Nationality: American. Born: Smyrna, Georgia, 28 October 1967; sister of the actor Eric Roberts. Family: Married Lyle Lovett, 1993 (divorced 1995). Career: 1985—moved to New York; 1988—film debut with brother Eric in Blood Red ; 1990—voted Performer of the Year by American cinema owners. Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, for Steel Magnolias , 1990; Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical, for Pretty Woman , 1991; ShoWest Award for Female Star of the Year, 1991; Hasty Pudding Theatricals (USA) Woman of the Year, 1997; ShoWest Special Award for International Star of the Year, 1998. Agent: Elaine Goldsmith, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Blood Red (Masterson—produced in 1986) (as Maria Collogero); Satisfaction ( Girls of Summer ) (Freeman) (as Daryle Shane); Baja Oklahoma (Roth—for TV); Mystic Pizza (Petrie) (as Daisy Arujo)
Steel Magnolias (Ross) (as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie)
Pretty Woman (Garry Marshall) (as Vivian Ward); Flatliners (Schumacher) (as Rachel Mannus)
Dying Young (Schumacher) (as Hillary O'Neil); Hook (Spielberg) (as Tinkerbell); Sleeping with the Enemy (Ruben) (as Sara Waters/Laura Burney)
The Player (Altman) (cameo)
The Pelican Brief (Pakula) (as Darby Shaw)
I Love Trouble (Shyer) (as Sabrina Peterson); Ready to Wear ( Prêt-à-Porter ) (Altman) (as Anne Eisenhower)
Something to Talk About (Hallstrom) (as Grace)
Mary Reilly (Frears) (title role); Michael Collins (Neil Jordan) (as Kitty Kiernan); Everyone Says I Love You (Allen) (as Vonnie "Von" Seidel)
My Best Friend's Wedding (Hogan) (as Julianne "Jules" Potter); Conspiracy Theory (Donner) (as Alice Sutton)
In the Wild (Cole—for TV) (as herself); Stepmom (Columbus) (as Isabel Kelly)
Notting Hill (Michell) (as Anna Scott); Runaway Bride (Marshall) (as Maggie Carpenter)
Erin Brockovich (Soderbergh) (title role)
Interview with Catherine Seipp, in Harper's Bazaar (New York), September 1989.
Interview with Robert Palmer, in Time Out (London), 10 April 1991.
Interview with Elaine Dutka, in Empire (London), October 1991.
Interview in Playboy (Chicago), November 1991.
"Julia Makes Trouble," interview with David Rensin, in Rolling Stone (New York), 14 July 1994.
"Rendezvous with Tim and Julia," interview in Interview (New York), January 1995.
Sanello, Frank, Julia Roberts , London, 2000.
Palmer, Robert, "Suddenly, Julia," in American Film (New York), July 1990.
Thomas, Philip, in Empire (London), December 1990.
Current Biography 1991 , New York, 1991.
Tighe, Michael, "Travels with Julia," in Premiere (New York), June 1991.
Connelly, Christopher, "Nobody's Fool," in Premiere (New York), December 1993.
Campbell, V., and E. Margulies, "All the Right Moves," in Movieline (Escondido), March 1994.
Harris, Mark, "Julia Roberts," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 24 June 1994.
Gordinier, Jeff, "The Next Julia Roberts," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 11 August 1995.
McInerney, Jay, cover story in Harper's Bazaar (New York), September 1995.
Thomson, D., "In Defense of Julia Roberts," in Movieline (Escondido), April 1997.
Fleming, M., "Casting Glances," in Movieline (Escondido), June 1997.
Greene, R., "She's the One," in Boxoffice (Chicago), June 1997.
* * *
A meteoric rise to fame is the classic Hollywood dream and one to which many young and talented actors still aspire. Despite the fact that the American film industry no longer has the studio star system of Dream Factory days, the phenomenal success of a star such as Julia Roberts is testimony to the enduring importance of film stardom for audiences and as an organizing factor for the film industry economy. It is, however, an oversimplification to describe Roberts's stardom as an overnight sensation.
Making her film debut with her brother Eric in Blood Red , Julia Roberts appeared in three more films before getting a substantial role among the all-star cast in Steel Magnolias . Not dimmed by the acting of film veterans such as Shirley MacLaine and Sally Field and no less striking in beauty than Daryl Hannah, Roberts delivers a powerful performance as a young and courageous Southern belle (Shelby) who strives for a wholesome life by becoming a mother despite her unfit physical condition. With her fiery red hair and what has now become a signature broad smile, Shelby represents a vitality that shines its brightest in the face of life's most fatal odds.
