ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. She's played a porn star and a daring '50s housewife. She hunted Hannibal Lecter and was hunted by dinosaurs. Now, actress Julianne Moore plays a seeing woman in a sightless world in the new movie "Blindness" directed by Fernando Meirelles. In the movie, a city is struck with an epidemic of blindness called white sickness. The victims are rounded up and thrown under quarantine in an abandoned insane asylum. Julianne Moore's character pretends to be blind when her husband loses his sight so she can go with him.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "BLINDNESS")
MARK RUFFALO: (As the doctor) You can't be responsible for everyone. You need to get some sleep. Are you afraid to close your eyes?
JULIANNE MOORE: (As the doctor's Wife) No. I'm afraid to open them, afraid I'll go blind in my sleep. I'm going to take a walk.
BLOCK: "Blindness" is based on the novel by Jose Saramago. And as Julianne Moore told me, the characters enter a world of complete isolation.
MOORE: Everyone believes that they are being taken to a hospital where they are going to be cared for. And when they arrive, they are basically in an institution with limited food and no clean water and no, you know, no one to care for them, and no linens. It's basically sort of like a lockdown, which is a big, I think, a surprise to each and every one of the characters. And as the movie proceeds, it becomes clear to them that no one is coming, no one is going to help them, and that the guards are just there to keep them in.
BLOCK: It was interesting to me that in this, you know, filthy and crowded and ultimately very violent and depraved space, the moment when your character breaks down and cries is when her husband asks her what time is it.
BLOCK: And you say...
MOORE: I forgot to wind my watch, and she starts to cry. And it's in the book, too. That moment is in the book. And it's such a moving moment in the book, and I don't even feel like I do it justice. It's so amazing because that's the stuff that we grieve over, you know. It's really about a lack of control, you know. She has - one thing that she does know in this place is the time. That to me is - that to me is real tragedy. It's - you know, those are the things that kind of move us. And, you know, it's not, oh, superman's going to pick up the subway train. You know, it's not about that to me. It's, you know, about the little things, whether or not somebody manages to keep themselves together in a tragedy that way, or wind their watch, or whatever, you know.
BLOCK: The tiny moments? When you're filming, how aware are you of what the ultimate look and sound even of the movie will be? I mean, in this case, it's very washed out, very milky. Are you thinking about that as you're shooting?
MOORE: Well, it's interesting because there are some things that you definitely have to think about. That blown-out sort of milky quality, we were not aware of at all. I actually saw that when Fernando showed Mark and I some footage that had been cut together.
BLOCK: Mark is Mark Ruffalo, your co-star.
MOORE: Mark Ruffalo. Yeah. And we were both, like, whoa, we didn't know about the white stuff and - but what's important for me to know about is how the camera is telling a story. And Fernando is eloquent with his camera. His shots are very, very emotional, the way they're framed. You know, there's intention, kind of, in every shot. And for me, it's really helpful to see that. But the other stuff, you know, the sound and the way a film is timed, for example, the way the colors are, that you don't see until much, much later.
BLOCK: Are those conversations you have with the director as you're going through? Or are you really getting most of what you need from the screenplay itself?
MOORE: I need to get it from - I get it from the screenplay, and then I watch what they do with the camera. I need to know what I'm doing, and I need to know what the perspective is. I need to know what the proscenium is so that I can be within that - you know, the story is told within that frame, so I want to know what that frame is. So, those conversations I will have with the director or I'll really, really pay attention to angles. And sometimes I ask to see a storyboard, or shot list, or that kind of that stuff. But the other stuff, you know, what happens afterwards with the editing and the mixing and the sound, that's all, that's, you know, it's the director's medium. So that's all their prerogative, that's all their business.
BLOCK: Do you ever have directors who say, don't worry about that, you know, that's my part of this, you just act? Do they ever think you're intruding too much?
MOORE: No, not any good directors. Bad directors do. Bad directors...
BLOCK: You've had that happen?
MOORE: Oh, yes.
BLOCK: Well, what do you do then?
MOORE: You panic, you know. That hasn't happened to me very often, but it has happened.
BLOCK: Gosh, I sure want to know who you're talking about right now.
MOORE: Yeah. I can't say. But, you know, but then there are - but great directors tell you. You know, you're not just working with a director. It's not just the director and an actor. You're also - there's a DP there, there's a camera operator, there's the dolly grip, there's the focus puller, there's, you know, there's the boom operator, there's - there are a million people working on that shot, and we all need to know what the shot is so that we can do our job.
BLOCK: And why is that helpful to you as an actor, to know where that frame is?
MOORE: It's a visual medium, you know. So I was working with an actor, a really great actor, who does a lot of theater work. And he was doing something. And I said, you know - I said to him, you know, I said, you know the lens is over there, something's happening. And he said, what do you mean? I said, they can't see you. And he was like, really? Because, well, I thought that if I'm just acting, the camera's going to pick it up. I said no, it's - you know, it's a proscenium device. I mean, you have to figure out what - if you, you know - we're not - I think there's this misnomer about acting sometimes that we're just out there and we're going to, we're like feeling stuff, and the camera's going to pick up what we're feeling. You know, it's deliberate, and sometimes it's very physical, sometimes it's emotional, and it happens on the screen, whatever, but you have to have an awareness of where the story is being told.
BLOCK: You're still getting lots of what seem to me to be very meaty parts at 47.
BLOCK: As you look forward, are there kinds of roles that interest you? Are there places that you want to go, maybe, that age will afford you that maybe you couldn't do before?
MOORE: Yeah. Age affords you everything, in that way. I mean, life affords you everything because you - every stage in your career, there's a time to play a certain kind of role. I don't really think about what I want to do, I think because I have so little control over it. In a way, I sort of keep my focus a little bit short, so I really only know what I want to do by reading it. Like, I'll read something, and I'll think, like, wow, that's really compelling. Wow, I want to do that.
BLOCK: Do you ever hear - and I hate to even think about this - but do you hear from, I don't know, an agent or a director, you know, you'd be great, but we need somebody younger?
MOORE: No. I haven't heard that. But I'm not playing the girl in the action movie either. You know, I think that that's where you would encounter that. But, you know, also remember that the girls in the action movie are playing the girls in the action movie because that's where they are in their career, you know. I mean, there was a time when I did play the girlfriend or the whatever. Where I am - I can feel when I read something, and I feel like I'm too young for it, too, or I'm too old for it. I actually think it ends up being more of a personal decision for me than anything else.
BLOCK: Well, Julianne Moore, thanks very much.
MOORE: Oh, thank you. Thanks.
BLOCK: Julianne Moore's new movie is called "Blindness." There's more of my interview at npr.org, including lessons she learned working on a daytime soap.