Only six years ago, Julia Roberts was a Smyrna, Ga., high school graduate who wanted to act. She got her wish fast. Her body of work spans just eight films, but they represent a succession of uncannily efficient career moves. Mystic Pizza got her noticed. Steel Magnolias turned her into a rising star and Oscar nominee, and last year’s Pretty Woman rocketed her past every other actress in Hollywood. With head-spinning swiftness, she had hit the top.
There may be no way Roberts could have avoided the sharp teeth of the star-making machinery no matter what she did, but this June, when she and Kiefer Sutherland called off their wedding, what she calls her ”Fellini summer” began. While the 24-year-old dodged paparazzi and endured a long, difficult shoot on Steven Spielberg’s Hook, a storm of rumors swirled through the Hollywood air. Does she have a career-jeopardizing drug problem? What was the real reason for her five-day hospitalization last June? Was she nearly fired from Hook? For a long time, Roberts reacted with a self-imposed silence. Now, feeling that the stories have flown out of control, she has given her version of events in an exclusive interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Roberts enters the Spanish-style living room of her new publicist, Nancy Seltzer, wearing brown slacks and a white shirt. Her hair is longer than it has been in a while — it falls below her shoulders — and she looks healthy and vibrant, but nervous about her first major interview since the events of the summer. As we talk, she often grows impassioned, stretching forward across a sofa to make her points. No questions are off-limits, and though she is uncomfortable confronting some of the rumors about her, Roberts clearly prefers talking to being talked about.
EW: You’ve just turned 24, and you’ve had a hell of a year. If you had turned 34 this week, and experienced this same kind of year, do you think you would have handled it all differently?
JR: I don’t know. I mean, I would hope that when I’m 34 I would be a little smarter, so maybe I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this situation. You know, whenever anybody is faced with a precarious or negative or odd situation in their life, they say, ”If I had only done this or that.” But everything for its purpose, I say, because you can’t go back. Things just happen, and when good things happen you try to perpetuate that, and when bad things happen you try to learn from them and go on.
EW: You’ve had good management along the way. Have you mapped out a strategy for career development?
JR: Well, people sometimes speak as if one can tell what’s going to happen in one’s career. And when you think about the success of Pretty Woman, which is — and I don’t say this in any kind of bold sense whatsoever, it’s at this point quite factual — it is astounding. There is no reason in the world this movie should have done what it did. So when people indicate that I knew what I was getting into, I say, ”You must be mad! No one can know!” And also, I don’t think that people should necessarily be trying to make those ventures. That’s not the reason to make a movie.
EW: When you got into Pretty Woman, was it Pretty Woman or was it Three Thousand (the title of the original script, a much darker story about prostitution)?
JR: It was still Three Thousand. It was at Vestron.
EW: When did that picture begin to change?
JR: When it was sold to Disney. They were going to have Garry Marshall direct it. And at that point I no longer had anything to do with it. The producer, Steve Reuther, sort of went up to bat for me at Disney. He was saying, ”You still should see this person.” So then I met Garry, and they were saying they were going to change it to a comedy. And I didn’t understand that at all. I didn’t see how this movie was going to be a comedy. Garry said to me that half the people at Disney were concerned that you couldn’t dress me up — that I could have on jeans and look sort of dirty or whatever but you couldn’t dress me up — and the other half were saying the opposite. So Garry was saying, ”So, I don’t know”
EW: Meaning you might not be quite right?
JR: Meaning I absolutely wasn’t right — no matter what I was gonna do. Ultimately, as we all know, I got the job. And then getting somebody to play Edward was another teeth-pulling experience. Finally, there we were, three people — Garry, Richard (Gere), and myself — all totally confused, but at this point committed to a project. And Garry’s like, ”Be funny! Ready! Action!” But we had a good time.
EW: When did you realize this picture had a bit of magic?
JR: Well, there’s magic and there is magic. Magic to me is you make a movie and it’s all great and it clicks, and at the end of the day you feel like you’re having an experience that is positive and that you’re learning from. That’s sort of magical. Garry creates such a familial atmosphere — and when you live by yourself, and you’re at work with all these people who are like your family every day, and then it’s done and you’re in your house by yourself again, it seems like your life is sort of over.