOORE: I hadn’t seen it, so I was pretty darn nervous. It is a shocking movie. Any time you premiere a movie, anywhere, no matter what the subject matter is, you have some trepidation. But we were pleasantly surprised; people seemed to respond to it. This is a great festival for us, so I can’t complain. And we’re sitting here [now] with our hair blowing! [Laughs]

You watched the movie for the first time with an audience here?
Yeah, it was the first time I’d seen it. They’re so attentive here. That’s the amazing thing about film festival audiences — they’re really listening. It’s very still, a lot quieter than a Broadway house, I’ll tell you that! [Laughs] People go to the theater and they’re eating, they’re talking on the phone, they’re taking their coats off.

It’s been a while since you’ve done a character as dark as Barbara.
This movie makes my [previous] dark stuff look like comedy. I mean, this is really dark. As an actor, you can’t approach it other than to say she was a real person. The most interesting thing to me is when you read the book [Savage Grace, by Natalie Robins and Steven ML Aronson], which is a collection of interviews and recollections and letters, what strikes you is everybody is talking about how charismatic Barbara was. People said, ”Oh she was so charming, she was witty and charismatic. She was beautiful and sexy.” But then she was difficult, she was demanding, she was argumentative. It was really important to me that, rather than striving toward the darkness, which is sort of constantly there, there was this vibrancy about her. I felt a real responsibility to make her a real, living person.

As a mother, did you find it tough to play a woman who seduces her son?
As an actor, your job is to find a way to empathize with whomever you’re playing, whatever situation you’re in and to [step] outside judgment. But that being said, she couldn’t be further away from me. And there’s a huge difference between empathy and identification. I think people confuse the two; they think in order to play a character, you must identify with them. And you don’t. You just have to empathize with them to be in that situation.

What are you doing next?
A movie called Blindness, with Fernando Meirelles. It’s based on a Jose Saramago novel. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story. Not a comedy. [Laughs] Not a surprise for me, right?

Are you very dark and twisted in it?
Not really. I’m actually kind of normal — I’m the most normal character in the story. [Laughs]