PARENTAL GUID­ANCE

Ju­lia Roberts and Owen Wil­son play the par­ents of a child with a rare fa­cial de­for­mity in Won­der. LAURA HARD­ING meets the duo to talk about their own ex­pe­ri­ences as par­ents and why their kids don’t care that they’re fa­mous

The Chronicle - - Screen Shots -

JU­LIA ROBERTS’ kids are not that im­pressed that their mother is Ju­lia Roberts. The su­per­star ac­tress, Os­car win­ner, Pretty Woman her­self and pos­ses­sor of a smile so wide and so fa­mous that it floors you from across the room, is just an em­bar­rass­ing mum to her un­fazed off­spring.

Ju­lia, 50, shares three chil­dren with hus­band Danny Moder – twins Hazel and Phin­naeus, 13, and 10-yearold Henry.

Their mother has been a megas­tar all their lives, hav­ing starred in smash hits such as Not­ting Hill, My Best Friend’s Wed­ding, Erin Brock­ovich, Step­mom, Steel Mag­no­lias, Hook, The Pelican Brief and Ocean’s Eleven, but that does not mean she can get them to drum up any in­ter­est in the films she makes.

That is why she was so ex­cited to star in her new project, Won­der, about a lit­tle boy named Aug­gie, who has fa­cial dif­fer­ences and is go­ing to school for the first time.

The film is based on the best-sell­ing 2014 book of the same name by RJ Pala­cio and was one Ju­lia had read with her fam­ily.

In the keenly-awaited adap­ta­tion, she plays Aug­gie’s mother, Is­abel, while Owen Wil­son plays his father, Nate.

The duo have been on the road to­gether for a while, pro­mot­ing the movie along­side its young star, Room’s Ja­cob Trem­blay, and are clearly close friends.

Now they are sit­ting to­gether in a Lon­don ho­tel, Owen in a dark jacket and Ju­lia in glasses and a black jumper with the plan­ets knit­ted into it.

They have spent so much time to­gether of late that Owen, 49, can re­lay the story of how Ju­lia read the book al­most as well as she can her­self.

“I hadn’t read it and didn’t know about it. My in­tro­duc­tion to Won­der was read­ing the script,” he says. Turn­ing to Ju­lia, he adds, “But you had ac­tu­ally read the book. You had read about it in the New York Times and then got­ten the book.”

Ju­lia laughs. “He’s lis­ten­ing to me when I’m talk­ing!” she mar­vels. “Keep go­ing! And then what hap­pened?” Owen ploughs on: “You know the way life gets hec­tic – some­how it got put on a shelf and then a cou­ple of years later, you see the book and you’re like, ‘What is that book? I don’t quite re­mem­ber it, let me read it to make sure it’s ap­pro­pri­ate for the age that your kids are now’, and then you read it over a week­end and just loved it and on Mon­day an­nounced to the fam­ily, ‘I think I’ve got a great new book for us to read as a fam­ily’, and then you guys read it out loud.”

“Yes we did,” she af­firms. “Not in one sit­ting,” Owen adds. “Not in one, no.” “And it was one of those books that just gen­er­ated a lot of din­ner con­ver­sa­tion be­cause peo­ple said, ‘Oh, I felt this way’.”

Ju­lia is re­ally en­joy­ing her­self now. “I’m think­ing it and he’s say­ing it, this is in­cred­i­ble. Let’s do this all day. Keep go­ing. And then what hap­pened?”

“And then you called your agent and you said, ‘I don’t know, I’m sure some­thing is al­ready hap­pen­ing with this or maybe it’s al­ready been made – but if it hasn’t been, I would love to throw my hat in the ring be­cause I would love to play the mother’, and then the next thing was it started to get rolling.”

Ju­lia is duly im­pressed. “That is 99.3% ac­cu­rate. Well done Owen Wil­son!” she says as she bursts into ap­plause.

Fam­ily read­ing time has al­ways been im­por­tant to her. It is a tra­di­tion started by her own father Wal­ter, who died of cancer when she was just 10 but read to Ju­lia and her brother Eric and sister Lisa reg­u­larly when they were grow­ing up in Smyrna, Ge­or­gia.

“My dad read to us be­fore bed ev­ery night,” she re­calls. “And I think it’s one of the great uni­ver­sal cud­dle times. We would read books we were ready for but not nec­es­sar­ily ready as read­ers to take on and it was just a spe­cial, cosy time.

“It’s a nice way to head into dream­land, I think, with the sound of your par­ent’s voice.

“Al­though my kids do say, ‘Mom, just your nor­mal voice please. Don’t do voices, OK? Just read it’, which is re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.”

It turns out a per­for­mance from a world-class ac­tress doesn’t count for much in the Moder/Roberts house­hold. Ges­tur­ing to Owen, she adds: “I was go­ing to say we are in­cred­i­bly cool par­ents but I don’t know if the five chil­dren we have be­tween us would nec­es­sar­ily sec­ond that emo­tion – it would de­pend on the day.”

Owen, who has two sons, Robert, six, and Finn, three, from sep­a­rate re­la­tion­ships, says: “That does seem to be part of be­ing a kid.

“You have to, at some point, roll your eyes a lit­tle bit at your par­ents, and sadly with me it’s al­ready be­gun at age six, I’m get­ting that. I think I’m a pretty cool dad.”

Since hav­ing chil­dren, Ju­lia has scaled back the num­ber of films she makes and spends much of her time on the fam­ily ranch in New Mex­ico.

“It is easy to say no (to films),” she says. “And it just sort of falls into one a year, but it’s not a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion that I’m try­ing to stick to. For­tu­nately, I have found things here and there that hold my heart enough to want to par­tic­i­pate in them, so that is my good for­tune.”

Does the fact her chil­dren will see the films even­tu­ally fac­tor in?

“I think one finds that one’s chil­dren aren’t nec­es­sar­ily in­ter­ested in one’s fil­mog­ra­phy be­cause per­haps one’s chil­dren want to go see Cars 3. But they do want to see this be­cause they loved the book and like any lover of a great book, of course you want to go see the movie, so this is a sure thing.”

Owen, who voices Light­en­ing McQueen in the afore­men­tioned Cars 3, as well as its two pre­de­ces­sors, adds: “I don’t know if it fac­tors into the de­ci­sion but this [Won­der] will be one that I will be happy for my kids to see.” Won­der is in cin­e­mas now.

Ju­lia Roberts with Ja­cob Trem­blay in Won­der, above, and the pair with Owen Wil­son in a scene from the film, right Owen Wil­son and Ju­lia Roberts pic­tured while pro­mot­ing their new film, Won­der, in Lon­don

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