Sabbatical done

Hollywood

Sabbatical done

Faking it: Demi Moore with her co-stars in ‘The Joneses’.

The biceps are smaller. The tabloid tales of excessive salary demands, followed by those of rural seclusion, have been replaced with a running commentary about her tweets, many of them concerning her activism against human trafficking. Her signature raspy voice and striking green eyes are unchanged, her only concessions to age a single strand of gray and a pair of reading glasses tucked discreetly on a coffee table next to her designer sunglasses.

Time and circumstances have transformed Demi Moore, 47, from a box-office superstar consumed with one-arm push-ups into this small-film actress, sitting in lotus position.

Her breakout performance in the 1985 film St Elmo’s Fire led to perhaps the most crazy-quilt — and lucrative — filmography as any contemporary actress can claim. There were the date movies (About Last Night...), the steamy provocations (Indecent Proposal, Disclosure) and the blockbusters (Ghost, A Few Good Men), which begot the overexposed flops (Striptease) and, in the final body blow to the once-highest-paid actress in Hollywood, G I Jane, released in 1997.

Now Moore — a k a Mrs Ashton Kutcher, her biggest role of the last few years — is back on the scene, quietly and no less eclectically, adding a period heist movie (Flawless), an ensemble piece (Bobby), an under-the-radar family angst picture (Happy Tears) and now The Joneses, an indie satire.

In it she plays the matriarch of a fake family, sent to suburbia to hawk face creams and golf clubs and other totems of conspicuous consumption. Her successes and limitations limn that curious piece of geography in Hollywood where the over-40 actress can encounter bounty (you go, Sandra Bullock) or a spectacularly barren landscape (get back on the big screen, Michelle Pfeiffer).

If she’s now the mom — she’s been cast as Miley Cyrus’s in the coming LOL — and no longer the big-budget babe, it is what it is. She cites as her proudest achievement her ability to endure fame and come out on the other side the mom and wife in psychic bliss.

“The thing I am most proud of is the relationship I have with my children, with my husband, with my ex-husband, with his wife, with my friends,” Moore said during an hourlong chat over coffee at a brasserie here. “And I think within that, with myself, I think I am most proud of my willingness — well, not my willingness, but I think the grace in which I have dealt with and continue to deal with my obstacles and challenges and my continued desire and ability to embrace my failings and to appreciate that which is imperfect.”

Demi Moore has been, at various times, less performer than cultural Rorschach test. Did you love her when she bared her naked pregnancy on the cover of Vanity Fair, demanding real Hollywood money and snagging a hot, successful husband 15 years her junior? Or were you more impressed with her for ditching the scene for nearly a decade in favour of carpooling and grocery shopping in Hailey, Idaho, and for having a highly civilised, even charming divorce in a sea of sick-making YouTubeistic splitsville exhibitionism?

Either way, you know her and her quintessential Hollywood narrative. Born in Roswell, N M, Moore escaped a chaotic and even tragic childhood that included her father’s abandonment and the suicide of her alcoholic adopted father, who dragged the family from city to city before settling in Los Angeles in 1976, where she attended Fairfax High School.

Wild child

Metamorphosis: Actress Demi MooreAfter quitting school to act, she landed her first big role on the soap opera General Hospital, and her film career was sparked by what could be described as Brat Pack serendipity. Joel Schumacher, the director of St Elmo’s Fire, a tale of 20-something angst, worked in an office across the hall from John Hughes, the creator of 1980s teenage touchstones like Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who died last year. Moore had gone to audition for Hughes, Schumacher explained, and had gotten tired of waiting.

He had been trying to cast the role of Jules, the vexed drama queen who botches her own suicide attempt, and had been frustrated in his efforts. Schumacher peered down the hall of his floor one day and spotted the young actress, leaving.

