Julianne Moore hams it up as evil witch in movie Seventh Son

Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).PHOTOS: UIP, HBO, SHAW ORGANISATION, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).PHOTOS: UIP, HBO, SHAW ORGANISATION, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).PHOTOS: UIP, HBO, SHAW ORGANISATION, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).
Roles Julianne Moore (left) has played include a witch in Seventh Son (main picture); American politician Sarah Palin (with co-star Ed Harris, top) in Game Change; and an unhappy housewife in The Hours (above).PHOTOS: UIP, HBO, SHAW ORGANISATION, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Acclaimed actress Julianne Moore plays a campy witch in Seventh Son, a role she is taking on with plenty of relish

When an actor does a flagrantly commercial film that seems so far removed from the serious stuff he is known and respected for, the reaction often is: What was he thinking?

Moviegoers who appreciate Julianne Moore, in particular, will probably be baffled to see her in the fantasy flick Seventh Son, which opens in Singapore today.

Aimed at the young-adult market, it has the four-time Oscar nominee - acclaimed for her masterfully understated performances in films such as Boogie Nights (1997), The End Of The Affair (1999) and The Hours (2002) - hamming it up as an evil witch.

But while the part cannot have been particularly taxing for the star, she delivers it with campy relish, pretty much doing everything short of cackling as she scowls through her scenes in a black dress and heavy eyeliner.

Speaking to Life! and other press in New York earlier this month, she explains this latest role scratched an itch for her.

"Well, I wanted to play a wicked witch," says Moore, radiantly buoyant as she celebrates her 54th birthday on the day of the interview. "I think you have to play one of those once in your career and it was a fun, right-out-there evil, nutty character, so it was fun for me."

Based on a young-adult novel by British author Joseph Delaney, the story pits Moore's vengeful character, Mother Malkin, against The Spook (Jeff Bridges), a man who fights supernatural baddies, and his young apprentice Thomas Ward (Ben Barnes), who as the seventh-born son of a seventh son may have special powers to stop her.

An old-fashioned fantasy quest, it gave Moore - who specialises in playing vulnerable and emotionally tortured women - a chance to switch gears and break out her pantomime. "I like the mercurial nature of the witch. All that stuff is really entertaining," she says.

And like any actress worth her salt, she has thought through Mother Malkin's back story and come to her own conclusions about what might motivate this seemingly two-dimensional villain.

"It's based on a very well-known middle-school novel called The Spook's Apprentice and it's a really sweet book. So when we were doing this, I read that book and thought it really is about growing up and the process of maturation - who are you going to be and what do you choose, good or evil," says Moore.

"So it's basically all about human nature and the complexity of it and the choices you make. And the thing about myths and fantasy is that all of those characters are manifestations of feelings - big feelings."

Being a best-selling children's author herself, the actress also took a special interest in the young-adult novel it was adapted from.

"It was interesting to me that it was a children's novel because that's how kids start to understand what these emotions are," says Moore, who wrote her first book, Freckleface Strawberry, a 2007 New York Times bestseller, after her son Caleb, now 17, said he was insecure about his freckled skin, just as she was when she was growing up. "And that's what movies are for - they're for us to explore our emotions," says the star, who also has a 12-year-old daughter, Liv, with her director husband Bart Freundlich, 44.

In addition, she sympathises with her witchy character as a woman who was betrayed by her former lover and irretrievably damaged by that experience.

"You learn she's been buried underground for a really long time and she feels betrayed... So it's also an interesting study about people who have been abused or tortured or sidelined."

So no matter what the genre, there is something to learn about human nature.

"What was cool about doing this movie - and doing it with Jeff Bridges, because I have a history with him - is that it's about how these people, who were once romantic partners, have kind of ended up on both sides of the good and evil divide," she says, referring to Bridges, her co-star in The Big Lebowski (1998). "So you always try to find something meaningful, even within a fantasy."

Of course, Moore recognises that the other new movie she is promoting, Still Alice, is a whole other ball game.

"It's exciting," she says of the growing Oscar buzz around that film, which critics are saying could be a career-defining one for the actress. "It's a movie that we shot in 23 days in March for less than US$4 million and we went to the Toronto Film Festival and ended up with a distribution and release this year.

"It's incredible and we are shocked it all happened so fast. But we are also so grateful because it's a beautiful story and about a subject that's affecting a lot of people these days."

Her part of Alice, a renowned linguistics scholar who develops early- onset Alzheimer's and starts to lose her words as well as her identity, was "pretty demanding" and involved doing a "tremendous amount of research", including interviews with those who suffer from the disease.

As for talk of this finally winning her that coveted gold statuette, she freely admits, with a laugh: "Oh, I think it's great.

"I mean, honestly, you don't even know if people are going to see your movies. And when you make a tiny movie, you don't know if it's even going to get released. So to have a movie like this get distribution and then to have buzz around it, that's more than you can hope for. We are thrilled, believe me."

But even if she does bag an Oscar, she promises she will continue to switch it up once in a while, just like she did with Seventh Son. "I try. You know, you want to, just because of your nature, I think every actor does that," says the actress who won a Golden Globe and Emmy for channelling Sarah Palin in the 2012 television movie Game Change.

"I think if you have done something that has been really tragic for a while, you are like, now I am ready for a comedy. And then you do a comedy and then you have a headache from having done comedy. So you do float around.

"What's been great for me in my career is having the opportunity to do all kinds of things."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Seventh Son opens in Singapore today.


Moore's Oscar misses

A list of films she almost took home the gold statuette for:

Boogie Nights (1997)

Nominated for: Best Supporting Actress

What: Moore plays Amber Waves, the mother figure of a group of porn stars including Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler. Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers wrote that her performance "pierces the heart" as a mother who loses custody of her own young son.

Who she lost to: Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential

The End Of The Affair (1999)

Nominated for: Best Actress

What: According to the New York Times, Moore "brings strength and rapturousness to her potentially melodramatic role" as a habitual adulteress in director Neil Jordan's film adaptation of Graham Greene's 1951 novel.

Who she lost to: Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry

The Hours (2002)

Nominated for: Best Supporting Actress; with a Best Actress nomination for Far From Heaven, Moore became the ninth performer in history to receive two nominations at the Oscars in the same year

What: Playing a pregnant 1950s California housewife in The Hours, a movie revolving around Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway, Moore gave a "tight-violin-string portrayal of a terrified soul with a flash of panic behind the eyes", according to The Guardian, whose critic Peter Bradshaw adds that it is "a superbly controlled, humane performance".

Who she lost to: Nicole Kidman, her co-star in The Hours

Far From Heaven (2002)

Nominated for: Best Actress

What: Here, Moore plays another 1950s housewife, Cathy, whose world is turned upside down when her husband reveals he is gay. Reviewing the movie in the New York Times, A.O. Scott said the actress "glows with warmth, curiosity and goodness".

Who she lost to: Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago