Three extraordinary actresses get together with Oprah for a revelatory conversation about making movies, children, getting older, their "raging insecurity," and their transcendent new project.
The second after I saw The Hours —a masterful new movie that connects the lives of three women living at different times in the 20th century—I called Nicole Kidman to congratulate her on one of the most brilliant performances I'd seen in years. Soon after, I invited Nicole and her costars—Meryl Streep, who's inspired a generation of actresses, and the incredibly talented Julianne Moore, whose range spans everything from The Lost World to Anton Chekhov—to join me for tea. Nearly two years after they started shooting the film (based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize– winning novel), we talked about the way The Hours affected them, why one of them almost backed out of her role, how they balance motherhood and filmmaking—and the truth about aging in Hollywood.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman
Note: This interview appeared in the January 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Oprah: I know The Hours is a day in the life of three women in three separate worlds and times—but what is this movie really about?
Julianne: Universality. Each character's life layers on the others', and in the end, there's this incredible impact of how universal all the moments—the hours—of our lives are.
Meryl: My mother died a year ago, and I've just now been able to bring myself to sort through her things. I discovered a photo I'd never seen—a picture of my grandmother with her three sisters and mother. All the women were wearing these high lace collars in 1903, yet looking at my grandmother was like looking into the face of my own child. So I'm always interested in lifting the humanity from the dead pages of history. For instance, when we see a photograph of Virginia Woolf, her soul seems so available on her face, but there were many secrets, too. What great literature does is bring that humanity up until it beats in your own breast, and we feel what Virginia Woolf felt. For me this film was a telescoping of time and emotion and how connected we are—deep down, we're all very similar.
Oprah: We're far more alike than we are different.
Nicole: As a child, I remember walking around thinking, "I have so many things going on in my head." Then I'd look at someone and wonder if they did, too—but as a child, you're not sure how to find out. Part of growing up and learning to communicate involves being honest enough to say, "This is what I feel"—even if it's very dark or considered bad by some.
Oprah: Once you finish a movie, does the character leave you?
Julianne: I have an emotional attachment to characters as if they were real people. So a year later, I can resurrect them—but in the third person. I no longer feel as directly connected to my characters as I do when I am playing them, but over time they become people I've known.
Meryl: For me, sitting here talking about the movie is weird, because we shot it two years ago. Then we came back a year later and shot the ending. Once all the parts were assembled, the film felt like a collage.
Oprah: I heard each of you took a pay cut to do this film because you really wanted to work on it.
Meryl: Nicole did.
Nicole: I always take a pay cut—the only films I want to do are pay cut films! [Laughter.]
Oprah: Nicole, your character has a line I love—it's about peace.
Nicole: She says, "You can't find peace by avoiding life."
Meryl: That's the truth. I just loved the way the movie is poised—equal parts despair and the desire to live.
Oprah: You're so eloquent, Meryl.
Nicole: Isn't she?
Oprah: Nicole, you've said Meryl is the reason you're an actress.
Nicole: Absolutely. Here's a woman who has integrity, who has never compromised on what she believes in, and is just the greatest—that's it.
Julianne: She's the gold standard for every actress.
Nicole: When I'm working on a film, I often find myself thinking, "What would Meryl do?" [Meryl blushes.]
Julianne: Meryl, when you were on the cover of Time [in 1981], it made such an impression on me. You were doing extraordinary work, and everyone knew it.
Oprah: I had that cover in my office for a year until it started to yellow! After I saw The Hours, which focuses on some of the characters' happiest moments, "I thought about my own happiest moments." What were yours?
Julianne: The days when my two children, Caleb and Liv, were born [Moore, 42, gave birth to her second child, Liv Helen Moore Freundlich, last April]. Talk about drama! I've never lived through anything more exciting—and twice.
Oprah: We've all had moments when even simple things bring joy. When I was in Santa Barbara last summer, I was walking down a lane and saw a hummingbird—and I could smell the orange blossoms. In that moment, I thought, "Oh, my—I'm really happy."
Meryl: Happy moments? I feel ambushed by them sometimes. Last year some friends stayed with us for two weeks—a family of five. While the ten of us were sitting at dinner one night, I thought, "I love this. I'm really happy." And on the days my children were born, I felt equal amounts of terror and joy.
