Shift­ing fo­cus

Ju­lia roberts’ big role now is neigh­bour­hood mum.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By Amy KAuf­mAn

How are your kids, hon?” a woman asked Ju­lia Roberts af­ter stop­ping the ac­tress on a Pa­cific Pal­isades side­walk.

She was a fa­mil­iar neigh­bour­hood face to Roberts, and so the two caught up for a few min­utes, hugged and parted ways. Here, in the tony en­clave pop­u­lated with Pi­lates stu­dios and juice bars, this is how most peo­ple re­late to Roberts – as a neigh­bour­hood mom. Some­one who hides her make­u­p­less face be­hind Ray Bans while run­ning er­rands; sets an alarm on her phone so she re­mem­bers to feed the me­ter; wears a neon-coloured rub­ber band bracelet be­cause her daugh­ter made it for her.

“The kind of en­ergy I at­tract is very calm,” said Roberts, 46, set­tling in for lunch at an empty lo­cal cafe. “Peo­ple don’t come up to me very of­ten. Ev­ery­one is al­ways in such dis­be­lief that I can go to the mar­ket.”

That’s prob­a­bly be­cause the type of re­cep­tion she still re­ceives in Hol­ly­wood can be, frankly, ter­ri­fy­ing.

when she ar­rived at the pre­miere of her new movie, Au­gust: Osage County, in down­town Los An­ge­les re­cently – just days af­ter that quiet af­ter­noon lunch – dozens of pho­tog­ra­phers de­scended on her. She was try­ing to make her way to the red car­pet but, with ev­ery step, the crowd en­gulf­ing her would shift en masse like a flock of birds.

A se­cu­rity de­tail had to be called in to break up the melee.

Such is the dou­ble life Roberts has been lead­ing for the past decade – a west­side mum who also hap­pens to have the world’s most recog­nis­able toothy grin. Even if she no longer graces mag­a­zine cov­ers with the fre­quency she did in the 1990s, she’s man­aged to re­main a movie star.

It’s that level of fame that has al­lowed her the free­dom to tran­si­tion from the ro­man­tic come­dies that en­deared her to mil­lions – Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wed­ding – to less com­mer­cial, more dra­matic fare.

En­ter Osage County. The ok­la­homa-set fam­ily drama is based on a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play and fea­tures an all-star en­sem­ble, in­clud­ing Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Ewan McGre­gor. She and Streep have both been nom­i­nated for Screen Ac­tor Guild and Golden Globe awards for their per­for­mances, and the cast re­ceived a SAG nom­i­na­tion for en­sem­ble as well.

Even though the four-month shoot would take her away from her fam­ily for the first time, the project’s pedi­gree in­stantly proved al­lur­ing to Roberts, who had seen the Tracy Letts pro­duc­tion dur­ing its Broad­way run.

“I think peo­ple like to say that I’m su­per picky be­cause of how much I lo-oo-ve my kids,” she said, seem­ing slightly vexed. “But as an ac­tor, I sort of pride my­self on the fact that I’ve al­ways been picky. There’s a cou­ple things at play. For one, I’m 46 years old, so fall­ing out of chairs isn’t as funny. I could break a hip. Cer­tain sce­nar­ios that worked 10 years ago aren’t as ap­peal­ing, as ap­pli­ca­ble, as be­liev­able, as orig­i­nal – all those things.”

The sub­ject mat­ter at hand in Osage County cer­tainly isn’t eas­ily di­gestible.

Roberts plays the hard-edged Bar­bara, one of three sis­ters who re­turn to their childhood home to aid their can­cer-stricken mother af­ter their fa­ther com­mits sui­cide.

Be­cause the script was so de­mand­ing – both ver­bally and emo­tion­ally – Roberts and her cast­mates would spend evenings at Streep’s place near the set, run­ning lines late into the night.

“It was nice that Meryl didn’t con­ceal how much work went into it for her,” she said. “Be­cause peo­ple can con­ceal that, and I’m just not able to hide any­thing. I’m there go­ing, ‘I am poop­ing in my pants.’ But I find a cer­tain amount of panic works for me, be­cause the goal must be ac­com­plished. There’s no op­tion of, ‘Hmm, I don’t think I can do it.’ “

She paused to an­swer a text mes­sage from her hus­band, the cin­e­matog­ra­pher Daniel Moder, to whom she has been mar­ried since 2002. To­gether, they have three chil­dren – twins Hazel and Phin­naeus, 9, and Henry, 6 – and one was sick.

