But she worried that people might misunderstand her miniskirts and padded bras

By Josh Wolk
Updated March 17, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Universal

Julia Roberts’ wardrobe in ”Erin Brockovich” looks like it was designed by a 15-year-old male fan based on his catalog of Julia fantasies: She spends the whole film parading around in tiny tops with padded bras, precariously high heels, and miniscule leather skirts. But you can’t give any high schooler credit; the movie is based on the real Erin Brockovich, who had the same exact fashion sense. (The film tells how this statuesque single mother got a job as a legal assistant, then spearheaded a lawsuit against California PG&E power company that settled for $333 million in 1996 — the largest direct-action settlement ever.) ”When Erin saw the movie,” says director Steven Soderbergh, ”she said, ‘The only thing that was inaccurate is that the skirts weren’t short enough.”’

Even though Roberts knew the historical precedent for her skimpy wardrobe, she worried that it might seem like a gimmick on screen. ”When you take someone who — by my modest, conservative standards of dressing — is so visually provocative,” says Roberts, ”you don’t want to make it seem like a movie contrivance. ‘Oh, we hired someone with really long legs, so let’s give her the shortest skirts known to mankind.’ You want it to seem as much a part of her as her hair or voice or anything else.”

Soderbergh and the producers wanted to stay true to every one of Brockovich’s hemlines, because her outrageous style defined who she was — a woman who disarmed people with her flashiness (and four-letter-word vocabulary), then won them over with her brains. ”[For our first meeting], she showed up in black leather pumps, a miniskirt that was unbelievably mini, a black leather vest, and that was it,” says executive producer Carla Santos Shamberg. ”When you first meet her, you have to take a moment to say, ‘Okay, what’s behind all of this?’ Then you look into her eyes, and you listen to her, and she’s really quite brilliant.”

Once Roberts understood the importance of barely dressing, she gladly suited up, although it did take some getting used to. ”I have something in my closet that I would call a ‘dress.’ Erin has something in her closet I call a ‘dre.’ The whole ‘ess’ part that covers your ass isn’t there,” she says, adding that her coworkers needed a little time to adjust to her clothes too. ”I’d come into rehearsal in my T-shirt and sweatpants and flip-flops, and everybody was cool. Then I’d come on the set to shoot [in my costumes], and everybody on the crew would be like, ‘What happened?’ But once we all got comfortable with it, it was fine.”

Erin Brockovich

  • Movie
  • R
  • 126 minutes
  • Steven Soderbergh