Pretty Successful: 20 Facts About Julia Roberts’s Amazing Hollywood Career
To some people, she’ll always be Vivian, the prostitute who struck gold in “Pretty Woman.” Others remember her best for her role in the ultimate ‘90s rom-com “Notting Hill” or her Oscar-winning performance in “Erin Brockovich.” Whatever comes to mind when you think of Julia Roberts, she’s given us no shortage of hit movies (and plenty of off-screen buzz).
Here’s everything you need to know about the Hollywood favorite with the megawatt smile.
She Has Acting in Her Blood
Julia Fiona Roberts, born on October 28, 1967, in Smyrna, Georgia, was the youngest of three children. Her parents were both actors who ran a workshop for aspiring writers and performers, until they divorced in 1971.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Roberts said she wouldn’t have pursued acting if her parents weren’t actors. “It just wouldn’t have occurred to me,” she said. “My dad would take my sister and me to plays when we were young, like six or seven years old. We saw ‘Hair’ in New York on summer vacation. We would go see Yul Brynner do ‘The King and I’ in Atlanta.”
She Wanted to Be a Veterinarian
Acting wasn’t always Roberts’ first career choice, however. As a young girl, she wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I saw Rex Harrison play Doctor Dolittle when I was a kid and I thought, ‘Well I have that power. I can talk to the animals. What is wrong with you today? Oh, I see.’ But then I started taking science and biology and realized, ‘Wow, that is hard. I’ll just be an actor,'” she told Ellen DeGeneres.
She Was ‘Mediocre’ in High School
It may be hard to believe, but Hollywood’s sweetheart wasn’t always the popular girl. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Roberts revealed that at high school, she was “just mediocre, just getting through the hallways with my girlfriend, Paige. We weren’t losers, but we weren’t popular, we were just coasting, that is exactly what we were doing.”
Also, she wasn’t noticed by guys in high school, but she said that was “good timing for me.”
Her Debut Was on TV
After she graduated from high school in 1985, Roberts moved to New York to live with her sister Lisa. Her big brother Eric was also in the city. Roberts made her acting debut on the TV series “Crime Story,” playing Tracy, a juvenile sexual assault survivor.
"Julia was unusually magnetic," writer David Burke told the Hollywood Reporter. "She really popped when she was on screen. You knew she was in it for the long haul, that was clear."
Her First Movie Was Direct-to-Video
The same year as her “Crime Story” appearance, Roberts had an uncredited role as Babs in the little-known comedy “Firehouse.” It went straight to video, and those who did watch it didn’t think much of it. It has an audience score of 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with one viewer noting, “the punchlines are overshadowed by the exorbitant nudity.”
She Lived With Liam Neeson
In 1987, Roberts appeared alongside Liam Neeson in the film “Satisfaction.” It wasn’t a hit, but it did lead to a romance between the two actors, who ended up moving in together. Roberts was 19 and Neeson — already a well-established movie star — was 35. They dated for around two years, even living together for a short time in Venice, California. In 1997, Roberts and Neeson (center) appeared on screen together again, in the film “Michael Collins.”
A Movie About Pizza Gave Her a Lucky Break
Luckily, it wasn’t long before Roberts made a wiser movie choice. In 1988, she played the feisty Daisy in the coming-of-age film “Mystic Pizza.” Directed by Donald Petrie, it also starred Annabeth Gish (left), Lili Taylor and Matt Damon and received positive reviews. A musical adaptation of the movie is being developed, with a score written by Melissa Etheridge.
She Made a Style Statement at Her First Golden Globes
For her role as Shelby in the comedy-drama “Steel Magnolias,” Roberts won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated in the same category for an Academy Award (that one went to Brenda Fricker for “My Left Foot”). Her appearance at the Golden Globes drew just as much attention as her win — she wore an oversized Giorgio Armani suit, which she picked up off the rack at the store. "I loved the shape of it," she told InStyle. "For me, this was the epitome of being dressed up."
She’s the Reason Richard Gere Did ‘Pretty Woman’
One of Roberts’ most iconic roles is as Vivian in 1990’s Cinderella-inspired rom-com “Pretty Woman,” alongside Richard Gere. In fact, Roberts was the reason Gere agreed to the role of Edward Lewis, after turning it down numerous times.
To try to convince him to say yes, director Garry Marshall brought Roberts to Gere’s apartment to see if they had any chemistry. “I was so mesmerized I don’t remember Garry,’ revealed Gere on the “Today” show. “I only remember this girl. We loved each other immediately. It was a nice thing. But to be honest, I didn’t know if I was doing this movie yet. She’s across from my desk, we’re getting to know each other, we’re flirty-flirty, nice-nice, it’s all going [well], and he calls up and is kind of like, ‘How’s it going?’ And I’m going, ‘Yeah, yeah…’ She’s across from the desk and she takes a piece of paper and she’s writing something on it.” It was a Post-It note, and Roberts had written, “Please say yes.” And the rest is history.
Her Love Life Made Headlines in the Early 1990s
As her star rose in Hollywood, Roberts’ romantic life became the subject of much tabloid speculation. In 1990, she started dating her “Flatliners” co-star, Kiefer Sutherland. Roberts reportedly broke off her engagement to Dylan McDermott (who played her husband in “Steel Magnolias”) to be with Sutherland; he split from his wife, actress Camelia Kath.
