"May December" (now streaming on Netflix) seems tailor-made for men who love watching Oscar-winning actresses go toe to toe. In other words, it's basically Gay Christmas.
The story follows Elizabeth Berry (Portman), star of the fictional "Nora's Arc," a popular TV series she'd sooner forget. Looking to be taken seriously as a film actress, Elizabeth signs on to play Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), a woman who, 20 years earlier, was caught having sex with a teenage boy named Joe. She later married and had three kids with him.
Directed by Todd Haynes, the movie walks a tricky tonal tightrope between dark comedy and stomach-churning drama as Elizabeth travels to meet and study Gracie, and a now-grown Joe (Charles Melton) reckons with his past.
“The film is a lot of fun,” Moore says. “There might be some things that are uncomfortable and feel risky emotionally, but it's engaging."
Adds Portman: "It's been fun to hear people laughing in the theater, and to see how much people are excited by being challenged. It's rare as a moviegoing experience now to be so provoked by the material."
Moore, 63, and Portman, 42, spoke to USA TODAY about the movie (edited for length and clarity).
Question: What do you recall about the first time you met?
Julianne Moore: There's so much evidence of us together. It's always at an awards show. You Google us, and all these photos pop up of us standing next to each other in evening gowns.
Natalie Portman: You're right, Jules. The photographic evidence would suggest we had a very intense friendship before, but it was, "Hi, nice to see you, bye." That was the extent of it. But I really studied Julie's work as an actress and I was so lucky to get to play that (in this movie). I could use my own fandom as part of the character.
There's so much fantastic dialogue that catches you off guard. Do you have a favorite line in the film?
Portman: I have a favorite "Did she really just say that?" one. It's when Elizabeth says "They're just not sexy enough!" (when child actors audition to play Joe in the film-within-a-film). You just get chilled. Also, the mirror scene when Gracie answers the question "What was your mother like?" And she says, after a long pause, "She was beautiful." Everything that's unsaid there is devastating.
Moore: The one I love so much is "You try going through life without a scale and see how that goes." It made me laugh so hard − it is a very funny, biting line. But the truth of it is, this is a woman who is so saturated in the idea that the only power she has is in being female. The willfulness and fury that's under that, too, is very interesting.
"I don't think we have enough hot dogs." From NYFCC Award-winning screenwriter Samy Burch, May December is now playing on Netflix in the US and Canada. pic.twitter.com/qHXIVrmfiC
— May December Film (@MayDecemberFilm) December 2, 2023
Can you ever order a hot dog again without thinking of that scene at the fridge?
Moore: (Laughs.) I've been off hot dogs for a long time. I loved them when I was a kid, but I've stopped eating them. The word itself is funny, though.
Portman: Doesn't Nancy Pelosi eat a hot dog and chocolate ice cream every day? That's awesome.
Are there roles you look back on and think, "Maybe I didn't need to dive quite so deep?"
Moore: The only thing I did that I wouldn't do again is actually on "Safe," my first movie with Todd. I played a woman who's sick, so I lost a bunch of weight and it was really unpleasant. It threw my body out of whack for a while and it took a long time to recover physically. On the other hand, I'm glad that I did it so I know it's something I don't want to mess with.
Portman: I have more regrets about not preparing enough, honestly. Like, "I could have done that one better with a little more effort."
What about a "Nora's Arc" in your filmographies?
Portman: A real one that I'm very embarrassed about because of "Breaking Bad" is "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium." I think at the end (of that series), the punishment for (Walter White) was that he's trapped in a room and that was the only movie available. It was like, this large joke about how torturous that would be. That's my shame. (Laughs.) I should say, I loved everyone I worked with on that.
Moore: There's lots of stuff! I never watch anything again. Oh my goodness, there are plenty of things in my television past that are forgettable, let's put it that way. But I was always happy to have the job.
At its core, this film is about possibility and rebirth. Is there a project that felt that way for you?
Moore: This one, honestly. People ask me a lot, since this is my fifth collaboration with Todd, “Do you guys talk about things? Do you (plan ahead)?” Oddly, things pop up in your life. We all had different things going on scheduling-wise; it didn’t even look like it was going to happen in 2023. And then suddenly it came together so quickly. It was very inspiring, because it reminds you that you don't know what's going to happen.
Portman: I feel similarly. This is the first film my production company with my partner, Sophie Mas, is working on. It was so extraordinary to feel empowered to be like: "You know what? I've dreamed my entire career of working with Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore. I'm going to make this happen. I will make my dreams come true." And then on set, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. But making it was so joyful and meaningful and fulfilling. So it’s a refreshing, exciting moment.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'May December' stars Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore spill on new film