Julia Roberts: Pretty woman to Wonder mum
Actress Julia Roberts' three children inspire her to take on new film
Julia Roberts is in a very good mood.
Maybe it is because she turned 50 a few days before our interview early last month and no one can tell.
"I celebrated with my family and I feel great. I felt great last year and I am pretty sure I will feel really good next year. Nobody got too excited when I was 47," Roberts said with a laugh.
The US actress - who has 13-year-old boy-girl twins and a 10-year-old boy with her husband, US cameraman Daniel Moder - is slender and blonde, with those endless legs in black pants topped by a printed black and white blouse and the million-dollar smile that made her a movie star in full display.
We are at The Langham hotel in London to talk about her new film Wonder, which opens here on Dec 14.
Based on a 2012 bestselling book of the same name by R.J. Palacio, the film sees Roberts playing the mother of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old with a rare facial deformity because of a genetic condition.
A very bright child who hides behind a space helmet, the boy has been home-schooled, but his parents - Owen Wilson plays the father - decide to send him to middle school.
The film follows his challenges and those of his parents and sister as he takes this huge step to integrate with a not-always-kind world.
It is a small wonder in itself, resonating with audiences in a big way by so far grossing US$102 million (S$137 million) worldwide on a US$20 million budget.
What attracted you to the role?
My God, did this book move me. I read it myself and then with my family. It really did attach itself to me in an incredible way.
My kids were sort of the driving force behind it. One of them said: "Do you think they will make this into a movie?" I said: "Oh, I am sure they will."
And then my wheels started turning. Will they? Have they? I called my agent and said: "Will it be made into a movie? Because I would just like to put my name into the hat for the mum."
Fortunately for me, it had not gone far enough that they had already cast the parts, and so I was lucky enough to get on board.
Did being a mother affect the way you played the role?
Obviously, once you are a mum, there are things you could never imagine before you have children. Just the subtleties of the change inside of you, knowing that so intimately now for almost 13 years.
Owen said it was so interesting to him, the scene with Jacob and myself when he says: "Why am I ugly?"
He said he thought it was so interesting that instead of speaking to him in this very sweet and gentle voice of "oh no, you are not ugly", that I took this very stern voice. I had not even really noticed it... it was just my reflexive, maternal idea of that conversation.
Maybe 15 years ago, I would have said: "Oh, my little baby, it is okay." But now, that is just not how I approach being a mother.
What did you learn from your parents about self-confidence? And how do you teach that to your kids?
Well, I appreciate the fact that you see my idyllic childhood as sweet, deep conversations with my parents about how special I am, and I now pass that onto my children. (Laughs) But I think when I was growing up, it was different. We did not have these deep conversations about feelings and emotions the way that we do now, to the point of exhaustion.
So how was it at home for you?
I would probably talk more to my older sister about problems at school. Maybe my mum as she was cooking dinner, but it would not be the special sit-down time. She had a full-time job and a full house and lots of people to take care of.
Now, we do have the luxury of a family dinner where a lot of things come up, of what people are going through in the day and so we share in that way. I think just to let your kids know that they can talk to you about anything without judgment. They want to just talk and not have it be emotional, I think.
What are the wonders in your life?
I have been spoiled rotten to the core with wonder in my life, with my parents, siblings, husband and children. I think my greatest gift is the gift of being able to see very clearly my place in the world and that is so gratifying and humbling.
It has been almost 30 years since your first movie Mystic Pizza. Can you reflect on your career and say it was everything you expected?
I am the same girl, right? Then and now? Thirty years later, a nicer blouse, I am sure. See, I have graduated from T-shirt to blouse... One cannot really imagine or dream up something for themselves that is quite as fulfilling as I have found my life's work to be. It is just deeply meaningful to me and I love it as much now as I did then. It is just altogether shocking that it has really been 30 years in the blink of an eye that I have been able to do this.
So how do you juggle home life and career?
Within my peer group I see that I am not really a great representative of the struggle, in that I work in a very flexible job and my kids can come to work with me.
I also worked for 18 years before I had kids, so I felt I had earned the right to stay home, and I had that luxury to be able to do that. I am very grateful for that because I have girlfriends calling me from utility closets at work because they are pumping breast milk.
I love being at home. I love cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love doing laundry. And when I feel like I do not want to do laundry anymore, lo and behold, a job, you know?
I know my struggles are unique to me and I do have them certainly, but it is so supremely outweighed by the deliciousness of choice that I have.