New Again: Demi Moore

Ellen von Unwerth

03/02/17

Perhaps it's a coincidence that Demi Moore was born in Roswell, New Mexico 15 years after the town's famous "UFO" incident, but no one can deny that her ever-growing talent and timeless looks are things that few earthly mortals possess. She's been in the entertainment business for 32 years, notably graduating from playing investigative reporter Jackie Templeton on the classic soap opera General Hospital to heartbroken Molly Jensen in Ghost on the silver screen in 1990, and now, Moore is, well, back for more.

In her first recurring television role since General Hospital, Moore will join the cast of Empire, reports The Hollywood Reporter. She will be make her debut during the finale of the show's third season and return for its fourth to play out a multiple episode arc as a "take-charge nurse with a mysterious past." With a spinoff prequel for the Fox show rumored to be in the works, who knows what could be next for Moore and her character. Until then, we're celebrating her return to the small screen by reprinting her Interview cover feature from July 1996. —Katrina Alonso


Demi Not Dummy: Why Demi Moore wants, does, and gets more
by Hal Rubenstein


Demi Moore sits in a limo, her dark eyes fixed on the Polaroids that Ellen von Unwerth has taken of her with the fascination of a paleontologist looking at something stuck in amber. Flipping through seven photos as if they're thirty, Moore declares with both satisfaction and relief, "I love my Polaroids," and then, after a slight pause, adds, "almost obsessively."

Why such devotion to test shots? "Photo shoots are like doing a little movie," she says. "It's a chance to play with extremes, have a little fun. But I won't leave any pictures around after the shoot. I gather them up. This way, no one gets any ideas." You mean, like selling them to the tabloids, attached to some bogus story? "That, or something else. Who knows? But as long as I got my Polaroids, I know I'm safe."

Demi Moore makes it her business to make sure she's always safe. A number of people work for her, yet no one orchestrates her life. They collect information and timetables, present them to her, and then she decides what's best. I can't imagine Moore searching for her assistant, as if she were clueless as to what might happen next, or for the nanny, unsure about whether the girls have eaten. (Moore and her husband, Bruce Willis, have three daughters, who hug mommy regularly and call Willis "Daddy-o.") Even when he's going deep, your masseur is never this hands-on.

There are actresses who are classically trained, commanding awe and respect. Others win Oscar nominations with such regularity that their extraordinary talent is offhandedly dismissed as a given. Then there are the dearly beloved, like Julia Roberts, the wounded whippoorwill in need of our mothering and nurturing. Moore is none of these, and she has none of their qualities.

What she does have is the single-minded focus of Garry Kasparov playing chess, a willful determination, and the ability to sense so clearly—even before she sees—what's imperative, that there can only be pity for anything blocking her path. Whatever she lacks in formal education is amply compensated for by her resolve to make a reality of her instincts. This slip of a woman with a wasp waist, a wench's bosom, a voice like daydreamed phone sex, and a gaze just short of X-ray vision, must be quite a sight taking a meeting in Hollywood. The exhortation, "Go, girl!" could have been coined just for her.

"Sitting here," she sighs, her legs folded on the floor of her bedroom as she shares Chinese eggplant and chicken and broccoli right out of the container, "do I look intimidating?" No, but I have nothing she wants, and, except for this conversation, she has nothing I need. Nonetheless, the actress who embodied the psychological scenario for a generation in St. Elmo's Fire (1985) has consistently trumped the big guys in the screening room. She was expected to follow the same trajectory as some of her St. Elmo's colleagues. But instead of winding up with a six-pack of straight-to-video movies, second banana-dom in a TV series, or desperately maintaining some semblance of recognition by showing up at fashion events where designers gladly lend you clothes, Moore took better aim. She wound up with a quartet of blockbusters—Ghost (1990), A Few Good Men (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), Disclosure (1994)—a decade-long healthy marriage to a star of equal magnitude ("Bigger," she says. "He gets paid more."), wealth, clout, enviable stability, a sixth sense for high-profile controversy, an intrigued public, and a future with a direction she commands.

In Hollywood, there's nothing like success to bring out the "Who the hell does she think she is?" in almost everyone. Oddly, Moore's latest role as the boob-baring single mom in her latest film, Striptease, for which she was paid $12.5 million, a record for an actress in Hollywood, seems to play into the hands of those who naturally assume that she must be a clever, ball-busting, heartless, driven bitch. If the Americans had been as aware of the Japanese heading for Pearl Harbor as Moore is of the media gunning for Striptease, the fleet might have been saved. If you were her, wouldn't you cover your ass?


