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Q&A: Demi Moore

[Demi/Moore] = Sex

Demi Moore, Hester Prynne, 'The Scarlet Letter'

Demi Moore as Hester Prynne in 'The Scarlet Letter' in 1995.

United Archives/ullstein bild via Getty

It’s a sunny day in early December, and Demi Moore, currently starring in Disclosure as wicked corporate siren Meredith Johnson (opposite Michael Douglas, who will evidently never learn what type of woman to avoid), is standing in the white, airy kitchen of a rented house in Savannah, Ga. Her youngest daughter, 10 1/2-month-old Tallulah Belle, who looks so much like her father, Bruce Willis, that you want to buy her a diminutive shoulder holster and a tiny stick-on goatee, sits in a highchair, playing with keys and occasionally gurgling with delight as her mother chants, “Mommy is a goofball. Mommy is a goofball.”

Being in a business that involves travel, Moore, 32, has obviously learned to take domestic stability with her on a career march that has moved from fictional Port Charles, the locale of General Hospital, on which the then 19-year-old actress debuted as mystery girl Jackie Templeton, to equally fictional but far classier 17th-century New England, where she will soon be appearing as Hester Prynne opposite Gary Oldman’s Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter. She is herself the product of a peripatetic childhood (“We moved, literally, on the average of every six months,” she says) – and a less-than-stable one: Her mother (whose 1993 skin-magazine pictorial Moore declines to discuss) and the stepfather who raised Moore married and divorced twice before finally separating when she was 15. This near-constant state of flux in her formative years made her a quick study: “I was like MTV in the way I processed as a kid –– rapid-fire –– because that’s just the way life was for me. There were no real attachments, you couldn’t afford them. I stayed with my grandmother for a short period, and the difference between my grandmother and my mother was interesting because my grandmother had to go out and provide for her family at great cost to her nurturing side, and I saw what my mother became in reaction to that –– which was really very happy to be a housewife. So seeing the two of them gave me a sense of the balance I wanted to look for.”

In perhaps a less programmatic way, Moore’s career also reflects the long-term benefits of moderation: She has had high-profile roles in Ghost and Indecent Proposal that elevated her to the status of momentary icon of American womanhood. But unlike such contemporaries as Sharon Stone or Julia Roberts, Moore has never had the kind of mixed-blessing success that binds an actress to type. In 1991 she starred in and produced Mortal Thoughts, a vanity project in reverse in which both she and her husband, Bruce Willis, give interestingly unsympathetic performances. She is now producing The Gaslight Addition, a Stand by Me for girls (in which she has a small role as one of the girls grown up, alongside Melanie Griffith, Rita Wilson and Rosie O’Donnell).

It is Gaslight that has brought Moore to Savannah, and although it is only lunchtime and she was on the set until 3 in the morning the night before –– and will be again on the night to come and is flying to New York to do the Late Show with David Letterman on the night after –– she has already worked out, attended dailies, given an interview, played with the baby, showered, changed and sung the same two lines from Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” 700 or 800 times. It’s a catchy song, and the lines are stuck in her head –– along with the line “Don’t want no short-dick man . . . ” from the 20 Fingers hit, which is less suitable for infants and which she saves for the set (“I can’t tell you how many men get really quiet,” she says).

On the set, Moore will finish the day in a burst of glamour on a cold, dark intersection in nearby Statesboro, where a Gaslight scene involves a rainmaker that pours on the glamorous and nonglamorous alike. By then she will have been on the go for 12 hours and facing what any producer faces when the issue is how to get two 12-year-old girls and one 70-year-old man to climb out of a manhole in the rain with everyone’s heads, hands, butts and dialogue in the right place.

My point is that Moore is a busy woman and one who takes her work as seriously as she does her family, which also includes her 6-year-old, Rumer, and her 3-year-old, Scout, who are in Los Angeles with their father. (“Dear Demi My Darling,” reads a fax from her husband of seven years on the trailer wall. “How are you, my angel? Is you at work or what?… . . . Do you still look the same? Fax my ass or something! Love, your ever-lovin’ Daddio.”) So seriously that Michael Douglas supplies this comment via a publicist without, in fact, having been asked anything: “Demi gets more done in a day than most guys do in a week. She’s really running on all cylinders.” Donald Sutherland, who graces Disclosure with his godlike presence, says, “She minimized everything, which is a good thing in cinema acting. That sex scene? That’s really hard to do, and she did it well. She didn’t ever seem to be in a bad mood. That must mean things are working out how she wants them to, right?”

