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Julia Roberts is one of a handful of screen actors who has found fame in the nineties by the sheer force of talent and screen charisma. And some say itís as much for her ability to offer good screen "suffering" Ė as much as for her dazzling smile.

Since she first lit up the screen in the early nineties in the smash hit comedy Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts has had fame. A perceived state of being that is often exaggerated, exploited and misunderstood.

"Itís a myth," on fame

Roberts is emphatic about her take on fame. "Itís a myth," she declares. "I have often said that peopleís perception of my life or an actorís life is a lot more hectic and outrageous and pressure-filled and glamorous than I have ever known my life to be, or any of my actor friends."

Roberts continues, "I donít think fame changes people. People change as they gather more experiences and information about life. I think perhaps being famous makes one more aware of things from a different vantage point, but I donít think you just sort of become famous and become a different person."

Touching on the pressures of fame, Roberts is equally adamant in her stance: "Pressure is something that you choose to embrace in your life or not. Pressure is drama, and doesnít really interest me in my everyday life."

Roberts, movie star, playing a movie star, begs the inevitable question, one which Roberts is happy to address. "People," she points out, "will just assume that because I am playing an actor in this movie that she is me, or that I understand everything about her life--I donít. Every actorís experience is different. We all have different personalities; we are not an assembly line breed."

In Notting Hill, Roberts plays Anna Scott, Ďthe worldís most famous movie star,í who meets and falls in love with William, Ďan ordinary guy.í The pursuit of their love affair highlights not only the differences of their respective lifestyles, but the perception of fame by the famous and the non-famous. A perception summed up by Robertís character, Anna: "The fame thing isnít real, you know. Donít forgetóIím also just a girl. Standing in front of a boy. Asking him to love her."

"Itís really clever." on the script

As an admirer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and someone whose favorite genre is romantic comedy, the role of Anna Scott is one Roberts embraced from the onset. "Richard Curtis is a brilliant writer," she says. "It was one of those scripts that I read and thought ĎI am going to have to do thisóitís really clever.í"

The film gave Roberts the opportunity of working with a wealth of British actors. "Everybody on the movie was tremendous," she says. "The great thing about a really good script and really clever director, is that you find yourself in a situation where even the tiniest part has been cast so precisely with such a talented person, that even the littlest moment in the movie becomes an interesting moment that youíll remember."

Speaking of the role of Anna and her romance with William, Roberts says, "I think the relationship itself, the attraction between them, is very complex. There are different things about Anna and William that complement their personalities well. They both share the same sense of fun and have a simple view of life. Ultimately that is what Anna is looking for."

"Itís been really fun to watch him be this clever, fumbling, sweet guy that he plays" on Hugh Grant

Of working with her co-star, Roberts says, "Hughís great. This is sort of classic Hugh Grant material and what he does so well. Itís been really fun to watch him be this clever, fumbling, sweet guy that he plays in this movie."

Grant says, "Richard Curtis is the king of this kind of romantic comedy. Itís just so beautifully written, and of course a great part for me."

The film centres on William romancing the famous Anna and gives both Grant and Roberts the opportunity for some high comedic moments as the courtship develops. It also addresses the problems that befall a couple when one is "an ordinary guy" and the other "a famous face."

Describing their romance, Grant says, "William, I think, is quintessentially English in his reaction to Annaís fame. Although he is impressed by it and definitely overawed, he is capable of still being himself in the presence of it all, and thatís possibly what attracts her to him." Of his real life co-star, Grant comments, "Julia is a real laugh. A bit scary, of course, being such a big star and such a good actor, but deep down very silly and teasable. I couldnít have liked her more."

But the appeal of Roberts, says writer Etelka Lehoczky (Salon, May 29, 1999) is her ability to suffer: "The expression is iconic. The vulnerable mouth tightens warily, the round, doe-like eyes glimmer with anticipated tears. Julia Roberts is hurting -- again. For all the talk of her lovely smile, her real knack is for suffering -- and that, apparently, is priceless."

"the only major star in our era to evoke the screen queens of Hollywood's golden age" Salon Magazine

Lehoczky takes a bigger leap: "she's the only major star in our era to evoke the screen queens of Hollywood's golden age. Not Katharine Hepburn -- though "I Love Trouble" and "My Best Friend's Wedding" begged for comparison (Hepburn was too scrappy, not tragic enough). Roberts' true foremothers are the drama queens: Bette Davis, star of a succession of popular "women's weepies" (to which Stepmom explicitly harks back), and Joan Crawford, so glamorously miserable in Mildred Pierce."

"Notting Hill," says Lehoczky, "is the perfect climax to this pageant of pain. It executes an astonishing switcheroo: celebrating its star's incomparable glamour and success, then placing her among ordinary people and managing, miraculously, to make her seem pitiable by comparison. Not pitiful: there's no question that Roberts' character enjoys her status. But that doesn't mean she doesn't suffer. In a remarkable scene, she and several of William's ordinary friends playfully argue about who among them is the worst off. The circle includes a low-paid record store clerk, a chubby stockbroker on the verge of being fired and a woman in a wheelchair Ė yet somehow, when it's Anna's turn, those wet brown eyes make us sympathize. A moment later the group dissolves into laughter at her lightweight list of troubles (painful nose job, mean boyfriends), but this dismissal is more ritualistic than real.

"It echoes the audience's own mixed feelings about celebrity in order to neutralize them. And Thacker, naturally, is the perfect stand-in for the average audience member. Dogged by rabid paparazzi, he reproaches Anna: "My best friend is confined to a wheelchair for life!" he shouts. "I'm just asking you to have some sense of perspective!"

This dismissal is, in a sense, what the movie - and Roberts' whole persona - is all about.

(Compiled and edited by Andrew L. Urban)

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