Greatest Hits: On Meeting Julianne Moore and Losing My Mind

It happened.

It all began Tuesday morning with my weekly email from SF Station, to which I’ll now be forever indebted. While their emails usually “alert” me to concerts I already know about and lame club nights I’d never attend, this one told me about something I’d heard absolutely nothing about: Julianne Moore, my very very very favorite actress for over a decade (she relieved Rose McGowan of her duties circa 1998, when it became clear that Rose was, let’s say…”limited” in her abilities), was signing copies of her new children’s book, Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully, at Books Inc. in the Marina—later that day.

I knew that I was on the verge on an ear-splitting gay squeal that would make me even less popular with my coworkers, so I fought hard to keep it inside; I may have ruptured my spleen in the process, but I managed to restrict myself to an impossibly high-pitched gasp that may have detonated several tiny dogs in the new condos near my office.

I immediately set off figuring out how to find this Books Inc. location (like all sensible San Franciscans I avoid the Marina at all costs, but this was clearly an exception), and recruited Scott to accompany me and take pictures. I have never been an “OMG a celebrity! Someone take my picture with them!” person, but Julianne was a game-changer, and I was willing to risk looking like a desperate fanboy if it meant I could get a picture with this amazing woman.

My love of Julianne knows no bounds. I have seen every single movie she’s ever done, even the very bad ones (of which there have been many, unfortunately). But no matter how bad the movie has been, my faith in her has not been shaken. Give me your Evolutions, your Freedomlands, even your Nexts—she still shines in all of them. I even lit up listening to her voiceover work in Eagle Eye while stranded at a dealer’s apartment in L.A. while a friend was freaking out in the bathroom. Simply put, she is the best. And don’t even get me started on the fact that she hasn’t won an Oscar yet, having lost to lame-asses ranging from fucking Kim Basinger to Catherine Zeta-Jones. Hmph.

Anyway, I left work around 5 to begin my trek to the Marina. I was breathing and perspiring heavily, which I tried to control, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop at a mirror before meeting Julianne. Unfortunately, my panting-and-sweating situation was only exacerbated by the fact that fucking told me the completely wrong location to catch the 30x, which led to me running back and forth across a three-block radius about five times like some kind of gay ping-pong ball.

Finally I caught the bus and headed over to the Marina. As I’d been doing from the moment I read about the signing, I was running lines in my head to figure out what I’d say to her. My mind raced to find some kind of joke I could make that I knew she’d enjoy; I ran through my copious “Julianne Moore” mental file, but came up lacking.

Then, I tried thinking of a casual but engaging way I could prove my fandom to her in a quick, book-signing hit-and-run style. “I just paid way over retail price for a DVD of Safe the other day. Did you know it’s out of print?” I whispered on the bus. But no, actresses never want to know that their movies are out of print. “I’m so glad Marie and Bruce finally got a DVD release! I was first in line on Netflix!” But no, once again, actresses don’t want to be reminded that some of their films sit on the shelf for years before anyone bothers giving them so much as a DVD release. “I can’t believe the Oscar pre-show factoids noted that you’d appeared nude from the waist down in Short Cuts while you were being interviewed!” No. Actresses don’t like to be reminded that you’ve seen their vaginas when there are children nearby.

Finally I settled on (1) thanking her for coming all the way to San Francisco, (2) finding some cute non-scary way to tell her she’s my favorite actor, and (3) tell her how excited I am about her upcoming films. This way I could keep the exchange pleasant and positive, while also fulfilling my unavoidable desire to (A) tell her how much she means to me, and (B) back up my declaration with concrete knowledge of her projects currently in post-production. There was also Facebook chatter about reciting one of the many Julianne monologues I have committed to memory (most notably the pharmacy scene in Magnolia, which I’ll happily perform for anyone), but obviously that would be ill-advised in any but an audition-related setting.

I arrived at Books Inc. around 5:50, and immediately realized that I was in a highly competitive war zone. But my enemies weren’t other Julianne Moore fans; no, they were far worse than that. Looking out from the front door to the signing area in the back of the store, I saw an impeccably coiffed, highly caffeinated sea of that most dreaded of creatures: the San Francisco power-mom. They. Were. Everywhere. And naturally, along with the power-moms came…the children. Oh, the children. The crying, screaming, wailing children. I took a deep breath, steeled my spine, and prepared to discreetly punt any errant toddler who blocked me from my destiny into a nearby bookcase.