HAL RUBENSTEIN: Why are people so afraid of you? You're, like, this big. [gestures]

DEMI MOORE: I don't know. I think I'm kind of goofy, if anything.

RUBENSTEIN: Then how come, whenever I told someone in your business that I was interviewing you, the response was always the same: "Ooh, be careful, she's shrewd." You must be full of grand designs. Secret agendas.

MOORE: I don't think I plan that far in advance. I try to focus on the present, what I'm doing now. I feel like the best design I can have is an awareness of where I've come from so that I don't repeat myself. Luckily, my work provides me with a tremendous source of new opportunities.

RUBENSTEIN: Like what?

MOORE: I found myself in a film [Striptease] that has to do with the body, both the external and internal issues of it. And by moving through it, it changed me. It changed my perception of me.

RUBENSTEIN: Of you or of your body?

MOORE: Of my body and of my acceptance of myself.

RUBENSTEIN: How did you see yourself before the film?

MOORE: Well, like many people, I think I'm my own worst critic. And I think I take a lot out in an internally abusive way, looking at how I measure up, which usually was never enough. I never, never was as good as someone else.

RUBENSTEIN: But what about confirmation from Hollywood in terms of money and power? Isn't that proof saying, "Your perception is wrong, our perception is right"?

MOORE: Success has to be an inside job. Happiness does not come from external material things. Even people don't make us ultimately happy. It's how we choose to deal with those things that happen in our lives that matters. Work has enhanced and certainly supported my feelings toward myself, because it's been a reflection of goals I've set. But if you're not happy with yourself on the inside, then what does it matter? Doing Striptease helped me come to some terms.

RUBENSTEIN: O.K., you decide to do a movie because it's gonna teach you something about your body, yourself—

MOORE: —and likely be a little fun.

RUBENSTEIN: But all anybody wants to know about this film is, "How come you were paid so much money?" Who's not getting the point here?

MOORE: Well, certainly not me.

RUBENSTEIN: Does it irritate you that that's all anybody wants to talk about?

MOORE: No, because I can certainly understand the fascination. Plus it's perpetuated by the media. But I know what's really important for me. As for the money, I'm so proud of the fact that it happened. Not on my behalf—although it was a wonderful compliment—because it could have been anybody.

RUBENSTEIN: Then why was it you?

MOORE: That I can't answer for sure, except to say I have obviously participated in films that have grossed enough money that [producers] feel that what I will be contributing to the film is worth what they offered me. But from the day they offered me that much money, it changed the way women in Hollywood were viewed, and I like that. And do you know what? Tomorrow it will be somebody else. It's really a moment. And it's gone already. Because in the end—whether it's this situation, whether it's the crap about my marriage, or this movie not doing well, or, you know, whatever the criticism is—the only thing that you can have on your side is time. The only way to gain time is by living it. And if I live expending my energy worrying about other people's perceptions, then I'm missing my moment.

RUBENSTEIN: The funny thing is, if you ask the average person what Striptease is about, they don't really know. The perception is that it's a dark ex-pose about strippers—a drama. But it's a comedy by the man [writer/director Andrew Bergman] who did Honeymoon in Vegas.

MOORE: I think already, with the trailer, people are really stumped. "What? This is funny?" They had no idea. And why is that? My feeling is there was such an immediate rush based on the idea that I was going to play a stripper, and that I became, at that same moment, the highest-paid female—of the moment, believe me—and that there was something in that combination that made people nervous. I don't know if I personally instill a fear in people, but I think that there are things that I have been involved in that perhaps stir up their own personal fears.

RUBENSTEIN: So you admit it—you do scare the pants off 'em?

MOORE: Look, I have no control over people thinking that way, and I always feel that those kinds of things are attempts to make me less. People can't bear the idea that I could be sexual and provocative, and still be a nice person with a nice family and a nice husband, and have a career that could work, and be paid a certain amount of money.

RUBENSTEIN: Well, don't you agree it's easier for people to see you as a bitch?

MOORE: Of course. Anybody who wants to have negative attitudes, or is jealous or envious of me because I make them feel insecure about themselves, will probably say, "Yeah, she got paid because, you know, it's all about being naked." And you know what? If that's what they need to think...

RUBENSTEIN: You are not, and certainly have never been, a critics' darling. Praise for you is grudging at best even when your films are smashes, although Ghost was an exception to that. None of this bothers you?

MOORE: Oh, everyone has their turn. They're nice to me, they're shitty to me, they're nice to me, they're shitty to me. And that's just the nature of it and I accept that. I don't read reviews, and I don't include the press as part of my priorities or as part of the world that has any validity to what's really important to me.