Right, seemingly, anyway. Despite all her accomplishments, which might provoke spiteful envy if they weren’t worn so modestly, Moore is not totally comfortable being the focus of a lengthy interview. She says she is amazed just to be “talking about doing things with really amazing directors –– a few years ago that was my goal, and I feel like I’ve really worked for it, and it’s beginning to happen.”

So, what will she do when she runs out of goals?

“You never run out of goals, never,” says Moore. “Not unless you want to stop really living. There are people who are happy to stay within parameters, but for me, that would never have been enough.”

Let’s start with “Disclosure.” I thought you were perfection as a scary bitch, but I’m not sure it wasn’t a kind of icky movie. 
Really? What was icky? What constitutes icky?

Well, I was expecting it to be ickier, by which I mean more misogynist because the book really was, I thought. 
I thought it was actually very pro female.

Really? In the book, what I disliked was how thorough the misogyny was. The wife doesn’t come across well, though in the movie that’s more balanced. 
About the wife, I totally agree with you.

Otherwise it’s a guy with a whiny woman on one side . . . 
And a bitch on wheels on the other. But what’s interesting –– and I totally credit [director] Barry Levinson with this –– is that he felt it was extremely important that the wife’s presence be felt throughout. And I think the wife is the woman that more women identify with. She’s a working mother, she’s juggling to balance her family and career, that whole dynamic.

But even in the movie, that means the good girl, who’s married, a mom, blond and monogamous, is… . . . well, the good girl. Whereas the hot brunette, who’s sexual and single and ambitious, is really horrible.
Yes, I see your point. But the fact is that she is a sexually aggressive woman who doesn’t apologize for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that part of her –– that’s not the negative. I don’t even think her ambition is the negative, and I think she’s good at what she does, which is also different in the book. But she’s dishonest, she’s manipulative, and she’s willing to dispense with people if they don’t serve her, and those are the negatives. In the end, the way Barry structured it, there is no gender discretion when it comes to business. So when I say in the end, “I played the game the way you guys set it up, and I’m being fired,” it’s the truth.

Right. But that’s saying she played a man’s game. 
In business it is the game. It’s only a man’s game in the sense that they’ve been doing it longer. And that to me is the more interesting power of the whole piece.

So you’re not worried that the portrayal demonizes women? 
No, because I think it’s very human. But what do you mean “demonize”? You mean, is she like a devil woman?

Yes, because, say, in “Fatal Attraction” I think you do feel for Glenn Close as a woman who’s crazy but crazy because a man won’t take responsibility for what he’s done. 
But for me she really had less connection with the real world. I think Meredith is just an opportunist in a way that’s gender neutral.

So she’s a role model? 
No, no. She’s a role model for what women shouldn’t be.

And who do you remember in the way of female role models when you were growing up? 
Katharine Hepburn I’ve said before. And now I look at Susan Sarandon, who’s also made tremendous strides for women. She’s really crossed some barriers, particularly with the strength and the power of her image now that she gets older, staying as a sexual being and really showing that it does not go away because you’re over 40 or because you’re a mother. It’s as much in her as it’s always been. And I think she’s laid groundwork for those of us who are coming up to it. And there was that moment in my life when I thought that the Bionic Woman was about the coolest thing going.

That speaks to our generation. 
It definitely does. I’m trying too hard to be too cool with my role models, when in truth it was the Bionic Woman. Not just Lindsay Wagner –– although she was excellent, and I love that sound as she starts to run: ch-ch-ch-ch –– but her superhuman abilities.

And, of course, there’s Linda Purl and Linda Blair, the twin made-for-TV idols of our childhood. 
Oh, yes. And Eve Plumb. Linda Purl ended up on Happy Days. On a later Happy Days she married Richie. [Actually, Lynda Goodfriend married Richie. –– ED.]  

Really? I remember her as a suicidal cheerleader. What a sad comedown. 
Oh, I don’t know. I always liked Richie.

And in real life didn’t Linda Blair date your former “General Hospital” co-star –– whom I had a major crush on –– Rick Springfield? 
No! Linda Blair? I don’t remember that. Daryl Hall is who I had the big crush on. It’s embarrassing. I was a total nerd, I’m telling you. Now that I think of it, I entertained my first thoughts of being an actress with the Bionic Woman. I wanted to be the bionic girl. They just did a bionic man and woman reunion, but I missed it.

