She was away for a while, but one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of 1990s blew us away onscreen in her most sophisticated role to date. Just don?t call Julia Robert?s return a comeback…
Hard to believe, but Julia Roberts is now 41, married and has three kids. And yet when she appears in public, she can still make everyone in a restaurant turn their heads or transform a room filled with jaded journalists into fawning little kids. Part of it could be because she seems more at ease with herself, and more apt to flash that famous smile that has enabled her films to earn over two billion dollars at the box office. Then again, it could just be because she still looks great, with a natural beauty that just seems to exude that sense of old fashioned stardom that’s so rare these days.
Of course, with male journalists being a particular breed, the undeniable attention that she’s suddenly getting in this Los Angeles hotel room could also be because many have just seen her latest film Charlie Wilson’s War, in which she dons a high cut bikini and reveals the body of a woman half her age.
"I just said to director Mike (Nichols), ?please don’t put me in a bathing suit!’ But when a smart aleck in the room mentions that Nichols claimed she wanted to do it, she responds, "He’s a liar!" Yeah, let’s spread that one around, That’s all I want to do, get into a fuchsia bikini in front of 60 crew members when I’m pregnant, I never did it when I was 25 and hot and when I’m 40 and pregnant, please put me in a bikini!"
All this is said with such a disarming smile on her face that you can tell she’s secretly proud.
As she should be. Her role as Houston, Texas socialite Joanne Herring marks a real departure for the actress. It’s jarring to see her refined, slightly aged appearance at first, but she is never less than intriguing, commanding even. In her own coy way, the real life Herring was instrumental in making the freewheeling coke-snorting Texas congressman Tom Wilson become more concerned with the plight of Afghan rebels called the Mujahdeen, now better known as the Taliban, in their fight against Soviet soldiers in the early 80s.
"Someone to have such strong belief and passion and absolutely ignite change and inspire other people to participate in something," says Roberts about what she admires about the woman. "This is someone who absolutely knew who to call, knows how to deal with people, how to treat people. Her method and her pursuit is really admirable."
Roberts stars in the film along with Tom Hanks and Academy Award nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman in what may have been the largest covert operation in history. As an unlikely team, their actions lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War. Based on the bestselling book by George Crile , Roberts is quick to point out that even though she dropped out of the filmmaking scene for a while, this is no comeback.
"Let’s just get a couple of things straight: it has not been years since I have made a movie, I am not coming back from the dead, I just had some kids," she says emphatically. "I never felt like I am missing it, because I did a play and other ways of fulfilling my creative impulses besides acting."
Frankly, Roberts, the former best-paid actress in the world, clearly seems far more comfortable talking about Hanks and director Mike Nichols. And this starts a pattern where she answers a question about herself with praise for others: "Going back to work with Mike was just heavenly, and Tom Hanks," she says glowingly. "We all love Tom, he’s fantastic, but I tell you that guy is just so smart and so amazing on so many levels, it never ceases to amaze me and thrill me to be around him. He is absolutely honest and an astoundingly truthful person."
The actress is such a fan of Nichols she took the part without reading the script. "He called me and sold, ‘Hi, I have something,’ and I said ‘Okay’. He said, ‘You should read it,’ and I said, ‘I’ll read it but I will come!’" When she finally read the script she was even more enthusiastic about working with the veteran director. "It was just this phenomenal script. It should be framed or something it was just that good. After reading so much bad stuff, which had me asleep at page three, this was just so compelling and amazing, so that made it all the more exciting, and then Tom, and Phillip. It was just this remarkable dream unfolding to do this."
That’s quite a statement coming from the actress who has had many big roles during her 30+ film career, including the legal thriller The Pelican Brief, which she calls a turning point in her pursuit of being perceived as a serious actress. She has even more enthusiasm for her role in Charlie Wilson’s War. "It was just a great triumph for me as an actress, for Mike to have worked with me before in Closer and come back to me again was a huge compliment," she says,
"When Mike put this film (Charlie Wilson’s War together on film for the first time he brilliantly captured this unique tone." It becomes apparent during her time with journalists that Roberts feels far more comfortable talking about the talent of other people. She’s extremely adept at turning questions about her into strong tributes to the "brilliant," "admirable," "dynamic" qualities of anyone but herself.
Despite this, she’s also knows her power and her famous laugh and bright smile go a long way, especially when the questions take a lighter tone. Asked if she thinks Matt Damon is indeed ‘The Sexiest Man Alive’ she laughs and says, "Yes finally. Brad and George must have gone to People Magazine and stuffed the ballot box, at last!"
So what’s next for Roberts? "I think it would be impossible to do movie after movie because there are just not that many good movies to make. My next movie is lined up in the spring with Clive Owen – it will be fun to work with him again – and then we will see."
Rarely has actor Tom Hanks showed so many facets of a character onscreen. As Charlie Wilson, he transforms himself from a fun loving, coke snorting womanizer into a concerned Congressman looking for funding in a part of the world most politicians could care less about. Chaffy, frank and straightforward, here’s what he has to say about the film, and himself.
CINEMALICIOUS: At the beginning of your career, did you ever imagine yourself naked with women in a Jacuzzi?
HANKS: Yes I did! I went into my career specifically so, saying I want to be naked in a Jacuzzi one of these days!
CINEMALICIOUS: Was it easy to get through your lines?
HANKS: Look, by the time we go there, we had so many lunches together, it was like ‘Okay, everybody let’s drop I ’em, Let’s hop right in.’
CINEMALICIOUS: Did you meet the real Charlie Wilson?
HANKS: Oh yes, many times! He was on the set. He visited us. Charlie come in very early on and said ?I don’t care what you say about me. You can show me doing anything. I don’t care. I did it all!’ He was just dead set on us getting his motivations right and getting what he viewed as the important story told. And this was essentially the defense of the people of Afghanistan. He saw this as an opportunity to defeat the most feared military force of aggression in the world. And in doing so, save the people of Afghanistan. And he did.’
CINEMALICIOUS: What is he doing now?
HANKS: He just received a heart transplant. He’s retired. For a while he was a lobbyist for Pakistan, back when, I guess, you could trust Pakistan. Now, he and his wife do a lot of traveling and he gets to speak in a lot of places. Now everybody will ask him: what’s it like having Tom Hanks playing you?!
CINEMALICIOUS: Do you think Charlie Wilson’s actions were good or bad?
HANKS: I thought they were amazing and I think at the time, yes of course they were good. He achieved something impossible. The easy and I think the cheap thing to say is ‘Oh, if we had not done that, then there wouldn’t be a war on terrorism right now.’ Well, I think that’s horseshit. What Charlie was looking to achieve there, he achieved in spades. Charlie severed the Achilles heel of the Soviet Union. It was nine months after they pulled out of Afghanistan that the Berlin Wall came down. Nine months!
CINEMALICIOUS: You never really played a proper villain. Why not?
HANKS: I am in an interesting position because quite frankly, I cooperate. I come around and I talk to the press and I do not want to be bored, so I would rather make myself and you laugh and I would rather tell an engaging story than be some surly guy, because this is who I am when I wake up in the morning. I played an executioner once, a guy whose job it was to execute people and strap them down, hook them up, clean up the shit – I was an executioner! And you know what you guys said? ‘Yeah, but a nice executioner!’ And now I play a guy who f*cks every chick he can, goes to get drunk every night, snorted coke, got away with it and you know what you are going to say to me? ?Yeah, sure but you did it for all the right reasons, you were so charming…’