Cover Story

The Next Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts reemerges -- The actress has four new films including ''Something to Talk About'' and ''Mary Reilly''

As you walk in the door, Julia Roberts tells you she's in her panic state.

If you're a wee bit skeptical, that's just because it's hard to panic in Dublin, what with that cool Irish breeze fluttering into the suite and that bright Celtic sun casting patches of gold all over the room. Roberts patters over to the window in her J. Crew sneakers, slides it open a notch, leans toward the traffic, and murmurs to an avenue once strolled by the likes of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

''Have you checked out St. Stephen's Green?'' she says.

Wistful, maybe. Panicked, no.

She can see the park across the road — a delicate, 22-acre refuge from Dublin's bustle. A place full of pink geraniums, and geese skittering on a pond, and leaf-canopied memorials to dead Irish patriots and writers. After only two days in town, she has a routine. ''Every morning I walk by the bust of James Joyce and say, 'Good morning, Mr. Joyce.' Take a little run, take a little walk. I call it an airing. You know when you need a little bit of an airing?''

Sure. Especially when things are in such a panic state.

And they are. Really. ''I'm anxious,'' Roberts says. ''Very anxious.'' Tomorrow marks her first day of filming on Michael Collins, Neil Jordan's epic about the early-20th-century Irish freedom fighter. Liam Neeson plays Collins. Roberts, who lived with Neeson for a spell in the late 1980s, plays his strident lover, Kitty Kiernan. She's tweaking the brogue; her script lies on the coffee table. Tomorrow, she explains wryly, ''was actually going to be a perfect first day for me. A really big scene, and I have one line. And now there's supposedly a storm coming, so I have the potential for a trial-by-fire first day.''

Another trial looms on the horizon: In 10 days, on Aug. 4, Something to Talk About will open in theaters in the States. Homespun and human in an earthy, Fried Green Tomatoes way, Something — the story of a happily married woman who discovers that her husband is a cheat — represents a chance for Roberts to bounce back from the slump brought on by 1994's box office snoozer, I Love Trouble. Warner Bros. has rushed the film, originally targeted for fall, into theaters with barely a blink of advance warning, so maybe there should be a trace of panic in the air.

But truth be told, Roberts' sprawling suite at the Shelbourne feels less like the fear-stricken parlor of a Hollywood powerhouse than a collegiate dorm, circa 1974. She's got Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks sighing and strumming from a boom box in the corner. She's got a book of J.D. Salinger's stories and A Literary Guide to Dublin scattered on the coffee table. You half expect to see lacrosse sticks in the corner and a Picasso poster over the mantel. (There is a backpack.) Two days into her trip, she has lectured the Shelbourne's cream-loving kitchen on her preference for skim milk and converted the suite into a cocoon of calm. Four years ago, she and Jason Patric fled to Dublin when her betrothal to Kiefer Sutherland buckled at the eleventh hour; now that she's 27, the city again feels like a safe haven.

1 2 3 4 5 6