RUBENSTEIN: But they've managed to hurt so many others. Look at the job they did on Julia Roberts's neuroses, the way they got under Roseanne's skin. How can you blow it off so effortlessly?

MOORE: There was one element of my childhood that was really a positive asset for me. By moving a lot, I learned to assimilate into whatever new surroundings I had and to become very comfortable with people quickly. I think that was one of the strongest contributing factors to my becoming an actor, because I constantly had to readjust, even reinvent. But at the same time, it also became very easy for me not to become attached to people, places, or things. I learned to enjoy people and places for the time I had, for the moment, to be in the moment, and move on.

RUBENSTEIN: Did detachment make you tougher?

MOORE: Um, I wouldn't say tough. I think that it gave me an internal strength, because I was comfortable doing whatever I had to do. Being alone, being new, being faced with the unknown didn't paralyze my existence.

RUBENSTEIN: Detachment may work for you on the business side, but isn't detachment a detriment when you're learning to act?

MOORE: But I never studied. I was too afraid. I thought that if an acting teacher had said to me, "You know what, you're not good," I would not have gone any further. It was easier for me to justify going to an audition and getting rejected, maybe because they wanted somebody blonde, maybe because I wasn't experienced enough. I could live with that more easily.

But yes, there was a part of me that felt that whenever I read anything having to do with a depth of emotion I just had no idea how to act it. And then I started thinking maybe I didn't have to. Because in my personal life I wasn't someone who cried easily, someone who was extremely vulnerable, you know, in that way that's constantly seeking out affirmation from other people. I've always been much more the person who took care of everyone else. It wasn't until [director] Jerry Zucker gave me the chance in Ghost, by believing in me and thinking I had it in me, that I broke through my own limitations and started to access what I had deep down and had covered up. Not that I don't need reassurance and don't want people to give me that pat on the back. We all need it. But, no, it is not my favorite place to be. In fact, I don't know anybody who is raising their hand saying, "Oh God, I love being vulnerable and needy."

RUBENSTEIN: I think Hollywood is full of them.

MOORE: I guess that's why I don't live there. I've never been one of those people who has an extremely high level of crisis. I just don't need all that emotional drama.

RUBENSTEIN: But you sure know how to instigate it, and not just with Indecent Proposal, The Scarlet Letter [1995], and Striptease. You knew your first two Vanity Fair covers [August 1991 and August 1992] were going to cause a ruckus. You couldn't have been that naive.

MOORE: No, no, no. I didn't realize that it would spark that degree of controversy because I don't have that kind of thinking.

RUBENSTEIN: Tina Brown [Vanity Fair's former editor] did.

MOORE: Well, but she also fed it, too. She covered [the August 1991 cover] with brown paper [at the request of certain distributors]. She heightened it, God love her. And that was smart. I have no problem with what she did, but when Annie [Leibovitz] took the picture of me nude and pregnant, it was not for the magazine. It wasn't premeditated. We took it at the end of the session for me, for my family.

RUBENSTEIN: But it didn't exactly wind up in the den.

MOORE: Annie had photographed me nude the first time I was pregnant. So, when they asked me to do the Vanity Fair session, I said, "Look, you know, this time I'm this pregnant." And I thought about how people in this country don't want to embrace motherhood and sensuality. They're afraid to imagine a pregnant woman as sexy. So a lot of the responses to me being naked—although you saw nothing but a belly and a little bit of my butt—was realizing that a sexy picture featured a belly that had a child in it. Funny how when the child is born, it's this glorious moment in everyone's life and you're the most wonderful woman that ever existed. But while you're pregnant you're made to feel not beautiful or sexually viable. You're either sexy, or you're a mother. I didn't want to have to choose, so I challenged that. I'm not the only one. There have been many women who've walked before me. So, believe me, I never set out to make any big statement.

RUBENSTEIN: Nevertheless, that cover and the body-painted one a year later, published at the height of Vanity Fair's renaissance, had the impact of two hit movies.

MOORE: See, I saw them as extensions of my creativity and humor, of my ability to make fun of myself. In a way, I feel that film roles haven't given me the opportunity to show I have a sense of humor.

RUBENSTEIN: Yeah, but don't you see, you're associating humor and nudity? Outside of burlesque, that's not a natural word association in this country.

MOORE: I know. Annie didn't want to do the body-painting ones. She said people would say it was exploitative. But I thought it was so sexy to be painted and yet bare, so I held onto my Polaroid like a wishing stick. But it's never been just about being naked, no matter what everyone thinks. And there have been a lot of pictures of people—celebrities, models—who have done photographs with their bellies. So why did this particular cover stir it up?

