Julia Roberts in foul-mouthed shocker?


The Oscars have only just been announced and people are already touting Julia Roberts’ latest for Academy acclaim next year! Ian Spelling rounds up Roberts and director Steven Soderbergh (plus in print: co-star Albert Finney) to find out why

TEXT Ian Spelling From Film Review May 2000

If Erin Brockovich had been released in 1999, this year’s Academy Award ceremony would have been very different. For when Oscar time eventually rolls around again in 2001, Erin Brockovich is set to score nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress for Julia Roberts, Best Supporting Actor for Albert Finney and Best Director for Steven Soderbergh. The film and the performances are that good.

Based on a true story, the movie focuses on Erin (Roberts), a single mother of three who can’t keep a job, swears like a trooper and likes to wear impossibly short skirts, bust-enhancing tops and gravity-defying high-heels. After Erin is hurt in a traffic accident that’s clearly not her fault, she shockingly loses the subsequent lawsuit. At her wits’ end and flat broke, Erin convinces her lawyer, Ed (Finney), to employ her. Erin soon stumbles onto a file of medical records stuck in a real estate file, setting in motion the largest class-action suit ever...

Julia thinks that Erin “is appealing on many levels. You can’t really reduce it to simply spirit. She’s an incredibly intriguing person to examine and she has so many great qualities that as an actor make it easy and interesting to play her. You take a situation like this: a court environment, files, water, people getting sick. She could have been a very quiet character, (whispers) ‘Well, this doesn’t seem right. I don’t know about this.’ And that’s okay to play, but it’s more fun to go: ‘What the f*** is this all about?! This doesn’t make any sense!’”

Roberts acknowledges that she did worry about pushing the envelope too far and she certainly hasn’t come across this damned sexy on screen since her star-making role as the Pretty Woman hooker a decade ago. “My only concern was that when you take someone who is visually so – by my modest, conservative standards of dressing – provocative and really puts it out there, you don’t want it to look like a movie contrivance,” says the actress, who actually appears in a scene with the real Brockovich. Check out the waitress, whose inside-joke of a shirt reads ‘Julia’ during a sequence in a diner.

“‘Oh, we hired someone with really long legs, so let’s give her the shortest skirts known to mankind,’” Julia continues. “You want it to seem authentic. And you want it to seem as much a part of her as her hair or voice or anything. So that was my only trepidation".

Apparently her character’s dress sense took a little getting used to and “were a little bit of an adjustment because I have something in my closet that I call a dress and Erin has something in her closet that I call a ‘dre-’. You know, the whole part that covers your ass wasn’t there. So it did take a minute. But then you just realize you’re either going to do it or not...

"I think we all realized the potential pitfalls and tried to be realistic as well as truthful. I think that her use of language is to demand that you listen to [her] voice: ‘Stop looking at my shoes and listen to what I’m saying to you.’ It serves a real purpose.”

Image copyright: Buena Vista
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

Steven Soderbergh

If Erin Brockovich serves a real purpose for Roberts, it likewise represents a real change of pace for director Soderbergh, who’d won tremendous critical acclaim with his two most recent films, Out of Sight and The Limey.

“There were a lot of things that appealed to me about making this film,” says Soderbergh, whose other credits include sex, lies and videotape, Kafka, and King of the Hill.

“One of them was that it had a female protagonist who was in every scene, which I’d never done. Andie MacDowell was the protagonist of sex, lies… but that wasn’t entirely her movie.

" Another thing was I’d never made a movie where the story was larger than the lives of the characters. I’d always made films in which the story and the characters were sort of the same size. This one had a larger circle to deal with, which I liked.

“Coming off Out of Sight and The Limey, it required a completely different set of disciplines as a director. It wasn’t a style-driven movie. It required me to, in a sense, take a back seat to the performances and the story. That appealed to me. It felt like it was time to do that..."

Get the whole feature, with more from Julia Roberts, Steven Soderbergh and Albert Finney, plus oue review of Erin Brockovich
in the May 2000 issue of Film Review

Erin Brockovich • Film of the Month Review here

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