Years ago, I had a friend who was an entertainment writer in Los Angeles. At one point, Julia Roberts was promoting whatever newly released blockbuster she was starring in, and my friend went to go interview her. At the time, she was still mostly considered to be America’s sweetheart. In the hotel meeting room, a half dozen journalists, including my friend, sat down at the table to interview her.
“Well, what was she like?” I asked him afterwards.
“A snake,” he replied. There’s always been something somewhat disconcerting about Roberts to me. Anyone with a smile that big, who seems that hell-bent on pushing herself as the sweetest, nicest thing ever, I mean, she couldn’t really be that sweet, now could she? In her early movies, “Mystic Pizza,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Pretty Woman,” she worked her I’m-just-a-girl-from-Smyrna, Georgia, shtick like a charm. Flashing her teeth, tossing her auburn hair, and choosing roles in which she could sell herself as mostly endearing, even while playing a hooker, endeared her to practically everyone who saw her.
Meanwhile, her personal life seemed to suggest she wasn’t as much of a peach as she liked to pretend. She left a series of famous men in her wake — Kiefer Sutherland, Lyle Lovett, Benjamin Bratt — before ending up with Danny Moder, with whom she now has three children. One couldn’t help but wonder if the lady was a bit of a man-eater. Eventually, she did tackle more serious movie roles, some better, some not — “Erin Brockovich,” for example, and later the “Ocean’s” movies — but she seemed most comfortable playing the girl all the girls wanted to be friends with and all the guys wanted to sleep with — think: “Notting Hill” or “Runaway Bride.”
In recent years, she seemed to withdraw, choosing a life with Moder and her kids over the red carpet and the limelight. Now, though, she’s back in rather spectacular fashion with the chick flick of the summer: “Eat Pray Love.” At 42, she’s no longer America’s sweetheart, so it appears her handlers are hawking her as Over 40 and Fabulous! In a way, it’s the same brand, just older.
Nowadays, though, if you Google “i hate julia roberts,” you get 676,000 returns. “Eat Pray Love” is getting trounced by the critics, so far scoring an abysmal 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. While most of the critics loathed the movie and far fewer decry Roberts’ performance, one critic noted of her role in the book-turned-movie: “The film is a fairly faithful transcription of events, even though Liz, as played by Roberts, carries a faint air of entitlement.”
And that’s what you see in more than a few of those Google returns, that there’s something off about how Roberts comes across, that same something that led to my lack of surprise when my writer-friend described her as a snake in the grass. In that meeting with reporters, he went on to tell me, she was rude, ready to pounce on anyone who crossed her, eying the people around her like a queen eyes her subjects.
Frankly, I don’t quite buy whatever she’s selling, whether she’s peddling the Girl Next Door or Miss Spiritual Enlightenment. Her grin has always looked less genuine and more like a crocodile smile to me.