Academy Award-winning actress Julia Roberts arrived at the Cannes Film Festival to discuss a meaningful new role close to her happy heart.
“I never thought I would have a new godmother at 32 years old, let alone that godmother be Julia Roberts. It’s all a bit surreal,” remarked British actor Jack Lowden to a delighted black-tie crowd at the Carlton Hotel. Both Lowden and fellow laureate, Ugandan-British actress Sheila Atim appeared to fully grasp the gravitas of the evening — a Chopard gala during the 75th Cannes Film Festival to honor their acting skills. Roberts, effortlessly elegant in a couture Dior bar suit and skirt with hair pulled back in a clean bun had been called up to the stage moments earlier to present the actors with their respective awards — the Trophée Chopard. Twenty-one years in the making, the trophy honors up and coming actors with “godmothers” of the likes of Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, and Jessica Chastain bestowing the winners with their prize. Chopard has now supported the film festival for 25 years; since its artistic director and co-president Caroline Scheufele redesigned the Palme d’Or — the festival’s highest prize awarded to a film on closing night. On this evening, the air was electric, with Roberts engaging guests with her megawatt smile, inspiring everyone to stand a bit taller, laugh a bit heartier, and stay a bit later. There was no mistaking that there’s “something about Julia.”
“I was a wreck last night, I was an absolute wreck,” insists Roberts, taking a sip of her espresso on the Chopard privatized rooftop of the Hotel Martinez the following day. She is sitting on a couch before a table laden with fruit and juices. It overlooks the sea, peppered with yachts. Overhead, helicopters appear like gargantuan flies charting people from Cannes to Monaco. Her signature wavy hair is loose and voluminous. Once more, she’s dressed void of chichi in an all-black pantsuit and flat brogues — not that her business outfit could cloak one iota of her star power. “When we first got out of the car, we were all standing at the beginning of this endless path that we had to take,” continues Roberts. “I turned to Jack and said, ‘Oh my god, my heart’s beating a hundred miles a minute, how about you?’” she says, chuckling at the memory. “Even at the dinner, I’m nervous because I want — particularly Jack and Sheila — them to feel my admiration and I want to be able to express the true feelings that I have,” she says, adding that even her face was flushed. Roberts admits that she gets nervous before any such situation. “That’s part of it,” she admits. “That excitement is still so terrifying but thrilling. I don’t think you should be blasé on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival.”
Roberts is unafraid to show her innate vulnerability; a stalwart trait that has become a signature of her work in films like Steel Magnolias, Sleeping with the Enemy, Hook, Notting Hill, and Erin Brockovich, to name but a few. “Vulnerability is the superpower to observe vulnerability, understand it, portray it,” says Roberts. “It’s this special thing and everybody feels it in a unique way; and different things make all of us feel vulnerable. It’s this funny, little, special snowflake that we each have that’s different.” Roberts’s vulnerability is the kind that draws in crowds by the millions, making her one of the most bankable stars (male or female) of recent times. She earned an unprecedented $25 million for her role in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) and signed a reported five-year contract with Lancôme for $50 million. Collectively, her films have earned in the billions at the box office.
There are some 20 people silently milling around Roberts at the time of this interview. However, she still manages to give the impression of leading a down-to-earth life with her husband-of-20-years Danny Moder and their three children. She’s known to support charitable organizations like UNICEF and Conservation International. Her commitment to the Chopard Trophy is a further act of community. If power in cinema has been hotly debated over the past few years with the Me Too movement, Roberts considers power to be rooted in service to others. “Even at my age, I’m open to any source of encouragement,” remarks the actress who is 54 and whose career spans over 30 years. “We all sort of get fatigued, or we question ourselves,” she states. “So, it’s times like this when we can encourage one another and help people feel valued in what they’re doing and the choices they are making. At events, you meet people in passing, and you don’t get to share time in a unique way anymore. They’re both [Lowdon and Atim] such great people and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. It’s been a quick trip but meaningful.” An assistant appears with Roberts’s lavender-hued sunglasses. The actress acknowledges her with a gentle, “Thank you, my love,” before finishing her evening recap. When Roberts did arrive on stage, rows of eager guests lifted their hands in the air, all clutching a phone to capture one of the greatest living actresses. Firmly, Roberts asked them to take their pictures, and then please put their phones away. “I understand it,” comments the actress. “I think that’s the thing — when you’re in a movie theater, you’re not on your phone, you’re not talking, you’re having this shared focus on one thing and that’s what makes it so special and that’s why we all love it and go back to it again and again.”
Cinema is a great love shared with Chopard’s Scheufele. “One of the things that I think is so great about Chopard — they don’t just make beautiful things, they are inspired by different things,” states Roberts, who began her collaboration with the maison a few years ago, when Scheufele asked her to star in Chopard’s Happy Diamonds jewelry campaign. “City Lights (1931, starring Charlie Chaplin) is one of Caroline’s favorite movies,” offers Roberts. “The Dior silhouette of once upon a time — I felt so girly — was the perfect template to then wear this fantastic brooch.” The diamond rose brooch is a high jewelry nod to the one Chaplin wore in his movie. Meanwhile, to attend the earlier red-carpet screening of Armageddon Time, Roberts donned a black tailored jumpsuit and accessorized it with another Chopard jewel — one of its 75 Red Carpet Collection pieces presented at Cannes — a sparkling necklace made with ethical gold and featuring a yellow diamond weighing over 100 carats.
Roberts agrees that she has a certain chemistry with the family-owned Swiss high jewelry maison. She wasn’t always certain it would be the case. “You never know. I always say, everybody can be nice at lunch. Over time, you don’t know if that alchemy is going to hold or how it’s going to come together. The first time we made this film with Xavier [Canadian director Xavier Dolan] we entered the same room, started talking, and I was just like, ‘Where have you been all my life, this is going to be so fun.’” Roberts snaps her fingers for emphasis. “We proceeded to work for 12 hours, going full speed, happy as clams — all of us.” She recalls the mood on set, with the entire crew dancing and having a good time. “If Caroline is the mother and we are the kids — she just let us run wild and create something for her that we thought was magnificent.” Trust, the actress expresses, is integral to the collaborative creative process. “When I’m on a movie with a director, that’s how I do the best work, if I feel like he trusts me and then guides me. They were two of the most fun days I’ve ever had shooting.” Weeks later, the world went into lockdown. Later in the year, Roberts received a behind-the-scenes video of the shoot. “I started crying,” she recalls. “Seeing everybody maskless, close together, huddled, people hugging. It had been so long, and it was so touching to see and remember how fun it was. That’s the kind of spirit that Chopard cultivates and that they want us to have.”
Roberts, who is currently enjoying praise for her role in the political thriller series Gaslit alongside Sean Penn, shows no signs of slowing. Her acting will soon inspire more laughter this fall. Ticket to Paradise (October 2022) is a movie about a divorced couple (played by Roberts and George Clooney) who travel to Bali for their daughter’s nuptials. Highly anticipated, it is the actress’s first romantic comedy in 20 years. Many will still remember the scene from one of her earliest rom coms, Pretty Woman, where, dressed in a red gown, she is presented with a jewelry box carrying a ruby and diamond necklace. If jewelry is traditionally associated with romance, should that still be the case today? “Oh, I hope so,” Roberts says, flashing her inimitable smile.
Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
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