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
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