Oprah: I believe motherhood is the most difficult job on earth, but unfortunately, women in this country are not valued for it. I'm amazed that mothers can work and still go home and make spaghetti.
Nicole: And pancakes!
Julianne: And then a bath!
Nicole: Just this morning, I was giving my kids the "This is not a restaurant!" speech—and I could hear my own mother's voice in my head saying the same thing. I was making oatmeal, pancakes, and turkey bacon when Connor says, "I want real bacon." Isn't turkey bacon real bacon? I said, "This is not a restaurant—this is the selection, and that's it."
Oprah: Meryl, are you still amazed at that, having raised four children?
Meryl: I wouldn't say that they're raised—some are, some aren't. Their ages are 11, 16, 19, and 22. [Streep, 53, has been married to sculptor Donald Gummer since 1978.]
Oprah: Do you consider 22 raised?
Meryl: I do, but is my son out of the house? He is now, but I was beginning to wonder.
Oprah: By the time a child is 15 or 16, do you think you've done everything you can do?
Nicole: You're never done.
Meryl: And you're certainly not done worrying. I just drove across country to take my 19-year-old to college near Chicago and set up her apartment. It's interesting what children pick up—like the bossy gene. She was like, "That would be better over there, Mom." She gets that from me—and I was the one being told what to do!
Meryl: In spite of what people say about show business, it has been kind to me as a mother.
Julianne: To all of us.
Meryl: Unless you're producing movies, you can work for a finite amount of time and still wrangle a life.
Nicole: And you get downtime, like four or five months.
Oprah: Are your children usually with you on the set?
Nicole: While I was working on Moulin Rouge [the 2001 film for which she received an Oscar nomination], my children [Isabella, 9, and Connor, 7, whom she adopted with Tom Cruise] wanted to be there. But they usually get bored very quickly on a set.
Oprah: So on The Hours set, Virginia Woolf wasn't turning them on?
Nicole: They didn't like my new look! [Kidman wore a prosthetic nose to look more like Virginia Woolf.] When I took my kids to see a movie the other night, Connor saw a poster for The Hours and said, "I don't like that nose." He was like, "Uh-uh!"
Meryl: Children don't usually like their mothers to change anything, really.
Julianne: And they prefer you to be at home.
Meryl: And when your kids come home, they don't necessarily want to talk to you—they just want to know you're standing there ready to talk.
Julianne: When my son, Caleb, saw that same poster, he said, "I don't like that movie because there's another little boy in it."
Nicole: Oh, yes—they do get jealous of other kids playing your children.
Julianne: My son told his grandmother, "When I see that poster, I feel like my mommy is not my mommy." That was so upsetting to me!
Meryl: When I was learning Polish for Sophie's Choice [the 1982 film for which Streep won a Best Actress Oscar], my son used to say, "No Poshish, Mommy." I could only practice in the car on the way to work.
Oprah: What has motherhood taught you?
Nicole: Patience—and that I really don't have all the answers.
Meryl: Gratitude toward my own mother.
Julianne: Yes. When you become a parent, you finally appreciate and understand what your mother did. It's such a gift. You think, You felt this way about me? It's astonishing.
Oprah: What's the most challenging part of motherhood?
Julianne: The endurance it takes. I always tell people that having a new baby is not necessarily difficult—it's just incredibly time-consuming. And it keeps going and going. You learn how to live on very little sleep, and you just power through things.
Oprah: Nicole, what's been the biggest challenge of motherhood for you?
Nicole: My instinct is to protect my children from pain. But adversity is often the thing that gives us character and backbone. For me it's always been a struggle to back off and let my children go through difficult experiences.
Oprah: We all know that in the past few years, you've lived through some adversity of your own.
Nicole: Yes, my marriage just sort of fell apart. I think a character can sometimes come into your life because she's meant to be there. The dead can give us gifts. And Virginia Woolf gave me the gift of being able to play her at a time when I was depressed and in an emotional struggle. I used her knowledge. In the same way that life feeds art, art feeds life.
Oprah: Didn't someone recently come up to you and say, "You look happy again"?
Nicole: A waitress who was bringing me the check whispered, "It's so good to see you happy again."
Oprah: How did you feel?
