We feel we truly know her, after all, we’ve marveled for nearly three decades as she’s brought thrillingly complex characters to life. Yet JULIANNE MOORE continues to surprise with her range and passion. On a stormy afternoon in New York, the star of two new provocative films, Carrie and Don Jon, invites us into her home and illustrates once again why she remains so fascinating. The following is an excerpt from “Portrait of an Artist” by Susan Orlean, published in InStyle‘s October 2013 issue.

Julianne Moore made me talk. She would do it to you too, I promise. This is how it would happen: You would walk in to interview her one day, armed with a quiver of questions. You would be prepared for her to deliver the calculated answers actresses of her stature usually offer up. Instead, you would stay at her Greenwich Village townhouse for two or three hours, absorbed in the warmth of her manner and the comfortable closeness of the conversation, and you would entirely forget the formal interview. It would turn into an afternoon with someone you feel you’ve known for ages, who had seen you win and lose and can listen to your personal revelations without judgment.

Then later that day you would get home and hear your tape of the so-called interview and discover with a bit of horror that you had done most of the talking.

The truth about Julianne Moore is that she is hard to resist. She is funny and smart and engaging. She has enormous range as an actress but has been often celebrated for her portrayals of fragile, imploding women, among them her Oscar-nominated turn as the depressed, almost mutely miserable housewife in The Hours and the unraveling, fur-swaddled trophy wife in Magnolia. So it is a surprise to find that she’s actually sturdy, with a fast laugh and an easy manner. Many of her memorable performances are of characters who are flighty and frazzled, undone by life. By contrast, she comes across as solid and sensible. She likes making lists. She is proud of being good at managing time and tasks.

Onscreen, even when she plays addicts and sufferers, she is achingly gorgeous, incandescent, and sylphlike. Here, standing in front of me, she is much earthier, the prettiest tomboy you’ve ever seen. The day we spent together she was wearing no makeup and was dressed in a white J. Crew T-shirt and her favorite J Brand dark-denim skinny jeans, no shoes, and a tiny gold Ten Thousand Things necklace—typical day wear for her. Her friends tease her for spending most of her time in yoga clothes, and she swears she’s going to start putting more effort into dressing up. It’s not that Moore doesn’t value the end result of being made glamorous for a photo shoot or for the red carpet; she especially appreciates the way it is a collaboration of talented people, working together to construct an artful image in which she starts as the blank canvas. It’s transformational, just as acting is. The results are often spectacular. Recently Moore’s 11-year-old daughter, Liv, looked at her mother’s portrait in an ad and exclaimed, “Mom, you don’t look like that!”

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–Susan Orlean