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.
EW: So Pretty Woman finally opens up, and it turns out to be a monster hit. Did you feel your life change?
JR: My inner life was the same, I was still the same person. I think that things change a little bit when people start approaching you and stuff, just because there’s no way to be prepared for that sort of thing. And even though people were kind and sort of funny-people didn’t know my name, but they knew I was ”Pretty Woman” — there comes a point where it’s actually sort of scary — well, scary’s not a good word — but people come up and grab you. Anywhere. In the grocery store or walking down the sidewalk. ”Oh my God, you’re you, and I feel like I know everything about your life, so I’m entitled to come up and take five minutes of your day.” It’s kind of a beautiful thing about a person’s spirit that they just get like overwhelmed, because I get that way about things. But I try to be respectful of people, and I hope that in return people ! are respectful of me.
EW: It’s as if people just can’t get enough of you.
JR: I do think it’s turned a bit sensationalistic. It’s gotten out of whack. I want to say, ”Hey, look, it’s not really that big a deal.” I think that it comes from why do people go to movies? Because they want to get lost in something, because it’s interesting, and because, let’s face it, some days are just boring. Some people’s lives are boring. Some people have whole years that are boring. You see something that seems more interesting, more exciting, and you want to be a part of that, which is why people gossip. If they had something that was equally interesting, say, about themselves, that’s what they would talk about.
EW: Do you think that’s why people fixated so much on your wedding plans, and your decision to cancel them?
JR: It became something that was taking on speed, that everybody was going to have to know about. So it was a much bigger decision than just having to say to somebody, ”Let’s not do this.” So that’s unfortunate. And that also probably delayed my ability to realize what I had to realize — that I can’t give a shit about some lady in Boise who thinks I made the biggest mistake of my life or that I’m a bad person because I’ve done this. This is my life; I get to do it one time. And this is a decision I made for me. I have saved my life by doing this. And that’s all in the end that had to concern me.
EW: It seems Kiefer conveyed the impression that it was your idea to call it off.
JR: I had returned from a trip to Arizona intending to tell Kiefer that I thought it would be best for both of us not to get married. But the next time I talked to Kiefer, he called me on the telephone. The only thing I said was, ”Where have you been?” And he proceeded to tell me what I was going to tell him, which is he did not want to marry me, he did not want this to happen. He was very vivacious, for lack of a better word, about it, and seemed quite specific in how he felt.
EW: Where was he?
JR: He was in Los Angeles, but he was not to be found. He had disappeared somewhere. I was a little surprised that he had said this before I had had a chance to say it — so I said nothing. But he was far more nasty about it than I was going to be. He hung up the phone, and called back a few hours later and basically said, ”So, is it on or is it off?” At that time I said what I was going to say before.
EW: Were you civil to each other during these conversations?
JR: It was civil. I was being very civil. I mean, I wasn’t pissed off that we weren’t going to get married. I wasn’t angry that I had come to these decisions. This is something that I think should be celebrated, that you’ve realized that, oops! It’s not the end of the world that I don’t want to marry you. It’s not like I’m saying, ”You’re dirt, I don’t want to marry you.” I’m just saying that this isn’t right for either one of us.
EW: Then there came a day when you and Kiefer both called your publicists and asked them to release a joint announcement that the wedding was called off.
JR: Yeah, and that’s when the avalanche began. It just started slowly, you know, with this one small boulder which came loose, and then others came loose, and they came crashing down the mountain. People love scandal; people love drama. They love stripping away the layers to see what’s really in there, and they’ll do anything — as well as make it up — to get it. And I feel like Kiefer, for whatever reasons, tried to make it seem like he was the victim of the situation. I quite honestly believe that Kiefer knows that it’s the best thing for himself and for me that it didn’t happen. But he shouldn’t try to make himself look better by taking shots at me. Somehow or another, it turned into Kiefer being left at the altar. Well, I just don’t understand that, quite frankly.
EW: One thing we hear from your agent, Elaine Goldsmith, is that following the wedding-that-wasn’t, you received an enormous volume of mail.
JR: It was sort of an outpouring of kindness, people saying, ”Hang in there.”
