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How Julianne Moore prepared to play an Alzheimer's sufferer in 'Still Alice'

Julianne Moore accepts a Desert Palm achievement award

Julianne Moore accepts a Desert Palm achievement award for "Still Alice" at the 26th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, in Palm Springs, Calif. Credit: AP / Chris Pizzello

Julianne Moore is one of the most fearless actors around. Over the course of her distinguished career, she's played a porn star "Boogie Nights"), a pop singer who qualifies as the world's worst mother ("What Maisie Knew"), a woman who develops an allergic reaction to her environment ("Safe"), Sarah Palin ("Game Change") and a 1950s housewife married to a closeted homosexual ("Far From Heaven"). Moore is not afraid of a challenge.

Now, in "Still Alice," opening next Friday, the 54-year-old actress stars as a successful Columbia University professor who discovers she has a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. Lewis Beale spoke with the unpretentious and surprisingly bubbly New York resident during a publicity tour for the film.

Do you have any personal experiences with Alzheimer's?

None. I came to the part through pure research, it was all research. It was a fascinating process; people were generous with their knowledge. I spoke to the head of the Alzheimer's Association, and they set up calls with women who had been diagnosed with early-onset. And I spoke to doctors and researchers. And I went to a long-term care facility.

Anything in particular you learned about the disease from this?

It's not always the same; you have good days and bad days. And also, this notion that personality is obliterated by Alzheimer's, I found that not to be true.

You have this reputation for being totally fearless in terms of the roles you choose. Where does that come from?

I'm interested in story, in drama, in relationships, and people and why people do what they do. I find that endlessly fascinating. I like the ones successful in their relationships and those who fumble their relationships. Everybody has a big story, has a world inside them that's interesting and vital and normal. I think stories that are more traditional, they don't attract me, I feel that's not what attracts me. People who do extraordinary things, the people I see every day on the streets in New York City.

Your father was a lawyer and judge in the military, which means you moved around a lot. How did that affect you?

It's not unusual that people who move around a lot become actors. We're all familiar with how to fit in, how people behave. It became something I was good at, and understanding that behavior is not necessarily character.

So how did you get into acting?

I didn't make any sports team, not cheerleader, not drill team. There was nothing I could do after school, and I had friends who tried out for the school play, and I did really well, and I felt, "I could do this." It wasn't until I was a junior in high school, I had an English teacher who said "you're good at this, you could do this as a living." I had never seen a play at that point.

Any particular influences?

Certainly Meryl . She was on the cover of Time in the late '70s. I had seen her in "Holocaust," and I told my dad that's what I wanted to do. I liked being in plays, that's all I knew.

What's the best and worst advice you've been given about the business?

The best advice was just to be yourself. That's a hard advice for a young person, because you're trying to be someone else. The worst was that when I came to New York City, I should get a lot of agents. It wasn't true.

So when did you realize you could make a living as an actor?

I moved to New York after college, and I started working; I worked all throughout my 20s. I worked in theater and regional TV. I was able to support myself acting by the time I was 23. But I didn't break into film until I was 29.

You've lived in New York ever since. Is it true what they say, that it's a great place for a person like yourself, because people don't bother you?

It's true. People don't bother you. I live downtown, and they don't bother me. They say "hi" on the subway, but they don't bother you. But in midtown they do -- that's where the tourists are.

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