Julia Roberts/Mona Lisa Smile Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
Julia Roberts begins by excusing herself for having the flu. "I keep onthrowing up, which is quite disgusting, but don't worry, I'm not contagious" Roberts says laughingly. Never a huge fan of the press junket process witha reputation for being difficult, the Oscar-winning actress was surprisinglygood-humoured when promoting her latest film, the fifties-set Mona LisaSmile. "Unfortunately I can't contaminate anybody", she adds, laughingly. InMona Lisa Smile, Roberts plays a forward-thinking Art History teacher whoaccepts a job in a prestigious, but highly conservative all-female collegein 1953. Roberts says that she didn't find it too difficult to relate tothis progressive character. "I think you have to identify with ANY characteryou play on some level," Roberts explains. "I liked the fact that she wassomeone who had latched onto an idea and felt a strong conviction about onethat was very new at that point. At that time, not a lot of people weresaying: Look further, explore your options and expect more. It was a new cryfor women. I also liked the fact that she really believed in it so much thateven in the face of people that she knew she felt didn't agree and weren'tinterested in what she was saying, she still kept on." One of the prevalentthemes of Mona Lisa Smile is the question of choice: Marriage or career.Roberts, recently married, is someone who gets to have both, and it's abalancing act she says, is not so tough. "It's not hard to balance thosethings at all. I have a very blessed life and situation and the timing ofthe convergence of things for me have worked out in a way that I'm justhumbled by and really grateful for. I just can't ask for anything else,"says Roberts, smiling, who remains unaffected by her fame and power, sayingthat it's not so crazy that she remains so grounded "I find a naturalinstinct to be sort of indifferent to it in a way, to the idea of beingfamous, because that's not something that one does. It's not my job orsomething I do."
These days Roberts prefers to expend her energies to being wife to cameramanDanny Moder, saying, somewhat shyly, that "It's a joy being domestic. It'ssomething I want and something that makes very happy."
In her latest film, Mona Lisa Smile, Roberts plays a progressive woman at atime of sheer conservatism in post-war America. 50 years after the filmtakes place in Bush's America, one wonders whether much has really changed,making this film surprisingly contemporary. "I think it does have resonancein some common themes and continued struggles. It's nice to remember andnice to offer up this story in a way of reminding, particularly, a youngergeneration of girls who only knows her life as freedom and the joys ofchoice to inform those younger girls it hasn't always been this way. A lotof people weren't born into these expected freedoms, so it makes meappreciate more the women who have come before me and made me appreciate mylife."
Not quite the comedically romantic heroine of Pretty Woman, Roberts enjoyedthe challenge of getting to play a flawed character in her latest film,which is "the thing that makes her interesting. Also, the thing that makesher the most intellectually aware are the things she probably understandsthe least about, such as her conviction that she's right."
Playing a teacher, one wonders whether she has been influenced by teachersthroughout her life. Surprisingly, the actress is reticent to elaborate. "Ijust want to make a point that it's not just great teachers that sometimesshape your life. Sometimes it's the absence of great teachers that shapesyour life and being ignored can be just as good for a person as being lauded"
In a career spanning some 15 years, Roberts has risen to the top of apatriarchal Hollywood. At this point, the now 36-year old Oscar winnercannot think of anything major to add to her life, insisting "I don't havespecific goals like that. I suppose my desire is just evolution and growth,"and of course good roles, but not necessarily designed to shock her legionof fans. "I would like to do things that are different. My reason wouldn'tbe, oh, I'll do this to shock people, because I don't really know whatpeople would find shocking. Though someone asked me a few weeks ago if Iwould be in the movie called Cock. And I said, you know, I don't think I'mready for that, I have no idea what it's about. But I just can't call my momand say, "So, Cock..." she adds amidst peels of hysterical laughter.
And though she has mastered the romantic comedy genre, Roberts isn't rulingout a return to the genre that made her a superstar. "I love romanticcomedies. I like to watch them and I like to be in them. It's somethingthat's increasingly difficult to find that spark of originality that makesif different than the ones that come before." Yet it was a very serious filmthat she first saw as a Southern child that made her fall in love with themovies. "I think the first movie that really impacted me was Beckett [withRichard Burton and Peter O'Toole]. I know what your thinking, me of allpeople, Beckett, figure that out." She adds that this film had the impact onher it did, because "it was the first time I realized actors commanded suchgreat power, I was really affected by it and was just really impacted by thepower of this film."