ROLE REV­ER­SAL

Ju­lia Roberts finds life (and her roles) get bet­ter with age

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment / Timeout - Jake Coyle

Ju­lia Roberts is sit­ting on a couch in a Soho ho­tel when Lu­cas Hedges bursts in and be­gins fran­ti­cally search­ing for his phone, send­ing pil­lows fly­ing.

“This is what I say to Finn,” Roberts says, ref­er­enc­ing one of her three chil­dren as she in­structs her 21-yearold co-star. “Where did you go from here, honey?”

Roberts’ moth­erly in­stincts play a big part of her lat­est film, Ben Is Back. Writ­ten and di­rected by Peter Hedges

(Dan in Real Life, and the fa­ther of Lu­cas), Ben Is Back is about a son (Lu­cas) home from re­hab for Christ­mas.

The short visit res­ur­rects past demons and present temp­ta­tions for Ben, test­ing his mother’s anx­ious bal­ance of trust and sus­pi­cion.

It’s the sec­ond stand­out per­for­mance re­cently for Roberts, who also stars in Ama­zon’s ac­claimed con­spir­acy thriller Home­com­ing as a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored case­worker coax­ing sol­diers back into civil­ian life. It’s a more dra­matic chap­ter for Roberts, the most quin­tes­sen­tial of movie stars, who at 51 is stretch­ing in new di­rec­tions in­creas­ingly fur­ther afield from the froth­ier ro­man­tic come­dies she built her ca­reer on.

“With age comes more com­plex­ity of pos­si­ble parts,” Roberts said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “You know, I’m happy and I have fun at home, so it would take a lot for some­one to say: ‘Look, you can play this part where you’re happy and have fun’. Well, I just do that at home!”

It can take a lot to get Roberts away from home. She’s no­to­ri­ously picky, gen­er­ally act­ing in one film a year, and also has to fac­tor her kids’ school sched­ule and that of her hus­band, cine­matog­ra­pher Danny Moder.

Roberts has, quite con­tent­edly, largely with­drawn from the lime­light. She knits. She plays mahjong with girl­friends once a week. She will watch Point Break any­time it’s on TV.

But she still wears the role of movie star about as com­fort­ably as any­one ever has, and in per­son she re­mains gen­uinely, breezily, un­af­fect­edly her­self, a qual­ity that has made count­less feel as if they know — re­ally know — her.

Roberts grants that the pub­lic’s im­pres­sion of her is “prob­a­bly rel­a­tively ac­cu­rate”, some­thing few who have graced so many tabloid cov­ers in their life­time can do. “I mean, I’m not in­ter­ested in try­ing to seem cooler than I am or some­thing.”

Still, Roberts, a four-time Os­car nom­i­nee and one-time win­ner (Erin

Brock­ovich), is also in­deli­bly linked to the ’90s and 2000s pre-dig­i­tal movie era when stars, not su­per­heroes, still ruled the box of­fice.

Times have changed; her break­through film, 1990’s Pretty

Woman, is now a Broad­way mu­si­cal. Roberts re­cently had the out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence at­tend­ing it along­side Bar­bara Mar­shall, wife of the film’s late di­rec­tor Garry Mar­shall.

“I wasn’t pre­pared for how pro­foundly it made me miss Garry,” she said, chok­ing up.

“I wasn’t pre­pared for how all of the im­provs that I cre­ated are in a Broad­way book now,” she says. “Peo­ple are say­ing things that I was just mak­ing up, just vamp­ing.”

And long be­fore pay equal­ity be­came an in­dus­try-wide con­cern, Roberts was among Hol­ly­wood’s high­est paid stars. Asked about the #MeToo move­ment and Hol­ly­wood gen­der par­ity, Roberts replied, “You can never rest.”

“You think that’s sorted and you come around a cor­ner and then how is it not sorted sud­denly?” She notes a few ad­vance­ments that hit home for her and her fam­ily, like equal pay for women surfers.

“Things like this give me hope.” Lately, Roberts has been try­ing some new things. She joined In­sta­gram in June. Home­com­ing is her first foray into a TV se­ries. Roberts in­sisted Sam Es­mail (Mr. Ro­bot) di­rect all the episodes and that all the scripts be com­pleted be­fore shoot­ing be­gan. She sim­i­larly helped shape Ben Is

Back, push­ing for Peter Hedges to cast his son, the in-de­mand break­out star of a tall task be­cause Lu­cas has de­lib­er­ately sought to es­tab­lish him­self out­side his fa­ther’s shadow.

“When Ju­lia read the script and met with me, I came with a list of ac­tors that I thought would be good for the part, and Lu­cas wasn’t on that list,” Peter Hedges said by phone.

“Be­fore I could even share that list with her she said: ‘Lu­cas needs to play this part.’ I said, ‘One, I don’t think he’s avail­able, and, two, I don’t think he would ever want to do a film with me’. Once she signed on, she be­gan a very per­sua­sive and I think classy cam­paign. She made an ef­fort to let him know that she thought he should do the film with her.”

It is hard to say no to Ju­lia Roberts. The ac­tress later in­vited Lu­cas to her Mal­ibu home where she says he be­came part of the fam­ily, hang­ing out and tak­ing her kids to the beach. Mak­ing Ben Is Back was about fos­ter­ing a re­la­tion­ship with her fic­tional son.

“Spend­ing time with Lu­cas meant that I had heart-space with him, and that is what I called upon and re­lied upon for the movie,” says Roberts.

Like much of Roberts’ best re­cent work, in­clud­ing Won­der and Au­gust:

Osage County (for which she re­ceived an Os­car nom­i­na­tion), Ben Is Back re­volves around fam­ily, both on and off screen.

While her next film, Lit­tle Bee ,is a drama, too, Roberts hasn’t turned away from ro­man­tic come­dies for good.

“It’s just two de­li­cious things put to­gether,” says Roberts.

But Ben is Back and Home­com­ing have al­lowed Roberts to ex­pand on the dra­matic work she did with Steven Soder­bergh (Erin Brock­ovich) and Mike Ni­chols (Closer, Char­lie

Wil­son’s War), who once said of the ac­tress: “Her face is made by God to ex­press thought and feel­ing.”

Ju­lia Roberts wears the role of movie star com­fort­ably, but chooses her parts care­fully and is glad for more va­ri­ety.

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