Hurriedly, I bought a copy of Julianne’s first Freckleface Strawberry book and got a slip of paper informing me that I’d be in signing group B. The paper said that Julianne would not be signing any memorabilia (which made me happy I hadn’t followed my initial instinct to take a taxi home and throw my 20+ Julianne DVDs into a bag), and it also said that “posed pictures would not be allowed.” Despair! Not only had I finally worked up the nerve to ask her for a picture, but I was already practicing the face I would make. Sigh. I called Scott (who was en route) and told him the news. Thankfully, he said he’d still come join me. “I guess you can try taking a picture of her while she’s reading and I’ll try popping my head into the corner of the frame,” I mused.

At last, the sea parted and Julianne emerged from a secluded room in the back. She was absolutely radiant, smiling and waving at the crowd of oblivious children who’d been herded into a storytime circle in front of her microphone. Her energy was tremendous, and she was obviously prepared for every aspect of this appearance. She introduced herself to the kids as “Julie,” and introduced the book’s illustrator, a local artist named LeUyen Pham.

She commenced to do a highly theatrical reading of her new book, while LeUyen sketched the characters in real-time on an easel behind her (which was pretty cool). It was around this time that I started to feel maybe a little bit out-of-place. Was it wrong and creepy of me to be staking out my favorite actress at an event she was doing out of the goodness of her heart and her incredible passion for children (and also her desire to plug her book to rich city moms, but whatevs)?

I started to worry I’d look like some kind of weird unsavory fan when I walked up to her with her children’s book in hand, as though I were a grown man wearing little boy clothes and a beanie in a transparent attempt to fool her. But then I saw a genuinely creepy-looking hobo with a stack of color 8×10 glossies of Julianne from the mid-’90s. I felt better after that.

Julianne finished the reading, and then attempted to engage the nose-picking children in a little discussion. Since the book addressed coming to terms with your fears, she asked them what they were afraid of. “Or maybe something your friends are afraid of, but you’re not afraid of?” she suggested. Silence. “Like maybe spiders? When I was little, I had a friend who was scared of spiders. But I wasn’t afraid of spiders. I was afraid of balls!” *cue snickering from me*

Eventually one of the tardbot kids raised their hand. “Yes!” she said encouragingly, leaning close to them. “I’m scared of spiders,” they said. “You’re scared of spiders,” she repeated. More hands went up. One by one, the children told her they were afraid of spiders. Several mentioned that they’d once seen a spider. She nodded appreciatively to each child’s murmured nonsense, and was “so patient,” as an old woman holding a dog next to me exclaimed. She really was amazing with the kids.

Finally she opened up the floor to questions from “the adults,” which didn’t go much better. Most of us knew better than to ask her about unrelated topics (like her film career), which meant we had to try thinking of things to ask about her burgeoning literary career. This left the crowd with roughly three questions: (1) Have you considered adult fiction? (“I wish!”), (2) What about adolescent fiction? (“My son Cal is 11 now, so I’ve been considering it”), and (3) Are there are plans to turn your books into a movie or an animated series? (“Not presently, but never say never!”).

I say that “most of us” knew better than to ask her about her movies. At least one person didn’t. The second question of the adult Q&A (which was repeatedly interrupted by other stupid children realizing that they, too, had once seen a spider) came from an old woman with bad hair. When Julianne called on her, she stood up to ask her question. “Was it scary making Hannibal?” she asked briskly, then sat quickly back down. I winced at this obvious breach of the implicit rules we’d all been following, but Julianne handled it graciously. Laughing warmly and keeping her answer kid-oriented, she said, “No, no, because that was make-believe, and I’m not scared of make-believe things. Only real things scare me. Like balls!” *cue more snickering from me*

Eventually the Q&A wrapped up, and Julianne and LeUyen took their places at the signing table while the oddly bitter book store manager directed ticket group A to get in line. I went in the back and found Scott, where I commenced to talk shit on all the little kids while he looked at me in a concerned manner. We then started concocting our plan for how to get some good pictures.

“Okay,” I said, “the ticket says no posed pictures will be allowed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stand nearby and take pictures while I’m getting my book signed. Try to get a shot where we’re looking at each other in the eyes and really connecting…oof, they just called group B, gotta go!” I trilled, abandoning him and running helter-skelter for the front of the line before any of the loser moms could get their baby carriages in order.

