"We are all eunuch," says French actress Jeanne Moreau. "You are eunuch. I am eunuch. Each human being is eunuch."
The musical voice is so lulling that you nod dumbly in agreement. It doesn't occur to you right off that what Moreau is really saying in her sandpaper hush is "unique." We are "unique."
"We are all part of this world. Speak to any physicist," she continues. "This cup is alive. This tablecloth is alive. Yes, when you look at it through a microscope, it's alive. Nothing is dead. Not even a stone."
Apparently, all around Jeanne Moreau, cells are interreacting -- hers with the cup's and the cup's with the tablecloth's and the tablecloth's with the journalist's. "And that is why we are precious," she concludes triumphantly. "We are all part of the continuous movements of the world."
An international film star since the late 1950s, the embodiment of the continental seductress, the lover and/or companion of Louis Malle, Pierre Cardin, Franc,ois Truffaut and Tony Richardson, among others, Moreau is currently preparing for her Broadway debut in Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana." When the drama begins its out-of-town tryout tomorrow at the Morris Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, it will be the first time she has acted on the stage in English.
"It is a big responsibility and I cannot allow myself to be scared, to lose energy through fear," she says, delicately sipping an espresso during a rehearsal break.
"Fear is so bad. It confuses the mind. And these people need me to be clear-minded. Anyway, I have never thought of my life in terms of career. I've always thought of it in terms of experience. And it is a privilege to be allowed to work here by Actors Equity. When I was told that I had been accepted by the union , I was moved to tears."
Outside, New York is bracing for Hurricane Gloria. Moreau, wrapped in a red plastic raincoat, a fedora perched jauntily on her head, has just made her way down 57th Street to the Parker Meridien Hotel, where she's ensconced in the plush elegance of the dining room. To the waiters, hovering about solicitously, she flashes a smile that manages to be both regal and flirtatious. She is immaculately groomed, not a hair out of place, nails polished to a high gloss. The bruised sexiness she brought to such films as "The Bride Wore Black," "La Notte," "The Diary of a Chambermaid" and "Jules and Jim" is not so apparent now. At 57, she is less sultry than she is pretty, delicate, fastidious even.
Everyone naturally assumes that she will be playing the role of Maxine, the flashy proprietress of a ramshackle Mexican resort in Williams' 1961 play. It was, after all, the role that Bette Davis created on Broadway -- a brash, nymphomaniacal older woman who's been around. "Ah, that may seem logical," Moreau says, "but one has to beware of logical things. Maxine is too American for me, too extroverted. I can be maybe an introverted American, but Maxine is a true Texas-American lady. The way strong American women move about, the way they express themselves, no, no, no, I cannot do that."
Instead, she has taken the role of Hannah, the withdrawn Nantucket spinster, who stumbles into the tawdry inn with her 97-year-old grandfather in tow. Moreau pronounces the character's name " 'annah," the aspirate "h" being all that stands between her and what is otherwise fairly accent-free English.
" 'annah is much more mysterious," Moreau explains. "I know I can do it much better. People think because she is a spinster, she is a virgin. Well, maybe she is, maybe she isn't. To me, she is someone who has an instinctive drive toward a higher level of existence. She has great tolerance and she can see what is behind the surface of things. That is the part I have been living myself these last 10 years."
Moreau, it becomes quickly apparent, is given to waxing philosophical. She says things like "To be an actress is to be alive." Or: "An interview is not an interview; it is a gift you give me to talk about myself." Or this: "We are made of all the people we've met and the relationships we've had with them."
Ask her to talk about those who influenced her career. You might expect her to name Truffaut or Bun uel or Orson Welles, who directed some of her best movies, or even Peter Brook, who staged the smoldering 1957 Paris production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," which first brought her to the attention of the New Wave filmmakers.
But no. "There was a lady, a widow, who worked very hard in this little village, who sometimes took me for the holidays," she says instead, looking as pensive as a Rodin statue. "She taught me a lot about being disciplined, about how important it is never to let yourself go, about how you must always behave as if all the eyes are upon you. I never leave the house in a mess, even if there is a lady coming to clean. I love flowers. The first thing I do when I wake up is change the water and take care of the flowers. And I love clothes. I think it is important for a person to appear always at one's best. The way you present yourself has a lot to do with feeling clean and attractive inside."
Another resident of the same village, a widower, used to take her into the forest to gather berries and pick mushrooms. "Through him," Moreau says, "I know the names of plants, trees and flowers, and how to tell the good mushrooms from the bad."
Then there was her maternal grandfather, who lived on the south coast of England and had a little fisherman's boat called The White Tail. "Through him," she says, "I know the sea and the stars and the sky. And I wore my first trousers, which was not normal for a 7-year-old girl in 1935. These people were very, very important."
Appearances (and philosophy) notwithstanding, Moreau is only half French. Her mother was an English beauty from Lancashire who danced at the Folies-Berge re as part of the Tiller Girls. Her father came from French farming stock and during Moreau's youth ran a restaurant in Montmartre popular with artists and showfolk. World War II threw the family into disarray and her parents eventually split up. By that time, however, Moreau had found her calling.