“Literally as I walked out my door, I saw this flash of hair,” Schumacher said in an telephone interview. “‘Run after her!’ ” he said to his co-writer, Carl Kurlander. “After five minutes he came back panting and said her name is Demi Moore, and she’s on General Hospital. So she came in. She rode a motorcycle those days without a helmet. She was, I think it would be appropriate to call her, a very wild child.”

But she wowed him almost instantly with her cross of uncanny beauty and what he called “emotional depth,” even though he had to fire her (momentarily) for antics — reportedly drugs, though neither he nor Moore will divulge specifics. “She took that role, and she made it her own,” he said. “And it was at that point that she really started disciplining herself to not be the wild child.”

As Moore’s career exploded, she became known throughout Hollywood as one of its most disciplined, if demanding, performers. Her zeal for trappings like the private jet and the bevy of weird outfits, and for demanding box-office gender parity, brought her the moniker Gimme Moore and unflattering press coverage even as she churned out hits. “There was a real misperception,” Moore said. “Part of it was the times we were living in. They were very excessive times.”

 She took a sip from her Starbucks cup, which no one in the West Hollywood restaurant where we met seemed to mind. She’s a regular. “And at the same time I have to step back, because I believe I have to look at, and not in a way that is in any way a victim, and say: ‘Okay, what was it that I was doing? What was it that I was putting out that also created that?’ And take responsibility.” Her day of reckoning was nigh.

In 1998, following the box-office flop of G I Jane, Moore made her shift from box-office star to small-town mom. Her mother died, her marriage with Bruce Willis hit the skids. She sat on the set of Passion of Mind and felt things coming apart. “While I was there, I realised that my children weren’t getting the best of me, the film wasn’t getting the best of me, and I didn’t even know where I was in the mix,” she said.

Career savasana

“As a product of divorced parents I realised I needed to just be in one place and allow my children to regain their equilibrium, to ground and find another center, and I didn’t feel that was something that I could do while being off on location and running around.” It was not that she retired, as was widely reported, she said; she was just resting, a career savasana.

Her three children became “my entire focus,” she said, “and without a time frame that I could say, ‘All right, in a year or two years.’ It was all just an instinct of knowing that it would be revealed.” So there were several years of volunteering in classrooms, going on field trips, living the mom life.

And then, she said, her kids had had enough. Enter Mr Kutcher, whom she met at a dinner party in New York in 2003. “My kids really got to a point after living in a small town,” she explained, “when they really felt they needed something bigger, something with more diversity. They really pushed me to come back here. Then I met my husband and had my own motivations.” Back in Los Angeles, where she and Kutcher married in a 2005 kabbalah ceremony (she has practiced that mystical movement of Judaism for eight years).

Moore’s re-emergence in Hollywood came in 2003, as the spectacularly in-shape villain of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. But mostly gone are the big-budget mainstream entertainments.

Moore — who wore tiny-checked pants, jazz shoes and a black sweater to the interview, at which she easily tucked one leg under the other into a half-lotus position on a couch — is looking for roles that are “creatively satisfying,” she said.
Moore’s situation is both odd and typical, Schumacher said. “Middle-aged women can have huge careers on television but not as much in movies. It’s like they celebrate you when you’re the pretty young thing, then there is a dead zone until menopause, when they rediscover you and give you an Academy Award.”

Her latest film, The Joneses, co-starring David Duchovny, explores the notion of hyperconsumption, which Moore said fascinated her. “I love the message that ultimately while stuff is great and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a nice bag or a nice car or a nice house or nice clothes,” she said, “it ultimately is not the answer to our happiness or fulfillment, that it’s our human connection with one another, that without that none of the other stuff matters anyway.”

For now it seems Moore is comfortable with her cracks — both real and fictionalised — for the big screen. She has a husband who tries never to spend a night apart from her and who she is “Absolutely!” confident will be at her side when she is 70. She is dedicated to her foundation. She’s got her journey, which she speaks of often. Movies are now the icing, not the cake.

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