“My life is a lot more normal”
She is still known as the definitive “pretty woman”, but despite public fascination with her, Julia Roberts is living a low-key existence away from the spotlight
She will always be the definitive “pretty woman” and still has her pick of the best Hollywood film roles, but Julia Roberts tells Stellar that her most rewarding accomplishment has been leading an uneventful life with her husband and three kids.
“All those insecurities I had are painful, but in the end it creates a strength”
If your face tells the story of your life as you age, then Julia Roberts has a particularly happy and fulfilling tale to impart. Having recently turned 50, she reflects on a theory shared with her by friend Owen Wilson as she sits down with Stellar for an exclusive Australian interview. “Owen talks about how you get the face you deserve – that’s really the face that you earn. There’s a line in the movie [Roberts’s and Wilson’s new film Wonder]: ‘What’s inside is where you’re going and what’s on our face is where we’ve been.’ And it’s true – it’s sweet and it’s wonderful.”
Given this is the very person loved the world over as the eternal “pretty woman”, who became the most popular and bankable movie star of her generation, you might say the same about her own life. But Roberts insists otherwise.
“Look,” she says as she waves a hand across her face, “there’s a team out there that have done all this.”
The night before meeting with Stellar in a London hotel, Roberts caught up with her Notting Hill director Richard Curtis and his partner Emma Freud.
“I went to Richard’s for dinner with he and his dear Emma and their kids,” Roberts says. “And it was so funny because Richard can only tell the truth. He said, ‘I forget you can do this,’ because I came right after [a day of] work. He said, ‘I forget this can happen to you!’”
In any event, Roberts insists with a shrug, the key to looking good – aside from that life well-lived – is pretty simple. “Water is the answer to everything,” she says. “And sleep, which is impossible for most mums, of course. And to find that sense of joy. When I’m grumpy, my eyes are super puffy.” She does not pay much mind to mirrors, and even less so to the narcissistic practice of the selfie.
“We have become a culture that’s so self-examining and so self-promoting that it just becomes too overwhelming,” she says. “Sometimes I think, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t even have time to look in the mirror before I left the house, what kind of a mess am I dropping the kids off at school?’ Maybe less self-examination is the key to being gorgeous.”
Despite being a typically cold morning in London, Roberts appears neither grumpy nor puffy-eyed. Clad in a red Gucci planet-print pyjama shirt, black skinny jeans and ankle boots, tortoiseshell glasses and her trademark tousled curls, she is as beautiful as ever. There is no army of press officers in the room to monitor questions, although she makes her displeasure known when the topic of sexual harassment in Hollywood is raised, refusing to answer. (“I’m curious why you would ask me,” she says briskly.) Yet she is genuine and open, even giving this writer a friendly hug.
Roberts has long been an object of fascination, but she has deftly managed to stay out of the gossip pages, living as uneventful a life as possible with husband Danny Moder and their three children, 12-year-old twins Phinnaeus (Finn) and Hazel, and son Henry, 10.
“I think my life is a lot more normal than people might expect,” she says of her day-to-day. “I certainly know I have this extraordinary job and have been to all these great places, but we’re all the same person. By six o’clock I am not the only person sweating trying to get dinner made and cleaning up.”
Wonder marks a milestone for Roberts – it is her 50th movie. There is a nice symmetry to this, given she turned 50 eight days before meeting with Stellar. Occasions like this tend to spark reflection; asked to consider the young woman who made her breakthrough in the coming-of-age drama Mystic Pizza in 1988, Roberts gives it some thought before replying. “I wouldn’t give her any different advice,” she says. “My compass then – which I feel is my compass now when it comes to work – was properly intended. I think I always knew why I was doing what I was doing, and in that regard it has all worked out. All the crippling insecurities I did have as a young person, as I think most teenagers have, they ultimately serve you. They feel so painful at the time, it’s all so awful… but in the end, it creates a strength.”
Yet Roberts recently admitted that during those early years, as she notched success after success in Hollywood, “I was my priority, a selfish little brat.” She said it took marrying cinematographer Moder in 2002 to change that. “I married a wonderful human being who I feel has really just rooted me even more in myself,” she tells Stellar.
Still, that early self-determination clearly served her well. Roberts was the first woman to command $20 million for a movie, and her net worth is estimated to be around $170 million.
She believes Erin Brockovich marks the point she finally knew she had truly arrived – the 2000 film earned Roberts an Oscar and cemented her place in the Hollywood elite. At the time, Roberts and her peers were in the midst of a run that in many ways marked a final golden age for Hollywood – when social media, reality TV stars and influencers were still in their infancy. Nostalgists now lament that the likes of Roberts, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and George Clooney were the last of a breed that no longer exists: a good old-fashioned movie star.
“Well, we’re not dead!” Roberts protests with a laugh, although she agrees that the sentiment is pretty much true. “Everything has changed so much from when I, Tom Hanks, George and Brad started. Social media and Youtube and phones with cameras didn’t exist then. It really made the idea of being an actor a little bit different, unique. It wasn’t as accessible, interchangeable. I think that’s what people are missing. It’s a bygone era.”
Roberts now has enough cachet and goodwill in the industry that she can afford to pick and choose her roles, and she does so carefully, averaging one movie a year. “It’s easy to say no,” she says. “Fortunately, I have found things that hold my heart enough to want to participate in them.”
The script for Wonder, based on RJ Palacio’s bestselling novel of the same name, grabbed Roberts’s attention to the point she contacted the production team to say she wanted in.the book, which follows a 10-year-old boy with craniofacial differences named August Pullman ( Room’s Jacob Tremblay), was a word-of-mouth phenomenon that sold five million copies and ended up on school curriculums worldwide. Director Stephen Chbosky puts it on a par with To Kill A Mockingbird in terms of its impact on young readers.
Roberts says that as soon as she read the book, she knew she had to play August’s mum. “I thought, ‘This was the greatest thing I have ever read,’” she says. “I came home on a Monday and [told my kids], let’s put the book we’re reading aside and we’re starting a new one. We all read the book together. My kids were eight and two 10-year-olds at the time. This was something they were all equally invested in, equally eager to hear every night and discuss at dinner or breakfast, sharing what happened. As a parent you want to teach your kids to be nice, have manners and be compassionate, and this was like a manual [for that].”
In the film, August dreams of anonymity, but as his sister tells him in one scene, “It’s impossible to blend in when you are born to stand out.” Roberts says she can relate.
“Of course I want to be anonymous,” she says. “I do get nervous around people and feel shy and protective when I am out with my kids.”
As a rule, she declines to take photos with fans, but she admits her children are teaching her to break down a few barriers. “They say, ‘So, Mum, if anybody asks you for a picture just say OK.’”
She tells of an encounter just days earlier in San Francisco, when a man asked her to take a picture with him and his dog, saying his mother would be thrilled to see he had met Julia Roberts. She obliged. “And as he walked away my son said, ‘Mum, I am so glad you did that, you just made his day’. It made me feel like some kind of superhero of kindness. I’m glad they are teaching me. It’s like they help me stand up straighter when I walk down the street and not feel embarrassed having my face sticking out there. It’s a nice feeling.” Wonder is in cinemas from Thursday, November 30.