For the June issue of DuJour, the journalist Lauren Waterman sat down to profile the actress Julianne Moore. They ate zucchini fries and talked about celebrity profiles. First, Moore pushed back against the typical mommy narrative journalists impose on actresses of a certain age: “Men aren’t asked about age,” Moore said. “Men aren’t asked about their children.” Then, Moore pushed back against all narratives layered onto celebrity life: “We try to impose a narrative on everything where it doesn’t exist, because we like narrative. … Like, in magazines, they’ll say, ‘This next chapter of her life.’ Chapter? … The fact of the matter is, you can’t impose a narrative until someone’s dead, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
So Waterman did the only thing she could do: She built a narrative around that. “Moore resists the easy and the neat in favor of the true,” Waterman writes, then leans into the tested celebrity profile segue: “It’s an impulse that’s served the actress well over the course of her nearly three-decade career.” The story is headlined “The Most Honest Actress in Hollywood.”
“Celebrity resists narrative” is the new celebrity narrative. That angle looks good for the subject, who avoids indulging in her own cult of celebrity even as she builds it up in the pages of a magazine. As for the journalist, who often has access to the celeb only until the zucchini fries are gone—she doesn’t have much of a choice. Moore is right that profiles about women zero in on age, beauty, and parenthood in a way that profiles of men do not (and in the “celebrity resists narrative” narrative, the journalist can still hit the lady mag buzzwords by quoting the celeb speaking out against the line of questioning; they also work well for a Slate headline). But it’s not really clear why a person needs to die before we can glean any wider meaning from her life—if that were true, Moore should have passed on playing Sarah Palin in last year’s Game Change. It’s just that in order to tell a real story about a person (and not their skincare regimen), you need a little bit more access to your subject than watching them have a snack in a café. At one point, Moore avoids commenting on parenthood, saying, “It’s an extremely profound experience, something that’s difficult to encapsulate in a single interview.” Most interesting things are.
The real problem hanging over this interview is the wider market force that commits both actress and journalist to this silly exercise. Waterman touches on it briefly: Moore lends her face to a line of skincare for “women over 50” for L’Oreal, and Waterman fishes out a quote on the beauty endorsement. “They’re great because they have a range of women representing their brand,” Moore says, “from very young women all the way up to Jane Fonda, who’s 75. It’s not about being beautiful for your age. It’s about being beautiful at your age.” Julianne Moore for L’Oreal: It’s not your typical lucrative skincare endorsement! But beauty companies like L’Oreal don’t just pad the incomes of actresses like Moore. They also buy ad space in magazines targeted at women, and those advertisers flock to content that leads to splashy coverlines about age, moms, beauty, and boyfriends. It doesn’t hurt for actresses like Moore to continue to resist that trend in interviews they give (and for journalists like Waterman to explore that problem in the stories that result from them). But as long as beauty products are funding journalism for women, we’re probably going to keep getting superficial reporting about them.