It was undoubtedly with the role as a happy-go-lucky whore in Pretty Woman that Julia Roberts captured the hearts of critics and public alike and was suddenly exposed to public attention on a grand scale. The story is no more than a modern version of Cinderella combined with a banal, "triumph of love over materialism" message. One of her next films, Sleeping with the Enemy , though another commercial success, taking $70 million within its first six weeks, was greeted by only mediocre reviews by the critics. Another moral tale celebrating traditional values and highlighting Roberts's image of youthful and wholesome vitality combined with vulnerability and sexual allure, this film secured Roberts's position as one of the leading stars of the 1990s.
With a rumored $10 million per movie in 1991, Roberts really seemed to look like the girl who had it all—looks, talent, success, and money. Such an early success, however, also seems to warrant the enormous pressure of coming to fame too quickly and too young. "As we begin talking, it's abundantly clear that Julia Roberts distrusts journalists," wrote Robert Palmer in 1990. This inherent tension with media would continue to worsen when her last-minute cancellation of the wedding to actor Kiefer Sutherland in 1991 was widely exploited by reporters all over the world. Her sudden marriage to and subsequent divorce from singer Lyle Lovett proved to be equally sensational for the press.
Roberts is certainly not the first Hollywood star to find the pressure of fame too much to cope with. Comparisons were quickly made with the likes of Monroe and Taylor—sometimes with sympathy and sometimes with an unkind relish. Roberts and the ideals she has stood for seemed, if only temporarily, to have gone off the rails, bringing the fantasy of womanhood as enduring and magical innocence back down to earth with a bang. Consistently rising above her material, she continued to shine in formulaic escapism like Dying Young, a terminal illness weepie shot like a series of commercials promoting tasteful grief, and The Pelican Brief , a dark political thriller devoid of the requisite chills to the spine. Despite bad press and periods of inactivity that would have derailed less secure careers, Roberts remained Hollywood's golden girl.
Sporting the sort of toothpaste grin that Lorenz Hart once wrote about, she triumphed over jerry-built vehicles like I Love Trouble and Conspiracy Theory , two shapeless projects that didn't know whether they meant to be thrillers or comedies (and didn't care, as long as they turned a profit). One comprehended her decision to break out of her good sport mold for the intriguing misfire, Mary Reilly, b ased on an evocative minor novel about Dr. Jeckyll's maid. Like other charm gals before her, Roberts foolishly decided that stamping out her own personality was the best way to inhabit the mousey character. Instead of delineating the role of abused servant, Roberts seemed intimidated by the challenge, hamstrung by her British accent, and benumbed by the mystifying performance of John Malkovich, who exhibited too much avoirdupois for a role once tackled by matinee idols. A few years later, she would meet a dramatic challenge more forcefully in Stepmom , a soap opera sprinkled with equal parts comedy and expensive sentiment. Matching her acting partner, the more protean Susan Sarandon, Roberts fine tuned an arsenal of emotions as she found instant motherhood thrust upon her.
Comedy was her undisputed forte, however, and she transformed three frothy properties ( My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill, The Runaway Bride) into mega-hits, while burnishing the careers of her male co-stars with her own glow. What made these romantic comedies fascinating was that Roberts didn't shy away from lending these sketchy characters a touch of the emasculator. Unlike her earlier hit, Something to Talk About, in which she's a victim redressing wrongs, Roberts' recent roles comprised screwed-up screwballs, who harkened back to Claudette Colbert and her wicked teasing of Gary Cooper in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. In My Best Friend's Wedding, her vacillating careerist tried to win back an ex-fiance as if he were a luxury item she coveted; in Notting Hill , her movie goddess wreaked havoc on a bookseller by expecting him to treat her as an ordinary gal-pal while exhibiting diva-like behavior; in The Runaway Bride she jilted grooms on a regular basis. Underlying Hollywood comedies' usual behavioral text (about the regrouping of mismatched lovers) was a subtext of willfulness that only Roberts could make palatable. In all these and in the true-life saga, Erin Brockovich, she was never less than radiant. As a comic force, she's less daffy than merely hard-headed. Like a modern-day Goldilocks, Roberts' screen persona fussily keeps searching for the bed that's just right.
In the expansive role of Erin Brockovich, Roberts illuminated the unflappable spirit of a hard-pressed working mom, whose flashy clothes cue the wrong responses from selfish men and jealous women. Watching this tailor-made vehicle, one could see why she became the first female to earn 20 million per picture. Unfazed by a venal power company, unimpressed by arrogant lawyers, and unapologetic about fulfilling herself through her work, her crusading character rode roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of justice. Although her character refused to kowtow to conventional notions of propriety, Roberts emerged as likeable as ever.
Balancing serious roles with crowd-pleasing farces, Roberts has chosen wisely, yet one senses uptapped depths. A superb TV guest spot as a villainess on Law and Order showcased the self-absorbed side of her personality. She remains Hollywood's most bankable female star; in 2000, Forbes Magazine listed her as the most powerful woman in show business.
—Margaret O'Connor, updated by Guo-Juin Hong, further updated by Robert J. Pardi