The Prime of Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore knows all too well how quickly the world can spin. It feels like just a moment ago her kids—Caleb, 17, and Liv, 12—were babies. “Of course when they’re really little, the pace is glacial because nothing is happening and you’re sitting in a sandbox,” she says, laughing. And then “of course it flashes by, and that little boy you were putting sand in the funnel with is 17 years old and starting to look at colleges. It really does crystallize what being alive is about. It forces you to pay attention.”

All eyes are on Moore now. While The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, in which she plays the rebellion’s President Alma Coin, topped the box office for three weeks, it’s Moore’s devastating portrayal of a college linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in the film Still Alice that has made her the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar. A win would be a first for Moore, 54, who has already had four nominations. Even after two decades of acclaimed performances—mixing art-house movies such as Boogie Nights, The Hours and The Kids Are All Right with the occasional big-budget blockbuster and Boston-accented 30 Rock guest spot—she’s humble about all the hoopla. “To be in a conversation about this kind of stuff, holy cow,” she says. “I just feel so lucky.”

Though the movie shot in just 23 days—only a few miles from her Manhattan home—Moore did extensive research, meeting with leading doctors and women who had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She also had cognitive tests administered (“which is really scary,” she says) and visited a long-term-care facility. “The one thing that was really, really important to me was that I didn’t want to represent anything that I hadn’t actually witnessed,” she adds. “Everything you see me do in the movie, I saw somebody do.” Her attention to detail wasn’t lost on costar Kristen Stewart, who plays Moore’s daughter. “When I started going through this process with her and began to observe this monumental task that she had completed, I could fully relate to the way she approached everything. I learned a lot,” Stewart says. “If you called her a jerk, we would have serious problems.”

Moore has chosen her roles so she can stay immersed in her children’s lives. A typical day with Caleb, Liv and her husband, director Bart Freundlich, 45, starts with breakfast (“I’m not a great cook, but I’ll make waffles or scrambled eggs”), then getting the kids to school and later shuttling them to sports practices. One memorable highlight of 2014 “was when my son scored 33 points in the first half of his basketball game,” Moore says. “We were so proud of him!” So what’s her best advice for fellow parents of teens? “It’s okay to let them eat junk food, because they’re just going to go to somebody else’s house and eat it if you don’t. If you want to keep them around, go ahead and just buy the Oreos.” (Her own vice? French Onion Sun Chips.) A really good day for the actress includes a yoga class. “I like how it makes my mind feel,” she says. “It’s not like I have some spectacular body, but it’s one thing I do where I don’t hurt myself, and that’s important to me.”

Currently writing five more children’s books in her Freckleface Strawberry series, she’ll next film the romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan before Mockingjay—Part 2 hits theaters this fall. Regardless of any Oscar gold, Moore says her role as Alice has already made her “feel grateful for what I have.” During filming, “I would come home every night and be really happy. It’s just about loving people,” she says. “That’s what life is all about.”

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