Nicole: I thought, "Good—I'm glad you think that." No, really, I hadn't thought I'd been looking so good before then, either. Life is about contrasts. There's a beautiful line in the film that says "Why does somebody have to die? So that we can appreciate life more." We actually don't want everything to always exist perfectly.
Oprah: Then we wouldn't appreciate the joys.
Nicole: I also believe that so much of happiness is about just taking time to ask yourself, "What do I actually feel right now?" in the midst of the rushing.
Oprah: Were you glad to be working so soon after the breakup?
Nicole: I didn't want to do this movie! I'm known for quitting a film a week before shooting starts.
Meryl: Me, too!
Nicole: Do you?
Meryl: Oh, yes.
Nicole: Then someone has to talk me back into it.
Oprah: Are you serious?
Nicole: It's terrible. It's now a running joke with my agent, Kevin Huvane. Two weeks before shooting began, I told him, "I can't do this movie. Get me out of it." And my agent, who's like a brother to me, said, "You're going to get on a plane and go make this movie."
Oprah: Meryl, why have you tried to back out?
Meryl: Because I say to myself, "I don't know how to act—and why does anybody want to look at me on-screen anymore?"
Oprah: That's a jaw-dropper—Meryl Streep thinks she can't act!
Meryl: Lots of actors feel that way. What gives you strength is also your weakness—your raging insecurity.
Oprah: Somewhere inside yourself, don't you know you're the gold standard?
Meryl: But does that help?
Oprah: Julianne, I've heard from your agent that after every film, you're sure you'll never work again.
Julianne: At the beginning of a movie, I'm scared. By the middle, I'm doubting my choices. And by the end, I'm certain I've ruined the film. Sometimes I'll even suggest other actors for the parts I'm offered.
Nicole: I do that—I suggested you!
Julianne: This is not good!
Nicole: I told my agent, "I'm telling you, Julianne would be much better in the role of Virginia Woolf than I would—she's wonderful. Tell her I'm just walking away from it because I'm not in the position to make it and I don't think I'll be any good in it."
Oprah: That amazes me.
Julianne: It's so funny.
Nicole: So if you're sure you're not right for a role, that means you should take it!
Meryl: True. Embedded in this entire conversation is an idea I'm sure we share: There are so many amazing actresses. The shame is that a movie is usually made only once. I sit in awe of most other performers—I don't understand how they do what they do. I've never put together a method I can articulate. What I know changes all the time. You do a movie because you love one scene or a word in it just clicks for you, but how to do the rest of it? And you can't prepare. Then the other actor says something—
Nicole: And so much of your performance is just a reaction to their character.
Julianne: Which is why it's great to work with Meryl. The most exciting part about acting is what the other person is doing.
Oprah: Then you have someone to act against.
Julianne: There's this vitality. It's so much fun when something you don't expect happens. The other part—the preparation and publicity afterward—is what you dread.
Meryl: Tom Stoppard wrote a trilogy [The Coast of Utopia, 2002], and there's this line in it: "There is no libretto. We need wit and courage to make our way while our way is making us." That's true about acting and living. In both you don't know how people carry on sometimes.
Oprah: Yes. Now I want to switch gears and talk about getting older. In an industry that idolizes youth, how do you feel about aging?
Meryl: Why are you looking at me? [All laugh.] No, really—I feel blessed to have my life. Besides, I have friends who are dead already, so why would I complain about getting older?
Meryl: In our business, I think the attention that's given to how you look is cruel and unrealistic. The people in the audience will accept much more than the people who run the film studios will.
Oprah: And the solution involves more than just creating roles for women over 40. The issue is how we view ourselves as women and what we expect of one another. It's ultimately about what we value.
Meryl: We devalue ourselves, and we really have to stop that.
Oprah: We've all heard women saying of other women, "She's too old for that," "She shouldn't be wearing that," or "Can you believe she's with a man ten years younger?"
Nicole: Go, girl!
Oprah: Julianne, how did turning 40 feel—traumatic, exciting, wonderful?
Julianne: I'm with Meryl—I've considered the alternative, so I feel fortunate. I'm so happy with my life, my relationships, my family, my job. You can make something difficult by bringing attention to it, by saying, for instance, "I have a really big behind—have you noticed?" Then everybody's going to turn around and look at your behind.
Oprah: If your behind is big, they've probably already noticed!
Julianne: But you don't have to hammer on it.