“The school sends mes­sages like this,” she said, turn­ing her iPhone around, “‘It is not an emer­gency.’ They want you to know straight off the bat not to worry.”

But Roberts does worry about her kids and how much time she’s able to spend with them. The fol­low­ing day, she and Moder were leav­ing town for sep­a­rate work trips – “news that didn’t go over well with the chil­dren,” she ad­mit­ted.

Ac­cord­ingly, she has slowed down her work life con­sid­er­ably and only makes about one movie per year.

“when I met her,” Pretty Woman di­rec­tor Garry Mar­shall re­called, “she was wor­ried about dat­ing and how she looked and her ca­reer. And now she wor­ries about be­ing a mum. I think she’s good at that part.”

To make sure her time in­vest­ment is worth it, Roberts of­ten chooses projects be­cause she’s close with her col­lab­o­ra­tors. (“I al­ways say every­body’s nice at lunch,” she joked. “It’s a com­fort to al­ready know who some­one will be un­der the best and worst of cir­cum­stances.”)

Her next project, an HBo film about the 1980s AIDS cri­sis based on the Tony Award-win­ning play The Nor­mal Heart, was di­rected by Ryan Mur­phy – the film­maker be­hind 2010’s adap­ta­tion of Eat, Pray, Love.

over the last 10 years, she’s done two movies apiece with Clive owen, Tom Hanks and film­maker Mike Ni­chols. She even turned in a cameo in Mar­shall’s star-heavy ve­hi­cle Valen­tine’s Day (which turned out to be one of her big­ger hits in re­cent years).

It’s clear she isn’t driven by a film’s box-of­fice prospects – to be fair, a lux­ury she can likely af­ford af­ter years of se­cur­ing US$20milplus (RM65mil) per movie.

out­side of her turn in the hit Eat, Pray, Love – in which she brought El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert’s best-sell­ing travel mem­oir to life – Roberts has seen mixed re­sults with au­di­ences in re­cent years. Her last movie, Mir­ror Mir­ror, a mod­ern take on Snow white, made about US$230mil (RM755mil) less world­wide than Snow White And The Hunts­man, another ver­sion of the fairy tale re­leased in 2012.

That may be due some­what to the fact that movie­go­ers no longer flock to a movie sim­ply be­cause it fea­tures an A-list star – a re­al­ity that Johnny Depp, will Smith and Tom Cruise were faced with last year.

But there’s also a new gen­er­a­tion of young ac­tresses now vy­ing for the ti­tle of Amer­ica’s Sweet­heart.

“Ju­lia has been a star for 27 years, and there was not even a chal­lenge un­til Jen­nifer Lawrence,” said Ni­chols, Roberts’ long­time friend. He was re­fer­ring, of course, to The Hunger Games star who has cap­ti­vated the pub­lic much the way Roberts did in her Pretty Woman hey­day.

what they both share, Ni­chols be­lieves, “reads as con­fi­dence but is some­thing else – know­ing who they are and stick­ing with it. Never pre­tend­ing to be any­body else.”

But Roberts doubts she would have been able to han­dle the lime­light in the era of Twit­ter and In­sta­gram. She ad­mires the way her niece, 22-year-old ac­tress Emma Roberts, has han­dled her new­found fame – but still frets about the ef­fect the busi­ness has on young peo­ple to­day.

“when (Emma) comes to stay with us, I al­ways think, ‘ Please let her be the same’ – and she is still the same mag­i­cal girl she used to be,” she said. “I think so much of it has to do with your in­ten­tions in tak­ing on a busi­ness like this. If you have a pure view of what you want to ac­com­plish, I think you can main­tain your sense of self.”

which isn’t to say that Roberts hasn’t per­fected her charm of­fen­sive over the years.

She’s quick and funny in a way that can make you feel like she’s let­ting you in on a se­cret – even when she’s not re­veal­ing any­thing par­tic­u­larly rev­e­la­tory. She com­pli­ments a wait­ress on her ear­rings, which are shaped like a pair of cutlery. She apol­o­gises pro­fusely for how many times she’s an­swered her phone dur­ing the course of an in­ter­view.

She’s self-aware – but it feels au­then­tic. She thinks maybe it’s be­cause she came of age dur­ing a time when “no­body ex­pected me to be any­body but my­self, re­ally” – a pe­riod be­fore stars were forced to go through me­dia train­ing.

“Thank God I never had that,” she said with a laugh. “I would have failed.” — Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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