ulia Roberts’s famously wide smile was too big for television screens. Better suited to megawatt multiplexes, she became Hollywood’s biggest movie star in the 1990s with a string of winning romantic comedies and thrillers.
When she did slum it on TV, in those days a much less revered medium, the small screen could barely contain her. Her guest performance in a Friends episode in 1996 aired after the biggest TV event of the US year, the Super Bowl. And in Murphy Brown, she played herself.
So Roberts’s very first recurring role in a television series is a big move. “No, it was a mistake!” she jokes when asked by Stellar about the decision. “I was just thinking: ‘What to do now?’”
The answer? Be executive producer and star of the psychological thriller series Homecoming, a TV adaptation of the fictional podcast of the same name. She plays two versions of Heidi Bergman, a case worker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a facility helping soldiers return to civilian life. The second Heidi is a broken woman seen four years later, working as a waitress coming to terms with the mysterious circumstances around her previous job and life.
Instead of using her comic timing and exceptional charm, Homecoming calls for depth and vulnerability from Roberts. The fact that she was willing to embrace the tense drama speaks to the artistic credibility of modern television.
Director Sam Esmail has delivered inspired casting, introducing Dermot Mulroney – Roberts’s My Best Friend’s Wedding co-star – as Heidi’s boyfriend.
“It’s so fun because people don’t really expect to see him turn up and when he does, people go all banana cakes,” she exclaims with that unmistakable hearty laugh. “But that was Sam’s idea. Dermot is exceptional in the part and it was very challenging for me not to laugh for most of his performance. We just had a spectacular time filming those scenes.”
For Roberts, the move into television is not a big deal. She agrees with a castmate who asked rhetorically, “What is TV anymore? What does it mean beyond storytelling?” And, she adds, “There’s so much great content on television now. So for me the consideration isn’t whether it’s TV or a movie, it’s whether there’s a good story. And where is a director