CANNES, France - One of the great pleasures of this year's Cannes Film Festival has been a momentary close-up on Julianne Moore's face in David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars."
It comes when her character, a desperate and superficial actress, learns that the role she covets has opened up because her rival's young son has died. A flicker of utter glee flits over Moore's face so quickly and subtly before it's replaced by a mask of insincere sorrow. It takes a great actress like Moore to play one as shallow as Havana Segrand.
Moore's performance in "Maps to the Stars" has been one of the most acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival, where Cronenberg's gloriously dark satire of an incestuous, cynical Hollywood premiered earlier in the week. Written by Bruce Wagner and starring Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson, "Maps to the Stars" features cutthroat movie business insiders and celebrity-obsessed aspirants in Los Angeles who are, as Cronenberg said, "desperate to exist."
Actress Julianne Moore poses for photographers during a photo call for Maps to the Stars at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Monday.
"She's very touching to me," Moore said in an interview of her character. "She's such a lost soul, terribly adolescent at best. Her desire to be seen and to be acknowledged and to be validated - all of that externalization of her inner need is kind of heartbreaking."
The layers of satire and realism that course through "Maps to the Stars" make for some pleasant ironies. Havana says of the part that it "screams best-supporting," a judgment that could be fairly made of Moore in the film. (Co-star Robert Pattinson, amazed by the performance, concurs: "I think she'll get nominated.")
"That line is so funny and you do feel like you've heard that a few times," Moore says, laughing.
The irony is also that Moore could hardly be more different than her character. For decades now, the 53-year-old actress has been an ever-shifting, scarlet-haired force of naturalism. Though her range across films like "Short Cuts," ''Vanya on 42nd Street," ''The Big Lebowski," ''Boogie Nights" and "The Kids Are All Right" varies widely, Moore has always been an actress whose art is her apparent effortlessness. Plus, she has one of the best laughs in show business: a head-thrown-back, squinty-eyed, totally infectious cackle.
Does she grant that she's more level-headed than her character?
"I think so. I hope so," says Moore. "You have to have a fairly realistic assessment of who you are, what your abilities are and where you are in your career and your age. Hopefully I've never been that extreme."
Moore lives in New York with her husband and two children, but she doesn't dislike Los Angeles, where she once lived: "It's fine, there's just a lot of business there," she says.
"I love the movie business because it gives us the chance to explore all these kind of basic human condition," she says, despite the pitch black parody of "Maps." ''What is the real part? What is the fake part? To have an opportunity in your job to do that kind of stuff is lucky."
Cronenberg first reached out to Moore about the role seven years ago, but it was only last year that he got the production together. Moore also stars in the upcoming two-part "Mockingjay" that concludes the "Hunger Games" franchise.
"There are plenty of times where I've looked at stuff and gone, like, 'I can't do that,'" says Moore. "I don't look at things and feel like, 'I can do everything.' I can't. But if I have a connection and a response to it, I tend to be aware of what I'm capable of and what I'm not."