At 18, she auditioned for the Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique, was accepted and then, barely a year later, while still a student, was searched out by the Come'die Franc,aise to play a part in Turgenev's "A Month in the Country." She stayed with the prestigious company for four years, moved on to the The'a tre Nationale Populaire (home of Ge'rard Philippe) for a season and finally asserted her independence "on the boulevard," which is what the French call their commercial theater. When her costar in "The Dazzling Hour" fell ill two days before opening night, Moreau took over the part in addition to her own, playing both the wife and the mistress of the same man -- a tour de force that now seems both prophetic and symbolic.
But it was her passionate performance as Maggie, La Chatte, in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that opened the doors on the movie career. "All the young directors of the New Wave came to see me," she says. "That's when I met Louis Malle and Franc,ois Truffaut . Everything started up for me in 1958." Malle starred her in "Les Amants," the account of a bored provincial matron who gives herself over to a chance acquaintance and ultimately leaves husband and child for her new lover. The torrid (for its time) depiction of lovemaking, plus Moreau's romantic involvement with Malle, helped establish her worldwide as the intelligentsia's Brigitte Bardot.
The image of what one critic called "the totally erogenous woman" still clings to her, fueled in part by her various affairs and by two tempestuous marriages (an early one to French actor Jean-Louis Richard, two days before the birth of their son; a late one to American film director William Friedkin). Moreau isn't exactly comfortable with that image and its underlying implications that she might be loose or, worse, emotionally reckless.
"You cannot take love lightly," she says, a trace of snippiness creeping into her voice. "You cannot. You cannot have an affair just to have an affair. I wouldn't do a thing like that. People know about my relationship with Louis Malle or my relationship with Pierre Cardin. But they were not publicized. They were what they were. I traveled with Pierre, I lived with Pierre. So? And I have just been through a very fascinating, painful, violent relationship with William Friedkin. It was hard, but it was rewarding. And now it's over, I'm not the same person I was. I'm more secure, richer inside.
"Maybe I've always been fearless. Some people, when they've been through hard moments in life, they say, 'Ooooooo! Let's be careful now. Let's sit back and take things easy.' I never did that. I always took life, human beings, very seriously. I took the pain very seriously. When I was hurt, I was hurt badly. And maybe that allows me to see the pain in others, even if they hide it."
When Moreau was in India a while back, serving on the jury of the New Delhi Film Festival, she met a Tibetan astrologist, who prescribed the three rings she's wearing. "He told me what stones I should have, how big they ought to be, whether they should be set in silver or gold, and which hand I must wear them on. It's supposed to keep balance and harmony inside the body and give you strengh and energy."
Just to be on the safe side, she carries in her purse a large bottle of Spiroulina, a French vitamin supplement, but the rings seem to be working. What Moreau radiates this morning is anything but buried pain and lingering hurt. She is swathed in composure. Outside, the eye of the storm is passing over New York. Moreau has brought the same kind of awesome serenity indoors. It makes for an eerie conjunction of two related temperaments-hers and nature's.
She claims not to know how others see her. But it is clear she sees herself as an international woman, allowed by virtue of her fame and talent to pursue a special destiny. Her possessions are few. She maintains an apartment in Paris, but sold her country estate in Provence a few years ago to Laura Ashley, who died last month. "I don't own anything," she says. "I dissipated everything. I was not very serious about money. Not at all. In life, you have to learn about your weaknesses and I learned it's not good not to be smart about money."
She removes a More from one of the two packs on the table and holds it up for a light. "Like anybody's life, my life is an adventure," she continues. "But it has a special quality because I am an actress. Sometimes I allow myself to say that I'm a great actress. I can say that because I don't think I'm responsible. Oh, I'm responsible for the work. But the gift? The poise? The capacity for concentrating, for bringing out things you don't even know you have inside yourself? Where does that come from? I don't know."
Perhaps that is why, although she was deeply shaken by the death of Truffaut, she can also say, "I brought as much to Truffaut as he brought to me. We met at the right moment. Franc,ois needed somebody for 'Jules et Jim' and I needed to express myself."
She even senses, within her, some deep, fatalistic attraction to the United States. "I cannot explain it," she says, through a jet of smoke. "It certainly has nothing to do with the conventional view of this country from the outside. You know, big, powerful America. Nobody's made it until they've made it here. That sort of thing. I only know that when I got to be 33 years old, the age of Christ, I said to my friends, 'Listen, I cannot have my birthday in any other place, but the United States.' So I came to New York and had my birthday, then went to California for a month. I had to be here."
She offers a magnificent shrug.
A Broadway success, she admits, would be nice, It would allow her to settle into the apartment she's rented on East 72nd Street, maybe look into recording some songs in English to go with those she brought out a couple of years ago in France. But if Broadway turns up its nose, there are always the memoirs she started writing in 1977, the year she married Friedkin. And after writing and directing one feature film -- "Lumiere" in 1976 -- she wouldn't mind making another.
"Life is so strong," she says, "so powerful. It is something that goes on and on and on until death. That is what people do not realize. They think when they lose something, or someone, there is a hole. They don't believe that other people will come to them. It is terrible. But life does go on. And it gives you things all the time. You gain and you lose. You gain and you lose. It is like the tide."
She can't find the words for ebb and flow. So she mimics the ebb and flow with those fine hands, bearing the astrologically correct rings. Back and forth, she waves them. Back and forth.
"Like the tide," she says again.