EW: Still, it sounds as though you think many people perceived you as the party who was wrong.
JR: I think it was a mix, that people were confused. I think a lot of things were thrown into the pot that confused the issue, what with Kiefer and — what do I call her, this girl —
EW: — We’re talking about ”the stripper” (a woman Sutherland was reportedly seeing while engaged to Roberts)?
JR: Yeah, that’s what she was (laughter). And once that came out, I sort of swallowed my pride a little bit and said, okay, the woman is the last to know. I mean, this had been going on for a really long time. So then I had to say, well, I have made an enormous mistake in agreeing to get married to begin with. Then I made an even greater mistake by letting it all get so big. I’m not going to make the final mistake of actually getting married. At that point I just realized that this had all been turned into an enormous joke, and that it wasn’t going to be respectable, it wasn’t going to be honest, it wasn’t going to be simple. And it could have been all of those things.
EW: After the wedding was canceled, all the talk began about ”Will she return to the set of Hook?” Were you aware of that talk?
JR: Would I return to the set of Hook was never in question with anybody that had to do with the film. This was something drummed up by the press. The fact is, you know, I had been working on Hook for quite some time, doing the technical preparations and stuff, and then it was actually on my first day of filming I got up to go to work, and I was freezing cold because I had this fever.
EW: One reason people asked all those questions is that you were in the hospital an awfully long time for the flu-five days.
JR: I was tired. I had a fever, a bad fever. That was the worst symptom-it was like 104. That’s why I was in the hospital for so long. People should be allowed — to put it in gross terms — allowed the luxury of just being sick: I have the flu, I’m sick, f— off.
EW: Even after you got out, the rumors about whether you would go back to work on Hook persisted.
JR: I was reading it in the paper with everybody else. You know, I would be at work reading that I didn’t have a job, that there was some kind of problem going on. And it just became absurd. I finally was advised by a friend to go talk to Steven (Spielberg). And I said to him, ”You know, I really need you to help me out here. This is getting crazy. Too many people are reading it and believing it.” So Steven talked to Liz Smith, who was kind enough to report it accurately.
EW: I recall that there was a photo op of some sort where you and Steven were driven out in a cart to meet some photographers for a few minutes.
JR: I was just told to do it. This was just to assure people that I’m happy and Steven’s happy and that, in fact, these are just rumors. The only problem is, I never saw these pictures run. I remember seeing only one picture, it was in Entertainment Weekly and I saw it on an airplane.
EW: Those rumors had a life of their own.
JR: See, that’s what’s scary. Others said I was losing my job because I had a problem with drugs. And this started, I can only assume, because I was so thin. And it’s just absurd, you know. I don’t know how anybody who would do drugs could function. I don’t — nor have I ever done drugs — and I guess it’s boring to be sort of a young actor in Hollywood and not have a drug problem. Well, then, I’m boring, and that’s cool with me, because I’ve got clear skin and clean arms, and I’m just thin. Period. The end. Quit picking on me, you know.
EW: There was never a drug problem?
JR: No, there were never any drugs. Never. That’s why it’s so absurd and frustrating. Why should I have to explain something that’s never been an issue in my life? But I’m forced to, because every paper in the country is writing that I’m a drug addict.
EW: Dying Young came out in the middle of all this. When it didn’t do as well as some had predicted, do you think some industry people saw it as a reflection on you?
JR: I have no idea, but I also find it very curious, people talking about Dying Young as sort of this bomb. Because I was in it, it had this great expectation tagged on it, because Sleeping With the Enemy made so much money and Pretty Woman made so much money. So because a movie I was in did not make over 100 million dollars, it was a bomb.
EW: But you were not entirely happy with it either?
JR: I felt like it could have been a better movie. We filmed a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the movie. So I was personally not as satisfied with it as I could have been. To me, box office is not something that affects my life one way or another. But there does come a point where it is a personal thing when people keep attacking it as this sort of ferocious disaster. Because the fact is, you know, it made, like, $33 million, and people forget — $33 million is a lot of money. If someone came and put $33 million in this living room, it would be a lot of money. It’s a little ridiculous for people to go around saying the movie’s a stinkpot.