You haven’t been keeping up. Do you think women being oppressed is a fact of life, as the wife in “Disclosure” says? 
Yes, that does exist. But I think it’s changing, if only by the very fact that we’re sitting here talking about it –– that it’s a topic of discussion, that it’s in a movie.

It’s true that having a vocabulary for it makes a difference. 
That’s very well put. I think that we do now have the language to discuss it is the biggest difference from, say, what will exist for our generation vs. my children’s.

One hopes. When I was in high school, I had a friend whose father beat her, and everyone knew it: teachers, friends, everyone. She had black eyes and broken bones, but this was before even the term “abuse” was widely known or used, and no one knew how to respond because no one knew how to think about it except as her bad situation. That might not happen today. 
Right. It’s very powerful. The beginning of what creates change is finding the language. And it’s the nature of things that the pendulum has to swing to the extremes before we can find the middle. But there is also the more difficult stuff that has to do with individual perception –– that’s kind of a gray area. There are all those things that women accept as not a big deal, although it maybe bugs you, or you think the guy who does it is an asshole, and in the end we just will have no respect for that person if he’s behaving in a crude manner.

And perhaps also a little less respect for yourself because you’re saying, “I’m not . . .” 
“Worthy of saying that’s not OK.” Yeah, but it doesn’t happen to me so much anymore because I’m in a different place in my life and older. When I was younger there wasn’t a vocabulary to create better boundaries; there was a greater lack of personal power.

And then if you are a powerful woman, you encounter a different kind of put-down. Like, my guess would be that when people write about you, they mention your husband more than they mention you when they write about him. 
Hmm. Not so much now. When I started out, and when we first were married, our careers were in different places, so a lot of the time I was just the wife. It was “Bruce Willis and wife, actress Demi Moore.” But that’s changed because our career levels are more balanced now. But there’s the old Bette Davis line that I’ve been quoted as saying: “When a man asks for what he wants, he’s a man, and when a woman asks for what she wants, she’s a bitch.” And to a certain degree that still exists.

So, do you think you encounter sexism in your work? 
There’s some of that. But I don’t feel very connected to it because I feel if I focus too much on the problem, I feel stuck in the problem and thereby a victim of it. So I can’t sit here and say to you: “I’m really angry about how I’m getting paid.” I just can’t do it. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m doing something I love, and I get paid well for it. And it’s providing me with a life that I couldn’t have dreamed better. So, yeah, it’s aggravating to me that a man will have one successful film, and he’ll start moving up that ladder, and his value will be expressed through his salary as more important. But it’s hard to know where the blame is when they consider the prime moviegoing audience to be men –– young and old.

But who knows if that’s natural or self-fulfilling? Most pornography is consumed by men, but most pornography is made for men. 
That’s what I mean. Which is it: the chicken or the egg? But I think it’s changing. I see changes. Like the movie I’m doing right now, The Gaslight Addition, it’s not a big movie, but someone was willing to give us the money to make a movie about four little girls, written by women, produced by a woman and directed by a woman. Plus we have a female gaffer, and a big part of our camera crew are women. And that’s the most important thing, more important than saying there’s a problem. We know there’s a problem, so let’s continue to change. It’s really important to me that other women, other actresses, be successful. And the more I support that, and the more other women support that, the broader all our possibilities are. I need them to be successful. It’s funny, but it does come down to something that’s just about business. In the movie industry it’s about box office, and there’s only going to really be more opportunity when women guarantee bigger box office. I mean, you’re asking people to put up a lot of money. And there are maybe a few more roles for men, but it’s the same for them. I mean, I see what roles come along because I live with an actor. So it’s not as if there’s tons and tons and tons more that he’s getting than me.

Do you think things are worse for men now –– that it’s harder to be a straight white man now, as “Disclosure”suggests? 
Harder for them? I don’t think so. Maybe because the rules are changing, and they’re having to shift their understanding, they think so, but really, what’s more difficult? It can only be difficult if they’re threatened by a woman who has some strength within herself. But if that’s the case, then . . . deal with it. It’s sort of ridiculous. If you can’t cope with something, go figure it out, go do something about it. But it’s like I said: Maybe you have to go to the extreme to find the middle.

In my view you should go to the extreme to find the extreme. I’m not a fan of moderation. Do you call yourself a feminist? 
Yes. In a sad way –– and a weird way –– that word has become something that connotes something negative.

