Norma Rae’s got some serious competition in the heroine category, thanks to Roberts’ portrayal of Erin Brockovich. In the mid-’90s, according to the movie, Brockovich, a struggling single mother turned legal detective, helped California plaintiffs win a $333 million settlement of water-contamination claims against Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
While Soderbergh (”sex, lies, and videotape”) instructed Roberts not to meet the woman she was playing — ”Julia was on the right track, and I didn’t want her to be pulled in another direction” — the director spent hours interviewing Brockovich and attorney Edward Masry (played by Finney). Roberts, meanwhile, got into the role by stepping into her most revealing wardrobe since ”Pretty Woman.” ”The day I got there,” says Roberts, ”I was like, ‘That’s a shirt?!’ You just have to get over it. And then everyone else has to.”
Written by Susannah Grant (”28 Days”), then buffed up by Richard LaGravenese (”The Bridges of Madison County”), ”Brockovich” sailed through production (even completing principal photography a day early) but hit a small snag when it came to its title. ”The studio wanted a different one,” admits Soderbergh, ”but the bottom line is, it’s Julia Roberts in ”Erin Brockovich,” and people will go.” BUZZ FACTOR: 9
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