Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist
 

Julia Roberts Interview -

Doug with Julia Roberts
The phenomenon business pays well. Julia Roberts says she has enough money for ten lifetimes. She turns thirty in a few months -- still a dangerous age for a Hollywood actress -- but there is no word of early retirement.

No surprise. This is a woman who should be in Roget's as the opposite of Garbo. She's been somebody's eternal flame in the gossip column Olympics for nearly a decade. In films she's merely flickered.

The movies she's made since she became Fort Knox bankable with the always suspect 'Pretty Woman' have been, being benevolent, disappointing. It's telling when you have to find the reference books to recall all but the most recent flops like her attempt at separating the intransigent Jekyll and Hyde in the title role of 'Mary Reilly'.

She has, she says, learned her lesson. Professional life, she suggests, starts again at 30. Last year she made 'Michael Collins' with former co-star and lover Liam Neeson and and sang for for Woody Allen but was upstaged by Goldie Hawn in 'Everyone Says I Love You'. They were, shall we say, cameos; rehearsals for the reemergence of Julia Roberts -- as Julia Roberts.
'People like it better when I'm happy. ' says Roberts whose smile has taken her all the way to the advice of the off-shore banking business. 'Maybe it's a backhanded compliment. When I'm not happy they don't like it as much.'

And in her business the actress who has always appeared to be in love with love there is a specific need to be liked.

It was her grin, her big-lipped celebration of her view of life, her trademark, which first enraptured audiences in 1990's 'Pretty Woman' and in the fantasy formula business it seemed an easy act to follow: keep on grinning.

But for more than moments there the woman known, alternatively, as 'The Lips', 'The Hair', 'The Smile', apparently lost the plot. Her complex romantic entanglements projected a wild, tearaway image, her movies like 'Flatliners' and 'Sleeping With The Enemy' broadcast one that was downright dull.

She got away with it for a time because everyone was wild about Julia Roberts. They paid to see the smile, to see her, as she says, happy. And Hollywood was prepared to pay her lots and lots of money -- still is -- in the belief that the magic was simply relaxing, recharging.

Now, she has to prove the sparks can fly at the ludicrously challenging age of of 30 -- birthday girl on October 28 -- with two films this summer. One is the romantic comedy 'My Best Friend's Wedding'. It has good antecedents: director P.J. Hogan of 'Muriel's Wedding', co-star Dermot Mulroney and supporting cast, Rupert Everett and Cameron Diaz.But is it another 'Pretty Woman'?

' I'm really psyched about "My Best Friend's Wedding". It's been a long time since I've done a romantic comedy -- the last time was "Pretty Woman". It just feels good. I was looking for things that were different, for things that I hadn't done before. I like this one because it is funny and it balanced out with the work I did last year with "Michael Collins" and working with Woody.

'Those were great too. It as a nice change of pace not to be the lead and not having to work quite so hard. With "Michael Collins" I just loved being in Ireland. I sometimes think I am the reincarnation of the Irish fishwife or something'.

First, we'll see her as a fish out of water (OPENING UK AUGUST 29) in a romantic adventure.There is serious insurance with her on 'The Conspiracy Theory' -- Mel Gibson. Reunited with his 'Lethal Weapon' director Richard Donner the box office golden boy plays a New York taxi driver who tells tall stories. One comes true and Roberts is smack in the middle of it. It is far more upbeat than 'The Pelican Brief' in which she and Denzel Washington got strangled in conspiracy theories.

There are almost as many about Julia Roberts as there were in the box office successful adaptation of John Grisham's novel. She has kept the same agent, Elaine Goldsmith, for the past decade and twenty movies. She has made some duds and rejected hits like 'Sleepless in Seattle'. Ask about regrets on 'Seattle' and she offers: 'No'.
If not quite so terse she is nippy about actresses like Demi Moore and Sandra Bullock who might be considered her rivals. She was paid $12.5 million for 'My Best Friend's Wedding' ( the same as Demi Moore for the appalling 'Striptease') and says:' It was a lot and ... (pause) ... I am fully clothed'.

