Todd Haynes: It's so gratifying to make an older lady the object of desire
American director Todd Haynes, known for films such as Carol and Far From Heaven, has reunited with Julianne Moore once again for his new movie, Wonderstruck. He talks to Laura Harding about the joys of working with actresses of a certain age and why child actors are wise beyond their years.
Hollywood can be unkind to actresses after they reach a certain age. Even the most compelling women can be left to play mothers and the wives of other actors who see no such deterioration in their careers.
So it's no surprise that stars such as Cate Blanchett (48) and Julianne Moore (57) choose to work with Todd Haynes time and again, with the indie director lovingly turning his camera to stories of their complexity, passion and mystery.
His new film, Wonderstruck, is his third with Moore, whom he affectionately refers to as Julie, following her turns in his projects Safe and Far From Heaven.
"She is luminous," the director says. "I don't know if there is a better living film actor who understands the film medium better.
"She has a fearlessness and is absolutely disinterested in roles that just simply complement her or make you like her as a character."
In the film, adapted by Brian Selznic from his own novel, Moore takes on dual roles of a silent film star who is the subject of adoration from a deaf young girl, and the older incarnation of the child herself, even learning American Sign Language to communicate with the deaf actors.
"As always, she does meticulous research and wants to feel confident that she really has explored all the parameters of the role and its terrain," Haynes says.
He adds that it is "somewhat coincidental" that so many of his projects star women who would no longer be considered ingenues - notably Blanchett in Carol, as well as Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce.
Indeed in Carol, which was nominated for six Oscars, Blanchett is very much an object of desire and fascination as she becomes embroiled in a relationship with a younger woman, played by Rooney Mara.
"It's about the story and that calls for someone of this age," Haynes says. "Carol was so much about an older woman and a younger woman's relationship from different classes and different standings in life.
"It was so pleasurable and gratifying to make the older woman the object of desire and to have the younger woman begin as the subject looking at this older woman.
"Rooney Mara is stunning and perfect in every way. However, she is kind of nervous and awkward, and Cate is the emblem of sophisticated allure.
"I created a sex symbol out of Cate Blanchett, as if I needed to after all these years, because of that material. It was called for and I had the perfect person to pull it off."
Wonderstruck is a very different story that crosses between 1927 and 1977 New York, between a silent film and a speaking film, and even moves back and forth between black and white and colour. It gave him new challenges to face.
"The story was beautiful and compelling and raised questions we all ask at some point of our lives about who we are and about our relationship to our family, even members of our family we don't know," Haynes says.
The film provided the new task of working with children such as Oakes Fegley and young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who was 13 when she was cast. "That age is complex and fascinating," the director says. "I can probably speak more for boys than for girls, but there is clarity and wisdom before hormones enter the pictures and derange us for life that we never match.
"These kids have a tremendous insight. They are really smart and really inquisitive, and then they need a hug from mum right before going on set, so all of those contradictions were so amazing to be around."
His next challenge will be his first documentary about rock band The Velvet Underground, which was formed in 1964 by Lou Reed.
"They came to me with a project and I was just completely honoured and thrilled," he says.
"It will be a challenge, but I think all great documentaries find themselves in the process of being made, so I'm excited about that as a practice, as a way of working.
"Also, more recently I've started to take on projects that come to me that are written by other great screenwriters, which has been nice because it's sped up some of the working practice.
"I do have a project I'm developing right now. It's too early to talk about it, but it's very exciting and it's a big historical subject that I think might require long-form dramatic television to give it the breadth it deserves."
Wonderstruck is in cinemas now