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Interview Julia Roberts: She's pretty normal; Notting Hill star Julia Roberts talks to James Ashwood about her movie career and the fees she can now expect.

Julia Roberts is renowned as one of Hollywood's top female stars - and now she's playing Hollywood's biggest star, Anna Scott, in the long-awaited Notting Hill.

She joins the team which delivered Four Weddings and A Funeral - Actor Hugh Grant, writer Richard Curtis and producer Duncan Kenworthy - in an attempt to reproduce the magic of the film with entirely different characters.

In the comedy, her star meets Grant's character, struggling bookshop owner William Thacker, at his shop in Notting Hill, London, and begins a romance. The film poses the question: Is such a love affair possible with such pressure and different lifestyles?

Roberts, 30, is well versed in problem relationships. She jilted actor Kiefer Sutherland just days before their planned marriage in 1991 to go into hiding in Ireland with actor Jason Patric.

Former boyfriends include Liam Neeson, Dylan McDermott, Ethan Hawke and Matthew Perry. There was also a surprise wedding to country singer Lyle Lovett in 1993, which lasted 21 months.

For the last 18 months she has been in a relationship with 35 year old actor Benjamin Bratt, from the American television series, Law and Order.

Roberts is also the richest woman star. She was paid $13.5 million for Notting Hill, a further $16 million for Runaway Bride (released in Britain in August) and a ground breaking $20 million for her next film, Erin Brockovitch, directed by Steven Soderbergh.

But being a top star, how does she build up relationships without the interference from the press?

"It is do-able, trust me! But I do not have to go to great lengths to participate in normal life.

"Anna (in the film) is very different from me and has quite a struggle, but I find it less of a challenge than she does."

Because of the pressure associated with living in the spotlight, she found it interesting to work in England. "It was good, on the whole. Well, it is funny as I got attacked by photographers coming out of a restaurant the other night . . . but that's another thing.

"But while I was working, I could call a girlfriend at noon on a Saturday and say why don't we meet at Joseph at in quarter of an hour and take a look at some little outfits. Then, by the time we come out at 12.30pm there are four photographers outside; how do they know?"

In the film her character falls for William, played by Grant, who is much loved for his foppish "true Englishman" behaviour. "He is charming, despite all his fumblings and bookshop problems.

"In matters of the heart anything is possible; it does not matter what you do, it is the kind of person you are. If you are a good person, a kind person, a loving person, then you should be with that sort of person, regardless of what they do.

"The nice thing about this movie is that it takes place over a year. So I am able to chart my character's growth over a period of time when she can re-evaluate her priorities and what she is looking for.

At one stage in the film, over dinner, Julia's character describes how her life is overwhelming. Does she identify with that?

"No, I don't. Richard Curtis and I agreed that she had internal insecurities and was unsure of herself and her future.

"These are way beyond my scope, since I would never think of it like that. If that is how you feel about yourself, that's really sad."

Julia admits to being hooked by the film from the time she received the script. "The script was great. When I sat to read it I did not have any great expectations. I had been given a brief synopsis and it sounded unappealing.

"But when I read it, from the very start with her going into the bookshop and she seems very mysterious and there is this guy having all these troubles and they leave and collide and she is at his house and she kisses him, I thought 'Jesus Christ, this is great', I was completely sucked in.

"I was entranced by the relationship and the levels it addressed. I was totally charmed. I had no opinion at that point than to go and do it".

But was there much in the movie that could have been about her? "Very few things overlapped; it was not until the end of the movie when she comes in to the bookshop, saying to him that 'The fame thing isn't really real, you know', where she is closest to being a friend of mine.

"A woman who is willing to take that kind of risk and be that honest and vulnerable, saying that 'don't forget I'm just a girl', would have my support. "She achieved a certain amount of perspective and clarity in her life. That was one of my favourite scenes to play."

When the fame game gets too much, it must be tempting to disappear and enjoy the 'ordinary' things in life, like housework.

"I am ordinary and I am the only person who cleans my house," she says. "To try and departmentalise the various things in my life would be a continuous act of frustration. I find other bits, about fame and pressure, really easy to ignore."

So what about Hollywood? "I don't go there very much. People think we all live there and I almost never go there.

"Once you are lucky enough to become an actor working with any consistency you don't have to be in the centre of it all. I choose to live in New York."

In the early nineties Julia decided to take time out from the showbiz world. "I had two years off. It helped enormously on one particular level . . . I did not choose just not to work.

"I had finished a movie and was waiting for something coming up. All the things coming up were terrible. I thought 'Should I just work for the sake of working? Should I work because they are being so nice and asking me?' I did not want to participate in a career based on momentum.

"I was 23 years old and not caving in to pressure. I was quite proud of myself. My reward for that was people saying I was psychotic, a drug addict, exhausted and could not go on. Meanwhile, I am at home beaming with pride that I could continually turn down great movies."

But she did have her doubts. "After my refusals I would hear the next day that some fabulous actress took it. And I thought 'God, maybe I am stupid'. I do not see it the way others do. Finally, Alan Pakula called me and captured my interest in The Pelican Brief."

Julia has just broken the $20 million dollar earning barrier - commanding as much as some of the top male actors.

"With every dollar, I just got better. I can still work just as hard and still love it as much.

"I can appreciate the commentary that it makes, but it is also a great business aspect that does not hold a huge deal of interest for me.

"I feel privileged and I can appreciate bridging a chasm for no other reason than the gap between male and female. I can see how absurd these sums are. They are ridiculous.

"At a certain point it just seems like a monopoly game. Who can conceive of these amounts of money?

"I don't know how much Michael Douglas gets paid . . . Maybe we should get paid by the wrinkle and then they will earn more.

"But I also have my great friend Susan Sarandon who is a great actress and a beautiful woman. She works all the time and I can hardly get her on the phone, she is working so much".

But would she take an independent film for a small amount?

"Yes, like a shot," she answers. " I don't do movies for money. I don't get those sort of scripts enough, but I do get them from time to time."

It's been ten years since Julia's most famous film, Pretty Woman - in which she starred opposite Richard Gere. How has she changed?

"The difference between 20 and 30 is enormous and fabulous. I turned 30 with such euphoria. Those years I did not work, that was brave.

"There were moments when I thought that I may not be asked to do another movie again in my life and I could not blame them. I was the 'no' girl.

"That was a huge chunk of time and I travelled and enjoyed life, which helped me enjoy me 20s."
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Author:Ashwood, James
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 29, 1999
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