L.is currently running for Julia Roberts. The critics unanimously certify that she has not acted more convincingly for years. And that in two different film productions. In the new Amazon thriller series “Homecoming” she can be seen as a driven therapist who cares for traumatized US soldiers. She was nominated for best leading actress for the Golden Globe. And in her new movie “Ben is Back” she plays the mother of a drug addict son. Two women in a state of emergency: many close-ups show the Hollywood icon emaciated and burned out, with dark circles and red spots on her face. Quite different from those flawless advertising photos for cosmetic companies that show us a Julia Roberts in the run-up to Christmas who is actually too beautiful to be true.
And in real life? When we meet her in a hotel in London, she is sitting casually on a chair, her long blonde hair tied in a long braid. It looks casual, very relaxed. Only when she shows this radiant, expansive Julia Roberts laugh does she draw her counterpart into the parallel world of her films, which has shaped her with it. She laughs a lot during the conversation.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Ms Roberts, the director of your new movie “Ben is Back”, Peter Hedges, has praised you as the best actress ever. What goes through your head when you hear something like this?
Julia Roberts: (laughs) Great, I would have liked to have immortalized that as a saying on a pillow. That was meant nicely, but definitely exaggerated. But it was very nice of him.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Are you receptive to compliments?
Roberts: I already am, I think. Shouldn’t we all be? I think we should all be more relaxed about this. Compliments can be few and far between, so we should cherish them.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: In “Ben is Back” you play a determined mother who has already endured a lot because of her son’s drug addiction. Despite all the setbacks, she sticks to him. In preparation, did you meet with mothers who had experienced something similar?
Roberts: No. I didn’t want to see mothers. The drug problem has existed for so long, you can find a lot of background material on it. I came across online forums, articles, and documentaries dealing with drug abuse and specifically the plight of mothers whose children have problems with drugs. Since I had no experience with it myself, I was able to prepare very well for the shooting thanks to this abundance of material.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Drugs are reportedly the new plague in America. Do you see your film as a moral and political commentary?
Roberts: Drug addiction has become so widespread in American culture that it has been an epidemic for a long time. It is great that with a film like this I can help bring this problem back into our daily perception. And in a way that doesn’t just rely on the dry statistical information you read in the newspaper. The drug problem affects society as a whole, not just parents. In the film you can see how addiction makes itself felt in a family household. You recognize yourself in these people, you can relate to them. It could be your own neighbors, a girl or a boy you go to school with.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Director Hedges found mothers are especially strong when it comes to protecting their children. Is there a difference in the bond between mothers and fathers and their children?
Roberts: I don’t think that one can generally say in this context: “Men don’t understand this very well” or “Dads don’t have the same options”. As for my mother, I can only say that I admired her very much. She said something great to me once, when my children were little. I felt pretty overwhelmed at the time with living with three children, all under three years old. When my mother called me one day, I said to her: “Man, Mum, how did you do it all back then?” I told her that knowing: “My children are just around me all the time now.” (laughs) And you must know that my mom was a single parent at the time and had a full-time job. Whereas, unlike her, I had the luxury of being able to stay at home and look after my children.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: What did your mother say?
Roberts: She just said to me, “There’s something called a daycare center, sweetheart.” Instead, she could have said to me, “Just try to do your best. After all, I dedicated myself entirely to you children. ”But she didn’t say that. She just said, “Daycare. I delivered you there at seven in the morning and picked you up again at five. ”That set me free in an incredible way. I loved her all the more for it. Because she doesn’t tell me: “You can do it!” It’s good to know that upbringing is not some magical, fairy-tale mist, but that you have to find out for yourself. And you do that too.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: You started filming the Amazon Prime series “Homecoming” right after “Ben is Back”. In it you play a therapist for traumatized US soldiers. Wasn’t it quite a tour de force to play two such challenging roles so quickly in succession?
Roberts: It’s unusual, yes (laughs). Both shootings followed one another closely. At first it didn’t look like it on paper. Then it got really tight. It was only thanks to the support and love of my husband and children that it worked out. It really got us all bogged down because I worked so hard. Fortunately, last year I had a break at Christmas, when we were all together again as a family. But before that I was away filming, and then again in January. After that I came home for a short time, after which I immediately started filming “Homecoming” again. When the school year was over for my children, I had also finished homecoming – and after that we had the best summer we as a family had ever had. As a family we were just together the whole time and happy as larks in spring.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: The fact that you are playing in an Amazon series for the first time causes a sensation. Amazon and Netflix seem to be throwing around money to sign Hollywood stars for their own films. Facebook and Apple are also pushing into the film business. Are the best jobs in Hollywood migrating to the IT industry?
Roberts: That is a very pointed point of view. I think that cannot be presented in such a simplified way. You cant say it like that.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: How can you say it?
Roberts: Even at the risk of disappointing many of the media’s expectations: It wasn’t that I consciously looked for a TV series. As always, I was first and foremost looking for a good script. After a story to which I could contribute something interesting and valuable. The fact that “Homecoming” was a television series was only of secondary importance to me. That being said, I tend to lag behind TV trends. I’m very slow when it comes to catching up on trends and hot series on TV.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: You’re not a serial junkie, are you?
Roberts: I often don’t have the time. The best TV series of my life was probably “Happy Days”. Or “Flipper” (laughs). To get back to your question, you can never say that movies are better than TV series or that series are better than movies per se. If I said something like that today, it would be out of date by the time I said it – simply because things would have changed again by then. Personally, it’s about films themselves, that’s where I live my dream. While filming “Homecoming” I didn’t have the impression that I was working in a classic television format.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Why not? There are ten episodes, each 30 minutes long. It’s different from a movie, isn’t it?
Roberts: What I mean is that director Sam Esmail put a lot of effort into organizing everything so that it felt like a movie to me. The most important thing was that I only dealt with one director – him – for the ten episodes. That was the biggest difference to other TV productions, where it is customary that a different director is responsible for each episode. I would not have been able to cope with that, I knew that. That’s why Sam directed all of the episodes.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: You play a therapist for ex-soldiers. In 2001 you visited a US military base in Incirlik, Turkey, a supply hub for operations in Afghanistan.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: Were these encounters with GIs helpful in any way as you prepared for this role? There have been media reports in which you are seen in a hospital where you met wounded soldiers.
Roberts: I had come there then with Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon to please the soldiers. We showed our film “Oceans Eleven” there for the first time, even before it could be seen anywhere else. We had a big screen and a lot of popcorn. We wanted to make the GIs happy, to cheer them up. It was a moving experience for me. But in retrospect, I don’t want to make it look like I was there on a philanthropic mission. As for “Homecoming”, it is a fictional thriller with made-up characters that is not now superficially depicting the everyday life of veterans. But I think it would be nice if viewers also thought about how we actually feel about those people, soldiers, who guarantee our freedom, who protect us and who risk their lives for it. And how we deal with them when they come back from their assignments.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: In Homecoming, the therapist tells the GI, “The President thanks you for keeping our country safe.”
Roberts: That’s right, that’s exactly what I read to him.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: The series takes place in the future and the present. Which President are you referring to?
Roberts: Um … it’s the President … from our show.
WORLD ON SUNDAY: The scene quoted takes place in 2018, right?
Roberts: Wait for the second season and you will find out the name of the president. (laughs)