“Neil Jordan is a liar!”
You think you might be immune because we’ve been more than aware of it for almost 30 years now.
However, in this hotel room in London, sat down facing Julia Roberts, once she breaks out that “Famous Julia Roberts Smile”, you realise that you are not immune. That smile is famous for a reason, and you can’t help but smile too.
Twenty minutes later, when the interview is over, your face hurts from smiling.
We’re here to talk about Julia Roberts’ new show Homecoming, which also doubles as her first-ever time taking on an entire TV series. She doubles up on her duties, also acting as executive producer, and has picked a perfect partner in crime with director Sam Esmail, who is coming in hot off his own hit show Mr. Robot.
The room is full of assistants and, we assume, assistant’s assistants, and we’re waiting for someone to arrive to get the ball rolling, but instead of allowing the room to fill with dead air, or passively check the phone, Roberts gives instructions:
“Okay, everyone look at them whenever they get here! We’ll have a lot of fun waiting for them and then humiliating them! Actually, no, just close the doors!”
Later on in the interview, we’re told the latecomer is about to arrive, and Roberts again tells the room that we should all give them a round of applause when they get here. Upon arrival, Roberts alone gives a give loud barrage of claps and then berates everyone for leaving her hanging to clap alone.
It is just one occasion where she demolishes the room with her high-watt charisma: when it is mentioned that director Neil Jordan is quoted to have said that Michael Collins would never have been made without her, she replies “What? Did he really?? He’s a liar. And I love him. Neil is lying, and please… just… don’t tell anybody I said that!” When we bring up Sleeping With The Enemy, she immediately replies “Oh, those cupboards… Oh, the towels!”
While the conversation sways to other aspects of her career – everything from her Broadway roles to legal thriller The Pelican Brief is mentioned – to her personal life, we are here to talk about the new show.
Clip via Amazon Prime Video
Having started life as a fictional, scripted podcast, Roberts takes on the role of Heidi which was previously voiced by Catherine Keener. She essentially plays the character twice, once in 2018, as a therapist in a test facility for soldiers who are attempting to readjust to life back in America, and again several years later, as a waitress in a small town with no real memory of her time in the facility.
“I fell in love with it, and I contacted the writers Eli (Horowitz) and Micah (Bloomberg) to express my interest in adapting it,” Sam Esmail tells us, “and then heard that she liked the podcast. Of course, I then got super excited, but I’m a massive Julia Roberts fan, because who isn’t? Even Julia is a Julia Roberts fan!”
Surely this would’ve been really easy to condense down to a movie, especially since Julia had never done TV before. Was that ever an option?
Roberts says, “I didn’t even really know what we were talking about when we were first talking about. I was just thinking about it in terms of the material because that is what matters. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be on the stage or on television, and he just had such great ideas about the visual style of it, and just really taking it to the next level. So that is why I said yes to it.”
But what was it about the role of Heidi that attracted Roberts to the part? She could have come on as producer and leave it at that, what was the unique draw here?
“Well, interestingly, about this character… this is a character that I picked so much because of the circumstances that surround her. I can’t isolate her in any way, that way that I sometimes can on other pieces of material, where I can sometimes imagine ‘Okay, what if we put her in this kind of scenario?’, which can help you understand this person more fully.
“But for Heidi, she is so intertwined with everything that is going on around her. And Sam just turned it into this incredible… I mean, I have never walked on to a set and just thought ‘Wow! This is incredible, this is amazing’. I mean, we would just stand there and marvel what was there for us to play with.”
It is true, having watched some of the early episodes of the show, that both Roberts and Esmail have created something quite unique here, with some obvious references to Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, and Alan J. Pakula, in a way that no other show has ever managed to do. Right down to the wig, which Roberts also had big opinions about:
“Well, I have to wear that wig, so I have 99% say on what wig I wear, and Sam gets to say ‘Yeah, I like it!'”
And again, the entire room laughs, and with just twenty minutes, Julia Roberts cements her status as Hollywood’s most charming person.
Homecoming arrives on Amazon Video from Friday, 2 November.
This interview has been edited for clarity.