Life & Style Weekly

Dark Times

Life & Style exclusivel­y reveals the truth about the hidden romance that left Julia Roberts emotionall­y scarred and still affects her marriage today


How a secret affair nearly destroyed Julia Roberts.

She knew as soon as she saw his cellphone bill. She’d had her suspicions, but here, in black and white, was proof that could no longer be denied: Her husband had been making secret phone calls, every single day, to another woman.

No, Danny Moder isn’t cheating on Julia Roberts, 49. Julia was the other woman who helped break up Danny’s four-year marriage to makeup art- ist Vera Steimberg back in 2001. Now, almost 15 years after Julia tied the knot with the cameraman, 48, Life & Style can finally reveal the full story of the secret affair and how it nearly destroyed the actress at the height of her fame. “Julia’s extramarit­al romance with Danny came close to ruining her life,” says a family friend. The relationsh­ip damaged her image for a while and her personal life in ways she never imagined, and continues to affect her to this day.


With her infectious laugh and megawatt smile, Julia had become known as “America’s Sweetheart.” That soon changed. When she started filming 2001’s The Mexican with Brad Pitt, she promptly fell for a handsome man behind the camera. “She had a crush on Danny from the moment they met,” the friend re- veals. “And she went after him in a big way,” even securing the hotel room next to his. There were two obstacles: Julia was in a fouryear relationsh­ip with actor Benjamin Bratt, and Danny was married. It didn’t stop them from starting a secret affair. After the movie wrapped, “she took great pains to see him on the down-low,” says the friend. When she gathered the courage to tell Benjamin she’d found

someone else, Danny comforted her during those daily calls Vera later discovered. “He was a pillar of support,” the friend says.

Benjamin moved on without a problem. Vera didn’t. Then 29, she’d refused to believe news of the affair when reporters first asked her about it. Once the news broke, though, she was furious. “Extricatin­g Danny from his marriage to Vera was emotionall­y wrenching,” says the friend. As Danny and Vera battled over their divorce, the public began to turn against Julia. America’s Sweetheart was suddenly “a home-wrecker,” as a scathing editorial on ABC’S website called her in 2002. Julia’s own actions made things worse. Even though she had “stolen” another woman’s husband, she publicly shamed Vera by wearing a shirt that read “A Low Vera” (see box on next page).

After that, friends and fans alike “viewed her as a bullying mean girl,” says the friend. “It was an absolute PR disaster.”

Even when she tied the knot with Danny at her Taos, N. M., ranch on July 4, 2002, there was no honeymoon period for her. “It won’t last with her,” Vera sniped to London’s The Sun days after the ceremony. “She will be looking for a new husband within a year.”

Her reputation was in tatters. “If [an affair] goes against your entire brand, it can shatter and devastate your image,” says branding expert David Johnson, CEO of Atlanta’s Strategic Vision PR. “And that’s what we saw with Julia. She looked like a villain.” In 2003, she sat down with Oprah Winfrey to try to repair the damage. Though she didn’t deny the affair, Julia gave a firm “no” when Oprah asked if she caused

the breakup of his marriage. “I’m an easy person to point the finger at,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen to be so.… He sorted his whole thing out, separate and apart from me.”


Danny’s own family didn’t believe her. They adored Vera, the insider says, and made it clear from the start that they didn’t trust Julia. “When they learned of the affair, they turned on her,” says the friend, especially after they discovered that Danny, who temporaril­y moved in with his sister Jyl, had been using that apartment for secret rendezvous with Julia. “Even Julia’s mother, Betty, was aghast at the way Julia steamrolle­red Vera to get to Danny,” adds the friend.

Making matters worse, the only Moder who embraced Julia, Danny’s mother, Patti, died of a sudden heart attack shortly after the affair became public. “A number of the griefstric­ken Moders blamed Julia for contributi­ng to the death, believing the stress of the divorce and affair were too much for Patti to bear,” says the pal. At one family event in 2003, the friend recalls, Jyl actually referred to her as “Satan.” Though Danny’s three other siblings have come to accept Julia in the years since, “Jyl hates her to this day.”


The backlash and the hostility from the Moder family wore on her. But bit by bit, she worked to restore her name. After the wedding, “Julia started extolling the

“I don’t want to be alone, so I have to put up with the drama.” — Julia has said

virtues of marriage wherever she went,” says the pal. (“I was born to love and be the wife of this man,” she declared on Good Morning America.) They welcomed three beautiful children, twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, now 12, and Henry, 10. She took fewer movie roles, and “family and charity work became her priority,” says the pal. “Being as down-to-earth and unHollywoo­d as possible has made Hollywood embrace her again.”

To a degree. “She’s rebuilt her image, but she’s still not back to where she was originally,” notes branding expert Johnson. And the way her romance with Danny began may be continuing to affect her relationsh­ip with him today. When a relationsh­ip begins with cheating, “there remains this doubt,” says La-based psychologi­st Dr. Julie Armstrong, who has not treated Julia or Danny. “Past behavior can be an indication of future behavior. So you have trust issues like, ‘If he did it before, will he do it again?’ ” After 15 years, she believes they’ve put those issues behind them. But the duo have had rocky times and heated blowups over control issues over the years, and as recently as this January, he briefly moved into a house across the street following a fight. At moments like those, the struggles she faced early in the romance no doubt come rushing back. Looking back on it, the friend says, it was “the affair that nearly totaled her career and personal life.”

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