EW: Earlier you said that if I had talked to you six months ago, I would have seen a different person. What did you mean?
JR: I think that I am happier now in my life than I have ever been, despite all the chaos. That I’m just happier and a much healthier person. I’m better for all the things that have happened to me, the good and the bad.
EW: Jason (Patric) having entered your life is one of the good things?
EW: When did he become so meaningful in your life?
JR: I think that at this point the things I am choosing to discuss are things I am willing to give to the public. I choose at this moment not to speak about Jason for the reason that it is far more dignified and deserving of respect than to put it out there and to allow people to give their opinion on it at lunch.
EW: Let’s talk about Hook. Were you lonely during the filming because you were segregated from most other people on the project?
JR: No, not really, because I had friends who came by. We had lots of time.
EW: Did you have much opportunity to interact with Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Bob Hoskins?
JR: Well, Robin and I worked together sometimes. He was always grossly funny, incredibly funny. I met Bob Hoskins once. But I spent 90 percent of the time on a stage by myself with no other actors anywhere to be seen. It was me, Steven, and the crew, because most of the time I was on blue screen (shooting against a blue background so that the image can later be meshed with other footage). About the only time I was ever in the presence of another actor was Robin, who had come to do off-camera for me (stand outside of the shot so that the actor on-camera has someone to play to), or who I would do off-camera for. I was one time off-camera for Dustin Hoffman, but besides that, I would spend every hour of every day as an actor solo in my room.
EW: This is a very ”guys” movie. Except for Maggie Smith and the mermaids and a few others, almost everyone is male. And you were working on a separate stage from everyone else. Did it feel like you were working on a different movie?
JR: I didn’t take it personally or anything. But we had fun (on my stage). We had ”whippets.” I mean, it was just people being stupid.
EW: What’s a ”whippet”?
JR: I don’t know if you hold it upside down or whatever — but you can spray air (nitrous oxide or laughing gas, actually) from a whipped cream can and it gives you a buzz or a rush or something. All I know is that it never worked right for anybody because they were always spraying whipped cream all over the place.
EW: How taxing was Tinkerbell as opposed to other roles you’ve played?
JR: It’s not to be compared. It’s an experience to be had. I had this experience and I don’t think I’d do a search-and-destroy for other parts like this, to be hanging on a wire for hours. It’s very limiting. I mean, you can only hang up there for so long.
EW: Did you and Spielberg get along well during filming?
EW: There were stories from some sources on the set about a certain amount of friction. ”She threw shoes at somebody ”
JR: —”A source says…” If they don’t have balls enough to say who they are, I think they should shut the f— up.
EW: There were people on the crew who referred to you — obviously not in your presence — as ”Tinkerhell.” Did you ever hear that?
JR: No. I never heard it. But I’m a normal person. I mean, if I sit in my trailer for six hours doing nothing, I’m going to say, ”What the f— is going on?” I don’t think that’s an outrageous question, I don’t think that’s temperamental either. So I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not, like, perfect. ”Go wait here for eight hours.” ”Okay, fabulous! You let me know. Can I go get you some coffee?” I have normal frustrations like everybody else, but I don’t consider myself temperamental.
EW: The truth is, most of what we’ve heard is that you’re a pleasure to have on a set, that you bring a fun-loving spirit. You might as well know that.
JR: That’s nice. It’s just unfortunate that, for whatever reason, people want to read about ”Julia throwing shoes” instead of ”Julia a barrel of laughs.” I don’t know why that’s more interesting.
EW: Now that Hook is finished, are you living a more normal life these days?
JR: I do my best. I do everything I can to promote what is normal about my life and to deal with things that aren’t normal. There are some truly abnormal aspects to my life.
EW: What are they?
