Julianne Moore: ‘I have always, always, always wanted to work with Pedro Almodóvar’

The actress now stars in the miniseries ‘Mary & George,’ a palace intrigue based on the true story of a woman who raised her son to be the lover of King James I of England

Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore, in the miniseries 'Mary & George,' in an image provided by SkyShowtime.Rory Mulvey
Natalia Marcos

Julianne Moore, 63, has recently been spotted in Madrid, where she’s preparing to star in Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, The Room Next Door, the iconic Spanish director’s first feature film in English. “I can’t say anything [about the movie], but it’s very exciting for me, a dream come true. I have always, always, always wanted to work with Pedro,” the North Carolina-born actress emphasized in a video call interview with EL PAÍS, which took place this past February 28. “It’s so wonderful to be cast in his first English language, full length film. I feel very fortunate to be working with him and to be working in Spain and to be in Madrid and to be working with Tilda Swinton (her co-star in the film). [Almodóvar] is the maestro, he’s such an extraordinary and original voice.”

Her film with the Spanish director will be Julianne Moore’s next project, but first, the 2015 Oscar winner for Always Alice is starring in the provocative miniseries Mary & George (available on SkyShowtime, with new episodes every Friday). Historical drama, palace intrigues, sex and dark comedy are the ingredients of a combination that’s already shown itself to be a good fit alongside titles such as the series The Great or the film The Favorite (2018). In this production, however, the backdrop consists of a surprisingly true story: that of a woman who raised one of her sons to become the lover of King James I of England.

Mary Villers — played by Moore — sent her second son to be trained in France, with the intention that, upon his return to England, he would scale the social ladder. He ended up becoming one of the most influential and respected men in early-17th century England, as well as the first Duke of Buckingham, thanks to his relationship with the monarch.

“I didn’t know anything about her and very, very little about [the Jacobean era], to be honest. But I read the script for the first episode and saw that the character started with so much energy and was so incredibly interesting that it grabbed me. Then, I was surprised to discover that it was actually based on a historical figure, who achieved so much in her life that she got buried in Westminster Abbey,” Moore recalls.

Written by D.C. Moore — one of the screenwriters of Killing Eve (2018-2022) — the miniseries is based on Benjamin Woolley’s book The King’s Assassin, about the court of James I and how the young George Villers (played by Nicholas Galitzine) became the monarch’s favorite lover. “I was especially interested in how someone like Mary — who had no agency or independence, who had no property — managed to exercise power through the men she married, or through her male children,” the actress summarizes.

Julianne Moore, while playing Mary Villiers in 'Mary & George.'
Julianne Moore, while playing Mary Villiers in 'Mary & George.' Rory Mulvey

The series posed several challenges for Julianne Moore. She was the only American actress in an all-British cast. “I think the complicated part was the fact that I am an American, you know? And I’m inserting myself into another culture. And that’s the fun part too, right? Every time that I have an opportunity to be challenged by something and to really put myself in a situation that’s very, very different, on the one hand, it’s very daunting… But on the other hand, it’s exhilarating, because I get to learn something new.”

This was also one of the few times that Moore has appeared in a historical drama. “There was a lot to take in. And there were lots of behaviors for me to understand, just in terms of the culture of the time and the culture of these particular people. The costumes, of course, were extraordinary. And [because it’s] a relatively short period of British history and since there have been very few movies made about this time, there was no stock footage [or materials]. Our costume designer, Annie Simmons, had absolutely nothing [to work with]. She had to build everything from the ground up,” she highlights.

Although palace intrigues (with lots of sex) predominate in the story, humor constantly sneaks into the acidic dialogues. “I do think that the script is very funny and intentionally so. And I do think that that kind of humor comes out of the intelligence of the writing. It feels very alive and very modern. It’s interesting just in terms of its tone, because you’re obviously offering people [a piece of] entertainment and you’re offering them some historical fiction. But it’s also a very modern way of looking at history and being able to see our own selves and our own desires and our own hierarchies reflected,” the actress notes.

Moore is also an executive producer of Mary & George. “I think for those of us who’ve been in the business — those of us who’ve been doing this for a long time — it’s nice to be able to have a voice, just in terms of certain choices. [It’s good] to be invested in the things that you care about,” she explains.

Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine, who play mother and son in 'Mary & George.'
Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine, who play mother and son in 'Mary & George.' Rory Mulvey

With Mary & George, Julianne Moore returns to a medium that she hasn’t frequented in quite some time (with the exception of the miniseries Lisey’s Story, back in 2021, along with a handful of brief appearances). However, she took her first steps as an actress in the world of television: she was in 126 episodes of As The World Turns, a soap opera that ran from 1985 until 2010.

“I think that I’m interested in the material rather than the venue. You’re always looking for interesting material and I think, in recent years, there’s been an explosion of really, really wonderful material in television. [Mary & George] is among those stories being told.”

A common complaint among actresses is that, as they age, there’s a lack of interesting characters available to them. But what’s Julianne Moore’s experience been like?

“I’ve been asked that question since I started working in the film industry when I was in my 20s,” she laughs. “I think it’s hard for everyone to find good roles. There’s a part of the industry that produces things that [the studios] believe will make money — they’re not producing things because they’re looking for great parts for actors. No matter where you are in your career, it’ll always be a challenge to find really great things to do. That being said, I feel very fortunate that I’ve managed to find compelling and interesting work. It’s basically a gig economy: we go from job to job. So, you finish one job and it’s behind you and you never know what’s going to happen next.”

'Mary & George' is set during the reign of James I.
'Mary & George' is set during the reign of James I. Rory Mulvey

EL PAÍS asks Julianne Moore to look back at her career and try to define what her journey as an actress has been like. “It’s a very complicated question,” she sighs. “It’s funny, because when I think about it, I always surprise myself. Sometimes I forget and suddenly it’s like ‘oh, I did this and that!’ I would describe my career as extremely fortunate. I’ve been very lucky to work with incredibly talented filmmakers, screenwriters and actors. I’ve been guided, above all, by the material. When I look back and think about the choices I’ve made, they’ve always been in response to the stories that came to me.”

Does she have any regrets?

Moore thinks for a moment. “Movies I wish I hadn’t made? You know, every once in a while, you find yourself in a situation where you suddenly think, ‘this wasn’t what I expected.’ But even in those moments, you can learn. And there are things you don’t know you can do, until you try,” she concludes.

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