Her choices are her own:' It comes down to me. I'm the one that's ultimately responsible for my behaviour and my decisions.I've done things that Elaine doesn't find as interesting as I did and I've passed on things she though were probably really smart things to do.

'Sometimes when I see great parts I'll go: "Wow! What a fucking great part to get to play. I'd like to play a part like that." But then I realise it was great largely because of who played it. Like Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking". Could I play a part like that? I don't know. I guess my career will progress however it wants, you know.

'Other actresses? Maybe it makes me shallow as a person but I have never given Sandra Bullock's career a moment's thought.I've never seen any of her movies so I honestly don't know what she's about. I mean, I 've seen her on television and she seems delightful. I do think her success is great -- in a way -- because it means there's enough work for everybody. Forcing " the next Julia Roberts" on to Sandra Bullock isn't really fair.

'She's probably been working longer than I have.'

Roberts had made five films before 'Pretty Woman' and the extraordinary chemistry with Richard Gere ( not an actor known for sharing) made her a star and forced her to deal with all manner of Hollywood demons. She won an Oscar nomination and millions of fans for that movie but today still remains more famous for her headlines than her critical reviews.

She shakes her head of reddish curls and shrugs when you ask if she regrets the turbulent years which involved her jilting one lover at the altar, running off to Ireland with another and then surprising even her family and closest friends by marrying Country and Western singer Lyle Lovett.

'I don't regret anything. What's the point of that? A friend of mine always says:'''Worries many; regrets, none.''

'If I never get married again in my life I'm glad that I got married to Lyle. It was a hoot. We had a great wedding and we had a great time.It was the great adventure.

'I think we just had problems.We weren't supposed to be married. It just didn't work out on a very specific being-with-someone level. There was nothing wrong, nothing bad, no one did anything.It's not that complicated -- it's just inexplicable.

'There's a certain kind of "show" that is part of the early stages of every relationship. It's what attracts you to someone. As you get more deeply involved you no longer want the the show or need it: you want the real person. And that can be scary in a relationship.'

She says she is at present 'dating' ('I only date him') a fitness/health educationalist called Pasqualc Manocchia. To some his a fitness trainer, to her he 'owns a centre for preventive medicine'.

On her relationship with Matthew Perry of 'Friends' she says -- surprise! -- they are just friends. 'I wouldn't classify that as a relationship. We were friends. We are friends. We had fun, went out on a bunch of dates, had fun, but the "love affair" never existed. For that to happen I think people being in love with each other probably helps.'

No matter how much she shrugs off encounters that it is her private rather than professional life which writes page one headlines, the 'Pretty Woman' getting into ugly situations. It's been that way since Hollywood and the public turned her into a phenomenon.

It began with whispers in 1988 when she stepped in as a last moment replacement for Meg Ryan ( who had her biggest success with 'Sleepless in Seattle') to play Shelby the young diabetic in 'Steel Magnolias.' Her co-stars were Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah. She was the lowest paid and the least recognisable of the cast. It might have stayed that way. Then 'Pretty Woman' happened. And so did she. She was the gorgeous hooker to Richard Gere's Prince Charming. Whatever the message -- and it's been highly criticised -- of the film it became Disney's most popular non-animated movie ever earning more than $350 million dollars worldwide.

'Steel Magnolias' won her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award and she repeated that act with 'Pretty Woman'. The rough stuff arrived with the pedestal.There was much talk of problems on the set of Steven Spieleberg's 'Hook' in which she played a special effects Tinkerbell to Robin Williams' Peter Pan.And indeed, like Tinkerbell, her life was upside down. While the movie was in production she was also going to star in a one day lavish extravaganza -- her wedding on the 20th Century film lot to actor Kiefer Sutherland whom she met when they co-starred in the psychic thriller 'Flatliners'.

They never called 'Action!' on that one. She literally dumped Sutherland at the altar and then days after she should have been saying 'I do' was in Ireland with hunky dark-haired and brooding actor Jason Patric -- her rival Sandra Bullock's co-star in the predicted summer sensation 'Speed 2'.