All the more reason to reclaim it. 
It’s more than that, though. There was a point where it started to seem like being a feminist meant almost hating men and almost denying a part of yourself, and now it doesn’t feel so much like that’s what’s going on.

Did you believe Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill? 
Oh . . . somebody asked me this, and it took me totally by shock, so I really thought about it. And I realized that I don’t think I can give a fair answer because after the media manipulated it so much, I don’t know, I’d like to believe her, is the truth. I don’t like to believe that she’s just an ambitious barracuda out to hurt this man. But . . . there’s so much slant, I just can’t say.

So how about Paula Jones? 
She’s the new one, the most recent one? Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been out of the loop working, so I don’t have a proper, informed opinion. But it does feel a little bit like a bandwagon thing, doesn’t it?

Yes. And she has that tabloid-woman habit of apparently wearing a wrist corsage on her head. And how about Hillary Clinton? Do you think she gets a bad rap? 
To a certain extent, yes, I think she does, and it’s because she’s a woman with strength, and she has a partner who accepts it and allows it.

And do you think his acceptance is part of his bad rap? 
I don’t know. He does a lot for himself on his own. But separate from the issues they support or want to support, I think that the courage she’s had to step forth and take a position within his position and not apologize for it is to be commended.

OK, we’ve asked about every woman in the news I can think of right now. What makes you feel feminine? 
That’s a hard question. Because I don’t feel that I am very feminine. I feel that I’m much more boyish. I relate being a woman to my pregnancies and the power I feel creating a life and growing a life within me. And maybe because I’m uncomfortable with my feminine side, I use it in my work and in my characters, but in life I tend to hide myself in a boyish kind of thing. Though I’m very happy being a girl.

Right. If you were a boy, you probably wouldn’t have that enormous diamond ring. 
This little chip, you mean? It’s my going-steady ring, the engagement ring is still forthcoming. But there is a comfort for me in being a little rugged, and I’ve never been a girly girl –– ever. But I like girly things, delicate things. I like dolls, I like toys, I like Barbies. I wish I could articulate this as I really feel it, because it has strong meaning for who I am. I am very much a girl’s girl. I have a lot of girlfriends, I do a lot of girl activities, and I take girl vacations. And I work with mostly women. But I guess that there’s a part of me that feels that when my femininity is showing, I’m very exposed. But that’s a great question to ask a bunch of girls in a room, to encourage that kind of conversation. Because if the question was “When do you feel sexy?” that would be easier to answer; there’s what makes you feel sexy for yourself and what’s sexy to someone else, whereas with feeling feminine, that’s something that just has to do with you, and that’s what makes it so difficult.

So when do you feel sexy? 
When I’m getting ready for a special something, getting dolled up. But being in panties and a cutout bra would work for me, too.

Has being married changed your ideas of what men and women are? 
Not really changed them, because I created it.

Well, presumably he had something to do with it. 
Right. I meant together. Though really I do it all by myself. I just have him sitting there, waiting for me. No, really, it’s an ever-evolving thing.

What sort of movies do you think hurt women? 
Oh, I’m sure there are many. But let me think here…. . . . Just in general, the biggest disservice I see is when women are put into the category or role that I think feeds discrimination in the same way it does with the way minorities are shown in films –– where they’re filler, so it’s just: She’s the girl. And that’s even where they’re the nice girl. It doesn’t even have to be like a prostitute or a killer.

But even there I’m not sure, because then women would be demeaned by James Bond movies or . . . …”Die Hard” movies, and I don’t really think they are. 
Yeah, but if that’s all there was, they would be. That’s like somebody saying I shouldn’t have done Disclosure because it’s a negative role model when they wouldn’t be asking that of a man –– that he can’t play a villain.

Maybe it’s just that people ask movies to do more than any one movie can do. What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as an actor? 
I think that my main strength is that I’m very accessible, and I’ve had an openness in a lot of the characters that I’ve played that’s inviting to people. I’m kind of a plain Jane. That’s my strength. And as to my weaknesses, I’d say I feel somewhat limited by my own experience. I’m getting much better at asking questions when I don’t know things, where as when I was younger, I was too terrified to even say I didn’t know because it felt like if I said that, it would be all over. The reality is that I feel that I’m good, but I’m not great. I have the potential to maybe do some great things, but I don’t feel like I’m extremely gifted. There’s a part of me that just thinks, “Well, I have something, I don’t know what it is or why it works, but I’m happy that it does, because I really like doing what I do.” And there’s also a part of me that says, “I know that I can convey really honest emotion and affect people, but I don’t feel . . . ” I’ll give you an example: Having just worked with Gary Oldman, who I think is extremely gifted as an actor, when I watched him work, I was overwhelmed just with the ease with which he has access to things, and they’re just . . . there for him. And I feel I don’t have that. But I’m certainly prepared to look for every opportunity to learn it.

