'Erin Brockovich'

By Steve Daly
February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

When it came time to introduce a film clip from Erin Brockovich at the Golden Globes last month, there stood the real Erin Brockovich. (Actually, her full name is Brockovich-Ellis.) The leggy legal crusader, who spearheaded a landmark case against Pacific Gas & Electric, looked into the audience at Julia Roberts and told the woman who enacted her inspiring story, ”You got it so right … Everything you did — the struggle, the emotion, and the cleavage … It was so great!”

Brockovich also declared that she considers Roberts ”a true friend.” But it’s not like the two had long meetings before Roberts made the movie. In fact, director Steven Soderbergh deliberately kept them apart. He met with Brockovich, then ferried observations about her to his leading lady. The two women didn’t meet till halfway through filming, when Brockovich came on set for a cameo as a waitress. As Roberts has explained it, ”Ultimately, I think it was wise that you’re not imitating somebody … [Steven] didn’t want me to pretend to be this person. He wanted me to inhabit the concept of this person.”

And boy, did she. From the tip of her push-up bras to the bottom of her brightly hued leather boots, Roberts got down the real Brockovich’s joyfully baroque fashion sense — but she never played the clothes for laughs. She showed that the smart, serious, desperately disadvantaged single mom inside those outfits simply liked her own looks, and wasn’t about to hide her light.

While Erin’s on-the-job victories make her coworkers jealous in the movie, Roberts has been basking in accolades ever since Brockovich opened last March. Of course, long leads can backfire. Could Roberts wind up going zero for three on the big night? (She earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Steel Magnolias in 1990 and a Best Actress nod for Pretty Woman in 1991.) If the verdict doesn’t go her way, the Academy voters will have a hard time convincing the world that they correctly judged the facts of the case.