The gossip garbled around the world. She'd had a nervous breakdown. She was pregnant. She was never going to make a film again. There were problems with drugs. She says she simply wasn't ready for marriage:

'I'm glad I had enough guts to call it off before it was too late. Getting married then would have been my biggest mistake ever. I wasn't ready to get married and I don;t think Kiefer was either. I talked it over with my mom and some close friends and I knew I had to stop it. The hardest part was telling Kiefer. It was heartbreaking but it's best to face up to the truth before the actual marriage than to wait until it's too late and you've made a mistake. I decided I was rushing things. I knew I wasn't ready.'

But how then could she rush into what turned out to be a 21-month marriage to Lyle Lovett? 'How can I explain it to you? I met him and fell in love with him. I can't tell it any different to that. It was the perfectly correct decision for me at the time.'

The marriage coincided with her return to work ( with 'Pelican Brief') after nearly two years and a cameo in Robert Altman's 'The Player'.
She disdains all the talk of 'exhaustion' and more controversial ponderings with: 'I hadn't worked for a long time because I didn't find a part I wanted to play. I didn't find a part that was more interesting than my own life.'

She's often put her faith in men. She was briefly engaged to Dylan McDermott who played her husband in 'Steel Magnolias'. She lived with Liam Neeson her co-star in 'Satisfaction'. And, of course, there was Kiefer Sutherland who she met making 'Flatliners'. But she gets instantly annoyed at any suggestion that she falls in love at the drop of a clapper-board:

'I've done nothing but work, film after film, since I was 17. I don't know who people think I'm going to meet and spend time with but actors.'She says her personal life -- be it joy or heartbreak time -- has never interfered with her work:' When I say I can do a job I say that because I can. I don't let things interfere with that because my work is more important to me than that. It doesn't matter what's going on or has gone on with an actor when you sit in a dark room and watch a movie screen. That's not what it's about.

'When I worked with Liam again on "Michael Collins" it made it easier to do these very intimate scenes. I realised how much more challenging and perhaps impossible it might have been to achieve that sense of knowledge with someone I had only know for a couple of weeks. It really served me well knowing him.Plus it was just good fun.'

Fun it something she seems keen on having. With the earning power of a weekly lottery winner her purgatory, if that's what it was, has been rather pampered. She has, she says, grown up. The money has not been a factor:' I'm just the last person in the world who should be rich.I don't do anything with the stuff. I bought a house and it's an old dump and I will probably spend a lot of money doing it up over time. That to me is a great luxury and extravagance.

'I pay no attention to it yet there's an element of power to it because I know that if everything fell to shit I could live ten lifetimes.'

Getting this one right is her present priority.

On professional matters she says:' I have a real sense of confidence in that I won't take a part unless enough of me knows that I can do it and enough of me is scared of it and challenged by it. I need to feel I have to rise to the occasion. Do you know what I mean? And I have times between filming and I'm about to go out there and so something and I'm thinking:'' What am I going to do? They're about to call, I've got three minutes, what am I going to do?'' And I'll panic and then once I get out there something happens, it just happens. I'm glad it does. It's the greatest fun. I like having that feeling back.

Provocatively, she believes Hollywood executives put out the 'evil' on her. When she's asked if executives arranged to spread bad things about her the reply is a straightforward:'Yes. I do.' Does she know who they are? Yes, I do.' But she is not planning any legal action and offers her explanation:' The best thing I can do is invalidate them by not giving a shit.'

She can't, however, disguise her anger over the the drug rumours:' I smoked a joint, OK. I'm the girl who went through my entire high school career thinking a joint looked like a finger without skin on it. I thought that's why they would call them joints. This is how much drug experience I've had in my life. I'm the first one to say that in every rumour there's some ounce -- no matter how small - of fact, some small shred. This is the only rumour about me that doesn't have me in the right place -- nothing. Nothing about it is true but it's upsetting. I am the same as I've always been. I have confidence and integrity in my own life. I have my vulnerability but I can deal with it.

'I am happy now.I like things in my life to have substance and quality.

'There are things that pull the life out of my life and eventually you have to make some kind of choice no matter how selfish you look.

'I made a choice for myself: to make my life better'.