In regard to your being a plain Jane, do you not think of yourself as good-looking? 
I can look in the mirror sometimes and say, “I look good” or “This is an interesting look,” but I have an equal amount of times where I don’t feel that –– times where I think I don’t measure up.

What would you change? 
I don’t know if I can get into it –– if I dare expose myself to that. But, you know . . . eyes too small, I don’t have a good smile, I’m square, I have no waist, and I’m never thin enough, and that’s the truth. My perfect weight is around 115 –– that’s what I weighed in Indecent Proposal –– and I weigh about . . . twice that now. Not really, but I put on weight for The Scarlet Letter.

What do you hope is different for your daughters? 
I hope they won’t have to spend most of their adult lives trying to build up their self-esteem so they can get on with what they want to do. They’re going to have their own shit, no doubt. I mean, you don’t come from two celebrity parents without having something. That’s the reality, and I can’t change it. But I certainly hope that they have enough strength that they can do whatever they need to do.

And how’s your glamour marriage? Any recent rumors that you’re on the rocks? 
Oh, you know, they like to go through cycles. I think they think they’ll hit it one of these days, so they keep trying. The last time was when I was pregnant with Tallulah, and literally everyone around us was calling and asking what was happening. But it comes in cycles, and my marriage is fine. I have nothing to even comment about. It’s as it always has been: We’re moving along, things are great, our lives are growing, we’re enjoying what we have and our family.

So enough about your husband. How’s your boyfriend? 
Well, you know, there are a couple here and there. Not really, I don’t have any boyfriends. You know what I need to have? I need to have a son so I can have a boy that adores me like the girls adore Bruce, then I could say I have a real boyfriend. Maria Shriver said to me that she was so in love with her son, and I said, “Oh, man, I’m jealous.”

Since you’ve been able to grab them both, who has the superior butt, David Letterman or Michael Douglas? 
Oh, that’s such a tough question, how can I answer it and be diplomatic? Their butts have different merits. It’s a further reach with Dave because he’s such a tall, big man, and actually, Dave has a rounder butt.

I see, a lanky man with a round butt. I must say, I noticed in “Basic Instinct” that Michael Douglas does have the flat, nonbutt build. 
Yes, he’s got a small butt, he does, but nonetheless very desirable.

How did you prepare for the scene where you seduce Michael Douglas? 
I avoided thinking about it at all possible costs. And I needed a pep talk on what I could say that would appear sexy. I didn’t need any help with the moves. I stole from whatever areas of my own experience I could, whether personal or porno video.  

That makes it sound like you’ve been in porno videos. That’s not what you mean, is it? 
No, no, we can’t have that. In video viewing.

You watch pornography? 
I have in life, but as a general rule, no. It makes me giggle, actually.

I see. That reminds me of a salty question, but one I think the world always ponders, which is “When you do love scenes with guys, do they get hard-ons or what?” 
You know, it’s like life: Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and either is appropriate, and neither is insulting. It’s not personal.

What is the most insulting personal remark anyone has ever made to you?
I guess that would be when Helen Gurley Brown told me I looked healthy when she really meant to say I looked fat –– about eight years ago, when they sent me in to meet her at the magazine [she edits, Cosmopolitan]. She said, “My, aren’t you a healthy girl! “

Well, she should talk. I read a book of hers where she says she liked having diarrhea because the pounds melt away; so her take on weight isn’t the most rational when it comes to calling someone a little on the healthy side. Helen Gurley Brown is too damn thin. 
She is slight. And I should say that I have nothing against her even though she said such a mean thing to me. And it was a clever way of saying it, to be fair.

Too fair. My last question: “What is it about the song ‘Short Dick Man’ that you relate to?” 
It’s got a good groove, and you can dance to it. And it just makes me laugh. Because it’s such a sweet revenge. 

In This Article: Coverwall, Demi Moore

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