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Julianne Moore & Natalie Portman On The 'Tension' & 'Volatility' In 'May December'

Julianne Moore & Natalie Portman On The 'Tension' & 'Volatility' In 'May December'

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in May December
Netflix

The actresses opened up about their complex May December characters in an interview with PRIDE.

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Todd Haynes’ latest masterpiece, May December, explores the complicated elements that go into making a biopic about a woman enthralled in a public scandal, as well as people’s fascination with these kinds of stories.

In the world of May December, Gracie (Julianne Moore) became involved in a scandal during the 1990s when she, at 36 years old, had sex with a 13-year-old boy. While in prison, Gracie gave birth to their first child. Two decades later, Gracie and Joe (Charles Melton) remain married and have three kids together.

Natalie Portman in May December

Netflix

Here enters Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a Hollywood actress who’s been cast to play Gracie in a biopic about her life. To study for the role, Elizabeth literally moves into Gracie and Joe’s home. While the idea is for Elizabeth to learn more about Gracie in order to deliver a more empathetic and believable performance in the biopic, she ends up getting a little too involved in the lives of Gracie, Joe, and their children.

As an actress, Portman has played real-life people before, like Jacqueline Kennedy in 2016’s Jackie. However, she doesn’t think that Elizabeth has quite the right approach in her quest to study Gracie in May December. “I think Elizabeth maybe meddles with her subject a little more than I personally would,” Portman tells PRIDE. “But it was really interesting to get to explore her process of going into it and her idea of what finding the truth is. Because, of course, there’s an impossibility there of really finding any [truth]. There is no real truth, ever.”

Julianne Moore in May December

Netflix

Playing Gracie, though, proved just as big of a challenge for Moore. This is a character who can be completely unfiltered at times, but who is also clearly pushing fabricated narratives during different situations. “Sometimes she feels like she’s constructed this narrative and she’s living it to the fullest, and then when you see her in private moments, she feels pretty fragile and emotional,” Moore explains. “You realize that there is this volatility to this character, that she’s kind of swinging between these extremes. That’s what’s fascinating about her.”

Watch PRIDE's full interview with Natalie Julianne Moore & Natalie Portman

She continues, “I think you do make some decisions [about Gracie] before you go in, but the beauty of film work is that you don’t always know what’s going to happen until you’re on camera. You think a lot about who somebody is. You do the work. And then you hope that once you get there with all the elements, you’ll be surprised by something.”

Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in May December

Netflix

The official premise of May December is that Elizabeth develops an obsession with Gracie for the sake of her acting performance in this upcoming film. And yet, several scenes in May December have you wondering if these two women are about to cross a romantic or carnal line with each other. This is a Haynes movie, after all, and we can’t overlook any of the queer themes that might be lingering in the story.

“I feel like it’s thrilling to get these characters that do cross lines and do unexpected things,” Portman says. “They do things that [make] you feel like you’re completely with them, but sometimes you feel shocked by them, and you kind of never know where you stand. It’s a very unsettling and exciting experience, I think.”

Moore adds, “I love that feeling of danger too. I think we’re excited by that on screen when we don’t know what’s going to happen. Often, in entertainment, things are telegraphed. You’re allowing the audience to say, ‘Oh, this will happen next. I know he’s going to go through the door and there’s going to be a surprise party and whatever.’ And to be in a situation like this where you’re not quite sure, I think it’s thrilling. It’s thrilling to watch if you think someone’s going to cross a line on screen.”

Natalie Portman in May December

Netflix

Besides her starring role in May December, Portman is also a producer in the film. This is a person who has fiercely advocated for more inclusive Hollywood productions over the years, particularly behind the scenes. In fact, one is hard-pressed to forget when she presented the 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Director and said, “… and here are the all-male nominees.”

When asked about the slow, recent progress that we’ve been making on getting more women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals working on set for major movies and TV shows, Portman shows a genuine appreciation for that diversity. “I feel like it’s such a more embracing community because it’s more reflective of the world we’re portraying and the world that we live in,” she explains. “So many more perspectives are part of creating the vision. And being on a set like Todd’s was just such a warm, embracing environment. I think that this kind of multitude of experiences really informed [the film].”

Speaking of which, Moore starred many years ago in The Hunger Games movies as President Alma Coin. At the time, Samy Burch had been working in the casting department for those films. Cut to 2023, and Burch is now making her screenwriting debut in May December.

“I didn’t know Samy Burch when she was in the casting department of The Hunger Games. That was a massive, massive series, so we didn’t always know the people who were in production or on the set,” Moore says. “But I was so struck by this script. She’s so, so talented. The script is really deceptive in its simplicity. It’s like just people having this conversation. But once you get into it, it’s so muscular. It could hold so much. It would be really surprising how far Natalie and I could push things when we were together, how much it would hold. (…) I think it’s so interesting that Samy allowed for all of that.”

May December is now streaming on Netflix.

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Bernardo Sim

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Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.