PRETTY Woman, Erin Brockovich, Notting Hill; it’s easy to reel off a long list of Julia Roberts’ hit films. Try and name a TV show she has starred in though, and you’d struggle — until now, that is.
The actress takes on her first starring role on the small screen in Amazon Prime’s new series Homecoming. She plays Heidi Bergman, a caseworker at a facility that helps soldiers returning home from war.
“This is a character that I picked because of the circumstances that surround her,” says 50-year-old Georgia-born Roberts. “I can’t isolate her in the way I sometimes can in other pieces of material, where you can imagine, ‘What if we put her in this kind of scenario?’ to understand this person more fully.”
The psychological thriller is based on Gimlet Media’s acclaimed podcast of the same name, which Roberts quips she became consumed by during the “hours” she spends organising and cleaning up Lego bricks (the star has three children with cameraman Danny Moder).
Written by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, the audio series stars Catherine Keener as Heidi, and is presented through telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations.
In bringing the drama to life for Amazon, director Sam Esmail has nailed creating an unsettling visual style. “There were no easy days on the show, period,” she adds.
That was partly due to the fact that “everything was so specific”, she says, and also, Esmail had really high targets for the entire crew and cast to meet.
She said: “Sam kept raising the bar of the challenge of what we could accomplish.
All in all, it was a new kind of work for enigmatic Roberts.
“It’s called cardio acting. Had to carry a tonne of stuff, talking on the phone, be in heels and go up and down stairs all day. I went down a pant size.”
Does having kids (twins Hazel and Phinnaeus are 13, while Henry is 11) make switching off after a day of filming easier? “You know, it does, but at the same time, for this, the workload did expand every day, so instead of making dinner while my kids were doing homework, I was probably doing my homework!”
In a time where downloading from streaming services seems to be taking over our viewing habits, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Roberts has become the latest Hollywood icon to take on a TV role.
And the star puts forth that there’s no such thing as a group of actors who are just “film actors” anyway.
“I’ve never called myself a film actor, I’m just an actor,” she says. “I go where the parts compel me and I don’t know a lot of creative people who would compartmentalise their places to be creative in that way. We are all just looking for the thing we can bring something of value to.”
There’s no denying bagging someone as loved the world over as Roberts is a win for Amazon, though.
Discussing the idea that she will bring in big audiences, the actress recalls a moment in her career she’s particularly proud of, while she was doing a play on Broadway a number of years ago.
“When I was a young person, my dad took me to the theatre all the time, and I thought it was so special.
“How many people came up to me after the play and said, ‘I’ve never seen a play on Broadway before and I never would have come if it weren’t for you’ - that was when I felt the happiest - that I had brought people to something that I thought was so special.”