Nicole: It all comes back to women supporting other women. We're often too tough on one another. I have a girlfriend [actress Naomi Watts, who starred in Mulholland Drive and, most recently, The Ring]— someone I've known since I was 14—whose film career is taking off. Everyone is saying to me, "How are you two going to stay friends?" I'm like, "What are you talking about?" When you're generous of spirit, it comes back to you. Many women don't learn that early enough, and they don't teach it to their daughters. We really have to stick by one another. And when you hit the big crises—boy, your female friends are the ones there for you.
Oprah: I saw this T-shirt once that said HUSBANDS COME AND GO, BUT BEST FRIENDS ARE FOREVER. Nicole, at 35, do you even think about aging?
Nicole: When I was first asked to play Virginia Woolf, some people said, "Don't play older." And then I wanted to do it just because they'd said that. As an actress, you can play all different ages for quite a while. That's why a lot of female performers don't reveal their age. You get boxed in.
Oprah: And once the age is out there, people think you can only play a certain thing.
Meryl: But I think you should say your age.
Nicole: I do say my age.
Oprah: I do, too—and I lose respect for women who lie about theirs.
Julianne: But you can understand why they hide it.
Oprah: I'm not talking about actresses—just regular people. Denying your age is like denying a part of yourself.
Nicole: Men lie about their age as well.
Meryl: A man will say, "I'm a little over 60." In other words, he's 80!
Oprah: Do you do anything to keep yourself looking this good?
Julianne: There's a whole team of professionals over there. [She points to the hairstylists and makeup artists.]
Oprah: If people only knew what a team effort it took to get us all looking like this today!
Meryl: I certainly didn't wake up looking like this.
Oprah: Julianne, do you have a health regimen? When I read that you drink a bottle of water every morning, I thought, "Gee, I once tried that for two days."
Julianne: Honestly, I just do that because I'm thirsty.
Oprah: Meryl, do you work out?
Oprah: I envy that you can look like this and not work out.
Meryl: I struggle all the time: Should I eat this or that? Julia Roberts once said that being an actress is about saying no to yourself every day—and that somehow always turns out to mean saying no to the things that make you happy! [Everyone laughs.] When I have to do a role, I at least start taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Nicole: But you did a cartwheel in The Seagull [the 2001 stage adaptation of Chekhov's play].
Meryl: I'm a strong girl. Genes, you know. My grandmother lived to be 93, and she didn't work out, either, which I'm sure is bad news for all the workout people. My grandmother stayed busy. I don't think we're all as active as we used to be.
Oprah: I think we're more active. When I go to the gym, I'm like, "Who are all these people here?"
Meryl: You're active, but a lot of people don't do a thing.
Nicole: Did you read that we're now supposed to exercise an hour a day?
Meryl: Yes—it's gone from 20 minutes three times a week to an hour a day.
Nicole: I used to think I was doing great working out for a half hour.
Julianne: Then you've still got to get out of your workout clothes and shower.
Oprah: On days when I'm not taping a show, I just stay in my workout clothes. Nicole, how do you keep yourself healthy?
Nicole: I like to swim.
Oprah: And I hear you never go out without a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Nicole: I feel strongly about that. There's skin cancer in my family, and I'm from Australia, which has a high incidence of it. We've got to wear sunscreen.
Oprah: At the end of the magazine, every month, I have a column called "What I Know for Sure." What do you each know for sure?
Nicole: The more you give, the more you get back. You have to stay open and trust.
Julianne: It's easier to be happy than it is to be sad. Depression is very difficult.
Meryl: I know that I will never, ever lose the weight I gained from my first baby!
Oprah: Which was 22 years ago!
Meryl: And I hold those 15 pounds against him!
Oprah: And you're still trying to get rid of them?
Meryl: I don't think I ever will. If I had to stand up right at this moment and turn around for everyone, maybe then I'd care. But the truth is that right now, I really don't care.
Oprah: You don't?
Meryl: No. This is how I look—and I'm happy with my life. Around the world, some women are living the way we were a hundred years ago in this country. It wasn't that long ago that women here couldn't own property or vote.
Julianne: When I think about Virginia Woolf wanting a room of her own, I know that's what most of us have. We have our own jobs. We can take care of ourselves and of our children. We're so lucky.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
© 2014 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.