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ROBERTS, JULIA: Erin Brockovich

JULIA ROBERTS talks about her role as Erin Brockovich, a single mother who took on a giant corporation by accident - and won. Edited by Andrew L. Urban.

Erin Brockovich is a story based on real events, about a woman who the world sees one way but who is not at all as she appears. She wears tight mini skirts and colourful low cut tops, her hair is big and her overall appearance may suggest she is a bimbo - with young kids. But Erin is a single mother and a single minded one once she bullies her way into a job at a law firm and then stumbles on some nasty corporate truths.

"A tough scene"

There was a moment during the filming of Erin Brockovich when Julia Roberts, who plays the title character, admits she nearly "lost it" - it was a tough scene for Roberts in any case, because it was both emotionally challenging and her on-set baby was tired and noisy.

"This is the scene in which I appear with the real Erin Brockovich," Roberts explains. "It's a scene where I'm in a diner after I have lost my car accident case. I have no money, my neck is in a brace and the kids are being really rambunctious and Beth is supposed to be sick. The baby (Beth) was really tired and screaming at the top of her lungs and the real Erin comes to the table as our waitress. It was really daunting and bizarre to play a person when that person is doing a line with you. The entire time I kept looking at Erin and thinking, 'what in the world is she thinking? She's going to think I'm playing a terrible mother.' Then, when I looked up, I saw that her name tag said 'Julia'. I very nearly lost it, I tell you!" she says laughing.

The story of Erin Brockovich confirms the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The film is based on her story. Twice divorced mother of three, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is trying to find a job, while juggling the responsibilities of her children. A car accident, in which she is not at fault, leads her to Ed Masry (Albert Finney), an attorney of a small law firm, whose defence leaves her with no settlement. She bullies Masry into employing her, and then stumbles on some medical reports, filed in real estate files. On investigation, she discovers a cover-up involving contaminated water in a local community which is causing devastating and fatal illnesses among its residents. Her children, meantime, are being looked after by her lover, bikie neighbour George (Aaron Eckhart), who is becoming increasingly resentful of the time Erin is spending on her job. The cover-up and resulting court case brings Erin new self-respect and upgrades her life.

Erin really intrigued Roberts. "I have great admiration for what she stands for. A lot of women in our culture are facing being a single mother, trying to make ends meet. They are the heroes of out time, aren't they?"

"A remarkable individual"

Erin is who she is and doesn't change for anybody - "which is what makes her such a remarkable individual. She can be in a situation where she's completely out of place and have no awareness of that and just focus on what the issue is at hand," says Roberts.

Small town lawyer Ed Masry gave Erin a job because he felt sorry for her. But no one thought this girl would be able to do anything but file. She offended everybody in the office because not only is she beautiful, but she's brash and takes no prisoners. Then she proved herself to be quite brilliant - at being her straightforward self, which in turn made a difference to a great many lives.

In addition to the obvious attraction that Roberts felt for the character of Erin Brockovich, she was also drawn to the relationship between Erin and Ed Masry. "Ed and Erin bring out the best in each other in an odd-couple kind of way," says Roberts. "He was at a point in his life where he was looking forward to retiring and playing golf. Erin, in stirring up this pot and bringing all of this information to light, re-ignited his passion for justice and his sense that you can work hard for the right reasons and you can prevail to make the world a better place to live."

Erin's probing, her absolute dedication to the case and her clear sighted view of the ultimate objective - to get at the truth and fight for fair compensation - drove her and the legal team to a stunning victory, with PG&E paying US$333 million in compensation. Following their victory against PG&E in 1996, Erin and Ed have seven other cases pending, including one against PG&E regarding a plant in Kettleman Hills, California. "What happened in Hinkley is terrifying, because you think, 'well what else is happening? Where else are we being deceived?' And the Hinkley residents were so trusting," says Roberts. "They felt that they owed so much to this company because they employed most of the town. When they were told that what was in the water was Chromium 3 and that it was good for you, they completely believed it. When they're told the truth, it took a lot of convincing for some of them to come around. To think that this company, which was like a parent, had been lying to them all that time. It's heartbreaking."

"She rolls her sleeves up" Albert Finney

As for working with the much acclaimed Albert Finney, Roberts says that "even though he has done this for so long, he still works hard. His enthusiasm is contagious and he's so good at his craft. Acting with Albert is an amazing and inspiring experience."

Finney returns the compliment: "She's terrific. She rolls her sleeves up, come in and gets to work."

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Julia Roberts - superb as Erin Brockovich



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