Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams and Todd Haynes discuss working together at the premiere of ‘Wonderstruck’ in Cannes, France. (May 18)
NEW YORK — Julianne Moore is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable actresses, thanks in part to her fiery red hair.
But that wasn’t always the case on the set of children’s adventure Wonderstruck (in theaters Friday in New York and Los Angeles; expands to Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington on Oct. 27; goes wider in November), where her locks were mostly tucked away inside white and gray wigs.
“I didn’t recognize you at first. I was like, ‘Who’s that lady?’ ” says Moore’s 14-year-old co-star, Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf and signs with an interpreter. “I just went and sat down (in the makeup room), and my mom was so shocked. She was like, ‘It’s Julianne!’ “
A young Midwestern boy and a young girl from New York share a mysterious connection 50 years apart.
Simmonds may soon garner similarly star-struck reactions after her critically acclaimed film debut in Wonderstruck, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival in May. In the drama, adapted from Brian Selznick’s 2011 book, the Utah native plays a deaf girl named Rose, who runs away to New York in 1927 to find her idol, silent-movie actress Lillian Mayhew (Moore). Moore plays the dual roles of Lillian and adult Rose, who helps a runaway deaf boy (Oakes Fegley) uncover secrets about his family in 1977.
“That’s hard to resist, getting to play two parts,” says Moore, 56, reuniting with Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes after three previous films together. Plus, “the book is pretty extraordinary. It’s about these kids who are trying to find their parents, but what they end up finding is their culture and community. There’s something beautiful and very meaningful (about that).”
The Oscar winner spent two months learning American Sign Language for her scenes as Rose. She even got pointers from Simmonds.
“She was so nice about my signing, which is bad. It’s like talking to a baby, I’m not kidding,” Moore jests, occasionally signing as she talks. On the set, Simmonds “was very encouraging. She’d always go, ‘You got it — keep going, keep practicing.’ “
Simmonds started acting in plays when she was 6, after abandoning her early ambitions of being a police officer or firefighter when she grew up. Her drama teacher sent her the casting call for Wonderstruck and her mom filmed her audition on her smartphone.
On video, “her whole body and face and gestures just came alive,” Haynes says. “It was extremely moving. The more we saw, the more we were compelled by what she did without language.”
Haynes used unconventional methods to yell “Action!”: having Simmonds’ mom dress in costume and walk ahead of her daughter to discreetly sign the word, and dropping heavy objects on the ground so she could feel the vibrations.
In one blooper that made it into the film, “I’m at my desk asleep, but you can see the table moving because they were pounding on the floor to get my attention,” Simmonds says.
She hopes to continue acting and is already shooting her next movie, A Quiet Place (2018). She plays a deaf heroine who “hates herself because she needed the ability to hear to prevent something bad from happening,” Simmonds says. “It’s very depressing, but also interesting.”
The film is directed by John Krasinski, who co-stars with wife Emily Blunt.
“Do you like them more than me?” Moore asks playfully. “I am an actor, after all. I have an ego.”
“It’s you, Julianne,” Simmonds responds, smiling. “You are my favorite of all time.”
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