Between the late '80s and early '90s,
Julia Roberts was among Hollywood's top draws. Though not always taken
seriously as a dramatic actress -- indeed she is at her best in romantic
comedy or light drama -- Roberts has a special mischievous charm coupled
with a wide-eyed vulnerability that translates into a screen charisma
reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn. Like Hepburn, Roberts possesses
an atypical beauty. Pencil thin, long-legged and sporting a thick curly
mane of auburn hair upon her head, she is more coltish than elegant. Her
great hazel eyes and impossibly large mouth are capable of much
expression, particularly joy when she cuts loose with a broad grin and a
braying laugh. Unlike Hepburn, Roberts projects a gal-next-door
wholesomeness rather than an air of cool sophistication.
A born Southerner, Roberts grew up hanging around the theater people who
attended her parents' Actors and Writers Workshop in their Atlanta home.
Both she and her brother Eric Roberts were interested in acting and it
was he who made it to movies first.
Roberts moved to New York after high
school, but did not catch a break right away even though she did manage
to score an agent. She made her film debut playing a supporting role
opposite her brother in Blood Red, which though completed in 1986 was
not released until 1989. She appeared in a couple of made-for-TV movies
and one low-budget feature, Firehouse (1987) before getting her first
real break in the made-for-cable drama Satisfaction (1988). This led to
a large supporting role in Mystic Pizza (1989). Her portrayal of a
strong-headed pizza parlor co-owner who seduces a wealthy preppie earned
Roberts acclaim and led to her playing the doomed Shelby opposite Sally
Field, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton in the melodramatic comedy
Steel Magnolias (1989). Her portrayal earned Roberts an Oscar nomination
and made her a star. For her next film, Roberts attempted to branch off
into more serious waters playing a medical student who starts tinkering
with life-after-death experiences with four other medical students in
the uneven Flatliners (1990). During production, Roberts became involved
with co-star Kiefer Sutherland.
Later in 1990, she had her greatest
success to date starring opposite Richard Gere in Garry Marshall's
sentimental romantic- comedy Pretty Woman (1990). The film was a runaway
international hit and Roberts became a household name. But despite her
sudden rise to superstardom, her career faltered as her subsequent
films, particularly Dying Young (1991), have been of uneven quality.
Matters weren't helped when her break-up with Sutherland went public.
After shooting her scenes as Tinker Bell in Steven Spielberg's Hook
(1991), Roberts took some time off to repair her personal life, though
she did appear briefly in Robert Altman's The Player (1992). In 1993,
she married off-beat country singer Lyle Lovett (they amicably divorced
two years later) and then made a successful come back in The Pelican
Brief (1993). Her career picked up the following year with I Love
Trouble and Pret-a -Porter, neither of which did much to further her
career. The much-heralded Mary Reilly (1996) was a box-office fizzle,
but Roberts career began picking up again with Michael Collins and
Conspiracy Theory (both 1996). In 1997, Roberts made a triumphant return
to romantic comedy in the darkly funny My Best Friend's Wedding.
by Sandra Brennan