By Tom Brook
In New York
American actress Julianne Moore explains how her roles in Far From Heaven and The Hours were among the most satisfying yet.
Julianne Moore has won acclaim for Far From Heaven
With copious praise flowing from critics for roles in both Far From Heaven and The Hours, Julianne Moore's fortunes could hardly be better.
Her portrayal of 1950s housewife Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven has made the biggest impact, having brought her exceptional reviews and, as of last count, a dozen awards, including the top actress prize at the Venice Film Festival.
I feel particularly rewarded in my own neighbourhood if somebody comes up to me and they say, 'I saw your movie and I loved it - it meant a lot to me'
In this melodrama, Moore plays a Connecticut wife and mother with a seemingly picture-perfect existence that is shattered when she discovers her husband in the arms of another man.
The film, written and directed by Todd Haynes, is an homage to 1950s Hollywood women's pictures, particularly those made by Douglas Sirk.
It presents its heroine as a woman whose life is thrown into turmoil by her husband's homosexuality.
Cathy's life is further complicated by the loss of her friends, and by being ostracised in her community when she seeks solace in a friendship with her black gardener.
Dennis Quaid's character illustrates the higher status of men in 1950s America
The film is set at a time in America when there was little tolerance for inter-racial relationships.
Moore found playing Cathy Whitaker was made easier because Haynes created the role with her in mind.
She recalls: "He wrote it for me, so in that sense I always felt it was a part I had a great connection to and I loved doing."
Moore can also be seen on screen playing another housewife, Laura Brown, in Los Angeles in the aftermath of World War II in Stephen Daldry's The Hours.
Moore says it is just coincidence that she is playing a housewife in two films set in the 1950s and points out that her characters are quite different.
She says Laura Brown is a much more depressed and marginal figure compared to Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven who she sees as much more optimistic.
Moore's character looks on the bright side of life
Moore says: "She is a very loving, hopeful character, she believes that things can be different and that she can change her life and her world, so I found her a buoyant character."
Moore views Far From Heaven, with its underlying themes of homophobia and racism, as more than just a re-invention of a 1950s Hollywood women's picture designed to satisfy cinephiles.
The actress believes the picture has contemporary relevance.
"It deals with subjects we're all still struggling with, issues of racial, cultural and sexual bias, so those are not problems we've solved, not by a long shot," says Moore.
The film reflects the different status accorded to men and women in the 1950s.
Cathy's husband, played by Dennis Quaid, manages to partly realise some of his forbidden desires by having a liaison with another man.
But Cathy is left high and dry, unable - because of community scorn - to pursue her relationship with her African-American gardener.
Moore is an ardent fan of director Haynes.
Moore also takes a supporting role in The Hours
She says: "Ultimately he has made a very feminist film, where you do see the male characters have been able to change their lives and the female characters have not."
Moore remains unfazed by the awards being showered on her and finds the best compliments are those she receives from people in the street.
"I actually feel particularly rewarded in my own neighbourhood if somebody comes up to me and they say, 'I saw your movie and I loved it - it meant a lot to me'. That is the thing that I enjoy the most."
Her portrayal of Cathy Whitaker could so easily have lapsed into unkind caricature or camp, but it is to Moore's credit that it did not.
Her recent forays into Hollywood in films as varied as the comedy Evolution, as well as significant roles in Hannibal and The Shipping News, elicited a mixed response.
But her carefully calibrated portrayal in Far From Heaven has reminded American movie fans and critics that Moore is an actress at the top of her game and without doubt a first-rate talent.