JR: There are people — photographers — who sit in their cars outside my house all day long who frighten me. You know, I went out to dinner with my sister two weeks ago — I hadn’t seen her in a couple months — and we had a nice time and we were walking home. We turn a corner and six men jump out of a dark parking lot at 10 o’clock at night. You know, that is frightening — to anybody. And people think that it’s funny and say, ”Why don’t you stop and have your picture taken so they’ll go away?” Well, first of all, that doesn’t make them go away. They’ve taken my picture. It’s not as though there’s not enough photographic documentation of my face existing in the world today. And am I supposed to stop for this person and smile so that he can take my picture and then sell it and make money from the fact that he terrorized me? That doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, I’m paranoid — but it is called for.
EW: Are you upset because these photographers disturb the normal routine of your life, or are you concerned that there may also be stalkers?
JR: It’s both. I mean, I read the paper. It’s every day they talk about Rebecca Schaeffer (the young actress who was killed in July 1989 by a deranged fan). It’s not the safest world that it could be, so you do have to be cautious. It’s not that I’m walking around like a paranoid case all the time. I do relax. But people act like I’ve become ultrareclusive. Or that I am in some kind of shameful hiding or something, and it’s not that at all. I am exactly the same. Essentially, it’s people’s perceptions that have changed. I’m not hiding from photographers. I am running from people that are chasing me. When I’m out in public and it starts to be sort of a contest to see who’s gonna push her further, well, then you feel like birds are just pecking at you all the time.
EW: With all of the films that come out every year, many of which star young women, why do you think the public latched on to Julia Roberts as opposed to some other actress?
JR: I don’t ask that question of myself because I don’t want the answer. If someone told me that people liked me because of the shoes that I wore, I would be panic-stricken every time I went to change my shoes.
EW: Where do you think you’ve done your best work?
JR: I’ve never been able to respond to that question. I feel proud of the work I’ve done, but I don’t think I’ve achieved any sort of perfection in the realization of characters — you say, ”Oh, I could have done that a little bit differently, or a little bit better.”
EW: Is there a common thread in your parts?
JR: I think — at the risk of sounding bold, because I don’t feel conceit with my situation — that one common theme in the work I’ve done is that people could find something they shared with this character. I’m sort of the Everygirl in these movies, in Mystic Pizza and on down the line. I think that people appreciated that, that this was someone that they could relate to.
But in that appreciation, they actually bring this person up to a level which is above them. And that’s when they get uncomfortable, and they turn you — me — from being just like them into someone that is not like them, which is this sort of celebrity, this thing that is perceived as superior. And they get offended. ”Well, what makes you better than me?” This brings discomfort, which brings rumor and gossip and everything else to bring you not only back to where you started, but lower than that, so they can say, ”Well, see. She was never better than anybody else. She’s dirt on the floor now, you know.”
EW: Is there something in us that wants that? That we don’t like to see someone get too big, too uppity?
JR: I think it’s just a lack of ”love thy neighbor,” and ”don’t throw stones,” and ”if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.” It’s all those things, you know, and that’s why I get incredibly nervous talking about Kiefer, because my own personal feelings about him as a person, good or bad, I don’t think it’s fair to me or necessarily to him to put it out there for people’s consumption. It’s really not their business if I like Kiefer or don’t like Kiefer now. But I feel like I’ve been so picked on or picked at that, you know, that now I have to say something. So I try to be very cautious and specific in what I’m saying. Because I don’t honestly have anything bad to say about anybody. Except that I want to be freed from this imprisonment of photographers outside my house, of people jumping out at me in the dark, simply because I am an Everygirl. I am just a girl, and I am 24 years old, and I just want to have, like, this nice life and be able to run around and laugh and have fun and not sit hunched down with a hat on all the time and my hair down in my face. I want to be able to look up and to see everything instead of always feeling like I have to hide, you know.
EW: It is said that the gods smile on certain people for certain periods of time. This has been your time. You’ve become a ”superstar,” but if next year you were just another actor working in Hollywood, would that be good enough?
JR: Yes, but you have to understand, you’re creating specific labels. This is not what I call myself. This is not what I claim to be. This is not what I have aspired to. I will be doing the same things, trying to get along the best that I can next year, regardless of what people say. Everything I’ve done has had purpose and has been passionate and has been executed in the best way that I knew how. Maybe that’s not the perfect way. Maybe that’s not the easiest way. But it’s the best way I knew how to do it.