Her Relationship with Kiefer Sutherland Turned Nasty
Roberts and Sutherland soon got engaged and started planning for a wedding at 20th Century Fox’s Soundstage 14 — which was being decorated like a garden paradise — on June 14, 1991. But a few days before the wedding, they called the whole thing off.
“I had returned from a trip to Arizona intending to tell Kiefer that I thought it would be best for both of us not to get married. But the next time I talked to Kiefer, he called me on the telephone… And he proceeded to tell me what I was going to tell him, which is he did not want to marry me, he did not want this to happen,” Roberts said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “But he was far more nasty about it than I was going to be. He hung up the phone, and called back a few hours later and basically said, ‘So, is it on or is it off?’ At that time I said what I was going to say.”
A Two-Year Movie Break Did Her Good
Roberts survived the very public storm of her split from Sutherland. After two mediocre movies in 1991 (“Dying Young” with Campbell Scott and “Hook” with Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams), Roberts was back on top with 1993’s legal thriller “The Pelican Brief” (pictured).
“Julia Roberts, returning after two years off the screen, makes a wonderful heroine — warm, courageous, very beautiful,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert.
She Wasn’t All About the Rom-Com
In 1996, Roberts stripped it back for her role in the thriller “Mary Reilly,” a reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson's horror story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Robert played the titular role as a maid working in the home of Dr. Henry Jekyll (played by John Malkovich).
“Mary Reilly” (pictured) bombed at the box office, taking only $12 million against its $47 million budget. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a Tomatometer score of 26 percent and an audience score of 40 percent.
She Reunited With Richard Gere
After more rom-com successes with “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Notting Hill," Roberts teamed up with her “Pretty Woman” partner Richard Gere for “Runaway Bride” (pictured). Roberts played Maggie, who has left a trail of fiancés waiting for her at the altar, earning her tabloid fame and the nickname “the Runaway Bride.” The movie was a huge box office hit, recouping its budget more than four times over.
A New Century, a New Level of Recognition
Another attempt at a different genre paid off big-time in 2000. Roberts took the titular role in the drama “Erin Brockovich,” playing a feisty single mom leading a fight against a power company that allegedly poisoned a small town’s water supply. Based on a true story, it won Roberts several awards, including her first Oscar.
“Well, it's a total honor. It's thrilling, and on the one hand, it means a lot of things, and on the other hand, it doesn't really mean anything. It's a moment in time,” she said of her big win.
She Was the First Woman to Get $20 Million for a Movie
“Erin Brockovich” didn’t just earn Roberts her first Oscar; it also earned her a record-breaking $20 million paycheck — a first for any actress. To convince her to take the role of Beatrice Ocean in “Ocean’s Eleven” (a part played by Angie Dickinson in the original), George Clooney sent the script to her with $20 bill. “Inside I wrote, ‘I heard you’re getting 20 a picture,’” Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. His talents of persuasion paid off — Roberts signed up for the movie.
She Met the Love of Her Life on Set
Roberts had high-profile romances with several of her co-stars (including a short marriage to Lyle Lovett from 1993 to 1995, who she met on the set of “The Player”), but the one that stuck was working on the other side of the camera. In 2001, while filming “The Mexican” with Brad Pitt, Roberts met cameraman Danny Moder (pictured), who was married at the time (Roberts herself was in a relationship with actor Benjamin Bratt). Roberts and Moder became friends, and when they had split from their partners they started dating.
She Had a Secret Midnight Wedding Ceremony
Roberts and Moder (pictured lower right, with Roberts and their kids) married in the summer of 2002 in a secret midnight ceremony. Roberts had no bridesmaids and only a small number of guests, including actors George Clooney and Bruce Willis and director Steven Soderberg. The couple asked friends to “bring along a lively/lovely addition to our garden” instead of guests.
“My husband, Danny, has really shined the light for me. Because of being married, I've met people and experienced all these little things that have nurtured my life — not so much changed it, just nurtured it in a way that's astounding,” Roberts told Oprah Winfrey in 2003.
Roberts and Moder have three kids: Hazel and Phinnaeus (born 2004) and Henry (born 2007).
She’s a Talented Knitter
In her downtime on movie sets, Roberts likes to knit. “The nice thing about that is you can be sociable while you’re doing it, so it passes the time on a movie set. Sally Field taught me to do needlepoint on ‘Steel Magnolias’ and a standby painter on ‘The Pelican Brief’ taught me to knit. I’m pretty good at it now!” Roberts said in 2014.
She’s Back on TV
After decades of movie hits, Roberts turned to the small screen in 2018’s “Homecoming,” playing psychologist Heidi, who works at Homecoming, a facility that helps soldiers transition back to civilian life. The show, which premiered on Amazon Prime, earned Roberts a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama. She lost out to Sandra Oh for “Killing Eve,” but Roberts did win the Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama.
She was snubbed in the Emmy nominations, but shared the best reaction: an Instagram post saying “Well, I’m in exceptional company at least” alongside a screenshot of her phone displaying a push notification saying she was snubbed alongside “Catch 22” star George Clooney and “Maniac”’s Emma Stone.