RUBENSTEIN: Why do you think?

MOORE: I think because I did it in a way that pushed the envelope just enough to say that I am sexy, I feel sexy, and I feel glamorous.

RUBENSTEIN: Did you guess that, after Indecent Proposal, newspaper columns across the country would go on asking their readers—for months—the question: "Would you take a million bucks from someone wanting to sleep with your wife?"

MOORE: Well, I'm glad it provoked people that way.

RUBENSTEIN: Way beyond the movie.

MOORE: It struck people at home, in their beings, in their own relationships. What suddenly made it discussable was that it was done with just enough fantasy and illusion and stakes high enough for people to think about it theoretically.

RUBENSTEIN: But you became the standard, the yardstick, by which everyone gauged their judgment.

MOORE: Me and Robert Redford.

RUBENSTEIN: No, you were the object of the bet. Nobody was offering a million to sleep with him. And I think the fantasy infused itself into the reality of Hollywood. People there have started to believe the setup. Who was worth as much as Demi Moore? Evidently no one these days. Your exalted position in the film became its own truth. So the movie had a to-the-nth-degree effect on your career.

MOORE: I never thought about it like that.

RUBENSTEIN: Does everything have a price?

MOORE: I truly believe you can't buy your way into genuine love. You can surely buy companionship, but I don't think [love] has a price tag on it.

RUBENSTEIN: Has your loving relationship helped or influenced any of your career choices?

MOORE: Actually, Bruce and I pretty much keep our choices to ourselves.

RUBENSTEIN: But I mean as husband and wife, do you talk to each other?

MOORE: We do, but he hasn't read the script that I am about to do [G.I. Jane, retitled Navy Cross] and I haven't read the script he's doing now [The Fifth Element].

RUBENSTEIN: Why do you keep it so separate?

MOORE: I think it's a kind of an unconscious way of allowing our times together to focus more on our relationship, our family. I don't want our careers to be everything. I'd rather be planning a vacation with him than studying a script.

RUBENSTEIN: Are you this simpatico on everything? Why do I think you have different political views?

MOORE: I respect that Bruce went out on a limb and supported Bush when everyone in Hollywood was for Clinton and it wasn't the most politically correct position to be in. He believed in doing that and wasn't afraid of it.

RUBENSTEIN: Did you vote for Bush?

MOORE: Now, you can't ask me that. But I would say that Bruce and I agree on women's rights, on funding for the arts, and we agree that people— whatever their race, religion, sexual preference—deserve to be treated as human beings. Regardless of whatever else, there's common ground there, and I just leave it at that. So, I guess you can infer that we don't agree on all things, politically.

RUBENSTEIN: But you both agreed in the press that it was no big deal to change the ending of The Scarlet Letter.

MOORE: O.K. I want to clean up a false quote—[it was reported] that I said that not many people had read the book. I never said that, and it was perpetuated repeatedly. What I said was that it had been a very long time since people had read it.

RUBENSTEIN: But no one had forgotten it. It's the quintessential symbol-dripping novel.

MOORE: I don't disagree with you. In fact, I proposed in our first meeting [on the film] that Dimmesdale should die. [The Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, father of Hester Prynne's illegitimate child, dies in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, but lives happily ever after with Hester in Roland Joffe's film version.] I proposed strongly for that, but Roland Joffe made a conscious decision, and we as the actors accepted his decision. But because of that, no one looked at any of the film's merits.

RUBENSTEIN: It was impossible to. That decision doomed the movie from the start.

MOORE: And in the end, Joffe realized that he should have had him die, and actually, in the final hour, he wanted to reshoot the ending. But we were so far down the line, it was just logistically and financially impossible. It was just too late.

RUBENSTEIN: But since you knew from the beginning it wasn't a wise idea, why did you take on the film? You had to have known you would get pilloried.

MOORE: You mean, because I'm not considered a serious, great actress?

RUBENSTEIN: There you go. Doesn't matter that Disclosure made over $200 million worldwide.

MOORE: Look, I'm too grateful they continue to let me keep trying and that I continue to grow as an actor. I hope I get better. I feel like I am. But it's a roll of the dice every time you make a movie. Nobody knows. I can look at the script, I can look at who the director is, the co-star. I can choose this because I swear it's the right thing for me at that time, and it's still a crapshoot. And you know what? I can't make decisions thinking, "Well, are they gonna respect me now? Are they gonna really think I'm a serious actress after this one?" All I know is that when I go out there, when I go up to the plate, I'm batting 1,000 percent and I'm giving everything that I can. I'm making the best decisions I know how. And isn't that all anyone can do?


THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE JULY 1996 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.


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