Bottom Line: When you open a women's picture like 'Eat Pray Love' to $23.7 million despite often savage reviews, you are a star. Julia Roberts -- the most successful actress of all time, with more than $2.4 billion in U.S. ticket sales -- is back. What 'Eat Pray Love' director Ryan Murphy allowed Roberts to do in the movie, which takes writer Liz Gilbert on a quest for inner truth from Italy to India to Bali, was to be herself, comfortable inside the role she was playing. Roberts single-handedly holds the screen with her wide grin and inner glow. And she's game for more: ''I haven't done a main part in a movie in a long time," she told Reuters, "and I wondered if that kind of workload would still be interesting to me, and I was very happy at the end of this that I felt incredibly fulfilled as a creative person.'' Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they've made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Julia Roberts.
When you open a female-skewing picture like 'Eat Pray Love' to the tune of $23.7 million despite often savage reviews, you are clearly a star. And Julia Roberts -- the most successful actress of all time, with more than $2.4 billion in U.S. ticket sales -- practically defines the term. Still, until this past weekend, with no starring-role blockbusters since 2000's 'Erin Brockovich,' the 42-year-old actress appeared to have reached a career plateau. Luckily, she is reportedly game for more success: ''I haven't done a main part in a movie in a long time," she told Reuters recently, "and I wondered if that kind of workload would still be interesting to me, and I was very happy at the end of this that I felt incredibly fulfilled as a creative person.'' Could it be that Julia Roberts is back?
Signature quote: "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." --Anna Scott, 'Notting Hill'
Career Peaks: After breakout parts in 'Mystic Pizza' and 'Steel Magnolias,' Roberts established her stardom at age 22 by playing a hooker in the appealing 1990 Cinderella fantasy 'Pretty Woman,' which grossed $464 million worldwide. But Hollywood really took notice when Roberts opened the thriller 'Sleeping with the Enemy' without a big-name costar; the studios then cast her opposite Denzel Washington in 'The Pelican Brief' and Nick Nolte in 'I Love Trouble.' After five years of stretching her acting chops, Roberts regained her stride in 1997, first with the edgy romantic comedy 'My Best Friend's Wedding,' in which she betrayed her pal Cameron Diaz, and subsequently with the commercial thriller 'Conspiracy Theory,' opposite Mel Gibson, for which she boosted her asking price to $12 million. Her buddy Susan Sarandon brought her into the four-hankie 'The Stepmom,' which she followed up, in her peak year of 1999, with back-to-back smash romantic comedies: 'Notting Hill' and 'Runaway Bride.' Up next was her first $20-million payday, for Steven Soderbergh's 'Erin Brockovich.'
Awards Attention: Born in Smyrna, Georgia, Roberts was born to play a sweet, unselfish pregnant southern belle in 'Steel Magnolias'; the role scored the actress her first Academy Award nomination. Also scoring seven Golden Globes nominations during her career, Roberts won her only Oscar in 2001, as Best Actress for her tour-de-force portrayal of the real-life crusading legal eagle Brockovich.
Latest Misfire: After six years of voice performances ('Charlotte's Web') and supporting roles ('Valentine's Day,' 'Charlie Wilson's War,' 'Closer',' 'Oceans Twelve') -- which came while she was happily raising three young kids with husband Danny Moder -- Roberts returned to her first starring role since 'Mona Lisa Smile' with 2009's 'Duplicity.' The well-reviewed heist thriller/romance, co-starring Clive Owen, may have been too smart for the room: It tallied just $81 million worldwide.
Biggest Problem: Maintaining a career as a leading romantic comedienne is tough after you hit 40. Ask Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan, who have both made, with varying degrees of success, the gradual transition from charming ingénue to dramatic actress. Roberts disagrees that her time in the limelight is limited, and Meryl Streep's recent career arc supports her thesis: "I think the days of 'Oh, we hit 40 and we're f***ed!' are really over," Roberts has said.
Biggest Assets: Still gorgeous at 42, Roberts maintains a strong communion with her legions of global fans. She seems at the same time life-size yet glamorous, touchable yet opaque. She plays every-women with a little something extra. In 'Eat Pray Love,' we like her even when she dumps handsome husband Billy Crudup, eats Italian pasta and has to squeeze into new jeans, and flirts with Javier Bardem in the Bali moonlight. Not working too often keeps her out of the public eye and enhances her mystery and exotic remove. She told Entertainment Weekly: ''I was definitely outside of my comfort zone but, I mean, as an actor that's what you want to go to work for. It's to find a thing that's challenging and unnerving and far-reaching.'' And Roberts knows what she wants. Although she gets her pick of the best scripts, she's willing to turn things down, from 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Basic Instinct' to 'Sleepless in Seattle,' 'The Proposal' and the upcoming 'Secretariat,' which boasts a juicy role for Diane Lane. Roberts has said: "I'd still rather sit in the audience and watch that actress do that, than do it myself." What director Ryan Murphy allowed Roberts to do in 'Eat Pray Love,' which takes writer Liz Gilbert on a quest for inner truth from Italy to India to Bali, was to be herself, comfortable inside the role she was playing. Roberts single-handedly holds the screen with her wide grin and inner glow.
Current Gossip: In her youth she dated Benjamin Bratt, Jason Patric, Daniel Day-Lewis, Matthew Perry and Liam Neeson, was engaged to Kiefer Sutherland and Dylan McDermott and was married to singer Lyle Lovett for two years. Happily married for eight years to cameraman Moder, she considers her marriage and family to be her bedrock. Fiercely focused on maintaining her quality of life, recent Hindu convert Roberts divides her time between Los Angeles, New York, and New Mexico, and likes to bring her kids on set.
Next Step: Roberts enjoys acting with her friends, including 'Charlie Wilson's War' star Tom Hanks, who is also directing her in the upcoming comedy drama 'Larry Crowne,' alongside Bryan Cranston and Taraji P. Henson. Other projects Roberts is reportedly considering: 'Our Wild Life,' about a Kenyan animal conservationist; the Lolly Winston adultery novel 'Happiness Sold Separately'; and Mike Binder's version of the novel 'The Friday Night Knitting Club.' She's also developing a number of projects to possibly produce or star in, including 'Hothouse Flowers,' based on Margot Berwin novel about a divorced advertising exec who flees her life in Manhattan for an unplanned adventure. Sounds familiar.
Career Advice: Stick with Ryan Murphy. While her 'Eat Drink Love' director wants Roberts to guest-star on his popular Fox TV series 'Glee' as a drunk substitute teacher, that's not going to happen. He is developing, however, a role-reversal comedy about a career woman who loses her job and learns how to function as a house-mom while her husband heads to the office. While indie movies offer juicy women's roles, maintaining quality control is key (see the ensemble drama 'Fireflies in the Garden,' which Variety described as a "clumsy melodrama"). Stay away from Broadway: Although ticket sales were brisk, her 2006 debut in a revival of 'The Three Days of Rain' was a critical disaster. Perhaps Roberts' biggest challenge is in staying interested. "When you're a movie star, the trick is finding roles that give you a little bit of room to push yourself," Soderbergh has said. But when Roberts genuinely connects to a role, so does her audience.
Anne Thompson -- who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly -- writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:
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