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Julianne Moore Young: Rare Must-See Photos of Hollywood’s Best Before She Got Her Start

Did you know the flame-haired actress was an '80s soap star?

Julianne Moore possesses a singular mix of grace and intensity that makes her undeniably captivating. In her 30-plus year career, she’s played paleontologists (in The Lost World: Jurassic Park), porn stars (in Boogie Nights), avant-garde artists (in The Big Lebowski), ’50s housewives (in Far From Heaven) and many more seemingly disparate roles — and excelled in all of them. She’s brought complex women to life in every genre, and at 63 she remains an A-lister who moves seamlessly from indie movies to blockbusters.

Julianne Moore’s latest performance can be seen in May December, now streaming on Netflix. Moore plays Gracie, a woman who became a controversial figure in the ’90s when she began a relationship with a 13-year-old and consequently did jail time. In the present day, the two remain together, and are visited by an actress (Natalie Portman) who seeks to study Gracie in preparation for playing her in an upcoming film.

Loosely inspired by the real-life Mary Kay Letourneau scandal, May December tells a harrowing story without descending into sensationalism, and the way Moore brings a despicable character to life makes for one of 2023’s most memorable performances.

'May December' stars Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, 2023
May December stars Natalie Portman and Julianne MooreAlberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Moore already has an Oscar and two Golden Globes to her name, and received a Golden Globe nomination for May December, which means her sixth Oscar nomination is surely on the way. With the actress in the news this awards season, we’re taking a look back at how she got her start.

From army brat to soap actress

Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith in North Carolina in 1960. She was an army brat and moved frequently growing up. In a New York Times interview, Moore discussed how this background shaped her as an actress, saying, “That life teaches you that behavior is not concrete. A lot of people think that how you behave is a given or that behavior is character. When you move around a lot, you learn that behavior is mutable. I would change, depending on where I was.” It makes sense, then, that she’s long played layered characters who go beyond simply being likable or unlikable.

Julianne Moore with her mom and younger sister in the '60s
Julianne Moore as a toddler with her mom and younger sister in the ’60s@juliannemoore/Instagram

It’s hard to believe, but Moore didn’t always know she wanted to be an actress. A type-A personality and self-proclaimed “good girl,” who thought she’d one day become a doctor, Moore started acting in high school, joining a drama class where the teacher recognized her burgeoning talent. She then graduated from Boston University with a degree in theater. She moved to New York City in 1983 and, like many actresses before and since, worked as a waitress while going on auditions and appearing in artsy theater productions.

Julianne Moore onstage in the play 'Ice Cream With Hot Fudge,' 1990
Julianne Moore, age 30 onstage in the play Ice Cream With Hot Fudge (1990)@juliannemoore/Instagram

In 1985, Moore got her big break when she was cast as Frannie Hughes (and, in classic soap opera fashion, her evil identical half-sister, Sabrina) in As the World Turns. She was a cast member until 1988, and won a Daytime Emmy that same year. Moore saw her stint in the soap world as a valuable turning point that taught her a great deal about acting, telling an interviewer, “I don’t know if I would call myself a soap star, but I felt really lucky to have a job, to be a working actor. So it was a very big deal that I was able to go to work every day and I could support myself, and I worked with a lot of really terrific people,” in 2019.

Julianne Moore in 'As the World Turns,' '80s
Julianne Moore in her 20s during her big-haired ’80s soap opera days@juliannemoore/Instagram

During this time, Moore also appeared in the miniseries I’ll Take Manhattan as well as a selection of TV movies. In the early ’90s, she moved into feature films, and her profile grew exponentially throughout the decade.

Valerie Bertinelli and Julianne Moore in 'I'll Take Manhattan,' 1987
Valerie Bertinelli and Julianne Moore, age 27, in I’ll Take Manhattan (1987)@juliannemoore/Instagram

Becoming a movie star

Moore began her movie career with parts in genre movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Body of Evidence and The Fugitive as well as more highbrow fare like Benny & Joon, Short Cuts and Vanya on 42nd Street. She stood out in the large ensemble cast of Short Cuts, and moved into leading roles by the mid-’90s.

Julianne Moore in 'Short Cuts,' 1993
Julianne Moore, age 33, in Short Cuts (1993)@juliannemoore/Instagram

In 1995, Moore starred in Safe, an indie movie in which she played an ’80s housewife battling a mysterious disease. The intensity of her performance won critical acclaim and demonstrated her knack for playing tortured women (she’d prove to be one of Hollywood’s masters of onscreen crying).

in 1994
Julianne Moore, age 34, poses for a photo shoot in 1994Michael Tighe/Donaldson Collection/Getty

Moore made it into the blockbuster big leagues in 1997, playing Jeff Goldblum‘s girlfriend in the sequel to Jurassic Park. That same year, she had one of her signature roles when she played a surprisingly maternal ’70s porn star in Boogie Nights and received her first Oscar nomination. She’d be nominated three more times (for her roles in The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours) and in 2015 she won Best Actress for her depiction of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice.

'Boogie Nights,' 1997
Julianne Moore, age 37, in Boogie Nights (1997)@juliannemoore/Instagram

Julianne Moore today

Moore’s career didn’t slow down one bit in the ’00s, as she starred in movies like Savage Grace, A Single Man, Chloe, The Kids Are All Right and Maps to the Stars. Her most recent role, in May December, is one of her most provocative to date, and there’s no telling where she’ll go next.

Julianne Moore, age 63, in 2023Dia Dipasupil/WireImage/Getty

Moore has been a star for a long time now, but resists the labels that are commonly applied to actresses in her age range. In a 2021 interview, she said, “There’s so much judgement inherent in the term ‘aging gracefully.’ Is there an ungraceful way to age? We don’t have an option of course. No one has an option about aging, so it’s not a positive or a negative thing, it just is.” These words of wisdom set Moore apart in an industry obsessed with youth, and it’s precisely this unconventionality that makes her so rewarding to watch.

Read more about your favorite actresses here:

Jodie Foster Reflects on Her Storied Career and Teases ‘True Detective: Night Country’

Jennifer Aniston Young: 16 Rare Photos That You Have to See to Believe

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