Taking my place around five moms back from the front, I looked at Julianne seated several feet away from me and immediately realized I needed to work on my breathing. I’d been to enough book signing to know what happens to me when I’m starstruck: I forget to breathe, then I hyperventilate, then my words come out in ridiculously rushed little outbursts that don’t make sense to anyone, and then I just laugh maniacally until I pass out. I kinda resemble Buster when he has a panic attack on Arrested Development.

Finally, the moment came when I was next in line. I stood there next to the line moderator, looking at Julianne and breathing deeply (hopefully not loudly), running my lines in my head. Then, suddenly, I was hit with a wave of nausea. A queasy feeling tickled my stomach, and I felt my gag reflex begin to swell. No, I said to myself. I am not going to throw up. I will not. Absolutely not. Julianne Moore was nice enough to come all the way to San Francisco and is about to sign a copy of her book for you. You will not thank her by vomiting on her. She is your favorite actor. Would be wrong. Just breathe.

The moderator turned to me and gestured toward the table. Choking back my vomit, I walked toward her, book outstretched. She looked down momentarily, as if to reset herself, then looked at me directly in the eyes and smiled. Scott took his place several feet away and aimed the camera. I will attempt to transcribe our conversation as closely as possible:

JM: Hi, how are you doing?

Me: I’m great, how are you?

JM: I’m good, thanks for asking! *takes book and begins to sign it*

Me: Thank you so much for coming out here!

JM: Oh, of course! Thank you so much for coming!

Me: Oh, of course. *in what I hope was a cute, playful tone of voice* You’re my favorite.

JM: Aww, thank you.

Me: I’m soooo excited for Chloe and Pippa Lee.

JM: Oh, wow, thank you!

Me: They look incredible.

JM: Well, I have just a bitty part in Pippa Lee, but I have a big part in Chloe.

Me: Oh, okay.

JM: I’m also in the first film by the designer Tom Ford

Me: Oh, right! *beating myself for not mentioning that one too*

JM: —called A Single Man, so…

Me: Yeah, I read about that! It looks amazing.

JM: Thank you!

Me: I can’t wait to see the visuals! *my awkward way of saying, “Oh, Tom Ford’s directing it, so I’m sure it will be stylish*

JM: Yeah! Well, thank you again! Let me give your book to LeUyen, and she’ll draw you a little picture.

Me: Okay, great. Thank you so much!

JM: Sure!

And then I drifted on a cloud over to the illustrator and stood there smiling like a lunatic while she signed my book and drew a little picture above Julianne’s signature, which reads: “To Jason, Love and Kisses, Julianne Moore.”

So that’s it! Nothing terribly interesting about the conversation itself, but I think it went the best it possibly could have. Julianne was so amazingly present, seriously. She came across as 100% sincere and interested, not the slightest bit bored or exhausted. And, okay, yes, she’s an actress and she fakes it for a living, but just let me have this! It did seem a little bit like she was in character, since she used a kindergarten teacher’s language and tone to tell me about her roles in the two movies I mentioned. But, once again: I’m fine with that.

And, for the record, she looked beautiful but also very natural. Up close, you’d believe that she’s almost 50 (which is true). She didn’t have much makeup on, and doesn’t have any plastic surgery giveaways. If anything, her skin looks too thin and too pale (almost translucent) to be able to handle much surgery. Just lovely.

What really caught me off-guard (aside from, you know, the entire situation) was that not only was she super-friendly and nice while I was yammering at her, but she actually chose to continue the conversation. Like, she could have just said thank you and passed me to the illustrator, but she actually engaged me and told me about A Single Man, too! And I was all, “OMG you just said ‘Tom Ford’ to me.”

All in all, I feel like one of my dreams has come true, so I’m pretty thrilled with how everything went down. I didn’t vomit on her or do anything else embarrassing (except look like a schlub, since I had no idea when I was getting dressed that morning that I’d be meeting Julianne Moore by the end of the day). And not only do I have my memories, but I have my signed book, and the pictures that Scott (a wonderful and patient photographer) took. In addition to the one at the top of this post, there are a few more on my Facebook, if you haven’t seen them yet.

And so, I’ll leave you with the closing words I wisely chose not to use when saying my goodbyes to Julianne Moore:

“Give my love to Bart and the kids.”

This post originally appeared on The Sassmouth Chronicles on May 12, 2009.

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