CANNES - Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, looked at Julia Roberts' feet as she climbed the famous stairs to the Palais des Festivals and whispered to her when she arrived: "I see you in your shoes this time."
Roberts gave that golden smile and realized why. "Frémauxremembered that seven years ago I went up these steps without shoes," she tells me when I met her on her second day of arrival and the day before she was due back in Los Angeles. "It was a nice gesture that made me laugh."
Roberts needs no introduction. She did not come to Cannes because she was involved in one of his films. In fact, Roberts spent the last six months of last year and the first month of this year creating television episodes that began this month and run until the 12th of next month, titled Gaslit.
After that, she will return to the cinema, producing and starring in a drama entitled “Ticket to Paradise” and she will have another movie that will appear at the end of the current year, entitled “Leave the World Behind”.
She says, "I do not adopt a specific plan that cannot be changed. The short series Gaslit was suddenly shown to me. It came to me without introduction and I accepted it because I liked the idea."
The reason for Roberts’ presence in Cannes is not due, as we mentioned, to a new film, but because she was entrusted with presenting a prize called Chopard Trophy for new talents.
This year, the two winners are young actress Sheila Atim, appearing in the movie Underground Railroad and Jack Lowden, who played an important role in Christopher Nolan's movie, Dunkirk.
• You came specifically for this event, it must be very important to give an award to young talents?
JR: Really very important. We, actors, who have experienced acting decades ago must remember our beginnings and our needs for encouragement. This award makes the new actors aware that they are allowed and visible even if the audience does not notice them in a movie.
Atim, for example, currently appears in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”. She is among a large number of actors and no one will notice her, but this award will definitely put her in focus. The same is true of Lowden.
• When you started acting, did you find help from anyone?
JR: It was the traditional assistance expected when a new actor enters the field of work.
• Are you talking about your first movie, “Firehouse” (1987), in which you played a small role. Did it bother you that your name wasn't on the movie's poster?
JR: No. Not much as I recall. I accepted the matter on the grounds that this happened and happens often among novices. Of course, I quickly forgot everything, because in the following year I played a major role in “Mystic Pizza”.
• Do you remember your first audition?
JR: No, not clearly. I'm sure it was a failure. So are all the other auditions before I won my first round. I don't know how many times because I also took an audition for many commercial films and got rejected. I guess I wasn't good.
• But were you persistent and stubborn?
JR: Naturally. If I decided to become an actress, I was like a train that wouldn't stop at any station. So I thank all the failures that I faced because they were necessary to me.
About the future
• Are you still in awe of the camera?
JR: No. Not intimidated but always wary of not communicating properly what is required of me in a particular role.
In fact, I feel confused at a celebration like this one here in Cannes. Yesterday, as I climbed the stairs, I looked at Jack Landon and found him quite calm. I sympathized with him (laughs).
• What do you think of the issues currently raised in the cinema?
JR: Like what?
For example, the cinema will not have a future, or that today it is directed with all its strength towards the home audience. Therefore, the number of people who go to cinemas will diminish in a way that threatens to close them.
JR: Do you really think so? I am certain that the audience understands the huge difference between watching the movie in the big cinema hall and watching it on a computer or iPad screen. Pleasure is not the same.
• What is specifically attractive to cinemas in your opinion?
JR: The experience of going to the cinema and participating with an audience you do not know, sharing with you all those feelings that the film provides is unique.
There is something unique about this experience and that is why we became actors. We loved being in these halls around the world, making art for everyone. Nothing can make up for that.
• I think that online movie platforms have benefited alone from the pandemic. Of course, this comes in addition to all the companies that provided masks, vaccines, etc.
JR: Of course. I was so sad when people left cinemas. I was sad thinking about this development that took place. I was afraid people wouldn't go back to movie theaters and these would become deserted. So I'm delighted that this didn't happen and that people are starting to come back. Maybe with caution but it's back.
• Have you seen a movie in the hall recently? How did you feel?
JR: I watched more than one movie. At first, it was strange to me. People were spread apart from each other and all with masks to breathe through. I felt that cinema was not born for this kind of interaction. But it was a while and now I feel like things are getting better.
• Your next movie “A Ticket to Paradise” reunites with George Clooney.
JR: I am very happy with this movie. Very happy with George Clooney. It is nice. He is an actor and friend that I enjoy working with. But I cannot talk about the film because it is still in its final stages and I have an audio recording in it. I have to supervise it as the producer.
• Production is new to you. Why did you do it?
JR: I think it's a natural, gradual act. You don't find actors jumping into production so quickly. They should first examine the work from the inside and stop at what makes the movie meaningful. After reaching a certain stage of experience, I felt that my next right step was to produce some of my films myself.
• Is there a shortage of good scenarios? Many of today's films follow the line of superhero characters and they are ultimately similar in writing and production?
JR: Of course, I will not participate in the acting or production of any of these films. I have an immune system and a liking for films made for a wide audience that are emotional and comedies that tell human stories.
• Director Martin Scorsese opposed it and the prevailing feeling is that films that do not belong to this genre may fail at the box office?
JR: Right. There is this possibility, but what can we do? We must continue to provide different films. It must continue. At the moment I'm thinking maybe if we just stopped people would get bored of those movies and come back to us.
• As far as I know, “Ticket to Paradise” is a romantic comedy, and we haven't found you in a movie of this kind for a while.
JR: Of course, because I did not receive a good script for a movie of this type.
• Since when?
JR: Twenty years ago. The truth is, if I had read what I liked, I would have done it with gusto. But I didn't.
• I want to ask you about Gaslit that I haven't had a chance to watch yet, but I read that it deals with the Watergate scandal. Is it a real story?
JR: Yes quite. It is the story of Martha Mitchell in which President Nixon said, "Without her, there would be no Watergate scandal." And she neglected many of the films that were exposed to Watergate, so matters remained entrusted to the man's role in unveiling that scandal, even though her role was great.
• Mitchell was the wife of one of the leading politicians of the period. Right?
JR: Yes, she was the wife of John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general. The president was not impressed by her contradictory stance, but she was strong and outspoken. I loved acting her character. It gave me a lot to think about.
• It is an attractive character. Martha Mitchell must have been so powerful that President Nixon considered her the cause of the scandal that led him to resign.
JR: Right. But this series has other reasons that prompted me to participate in it enthusiastically. There is the producer Sam Esmail, who does not do a job unless he mobilizes all the required technical elements for him. And I waited so long for Penn to find myself starring in a work of art.
In front of Sean Penn
• Penn is a tough actor who belongs to a different school of acting. Were there problems between the two of you during the filming that had to do with the different styles of each of you from the other?
JR: He is an actor who follows the "methodology". I'm not like this. I'm trying to emulate the character as any other actor but not the way Marlon Brando and Penn.
However, there were absolutely no problems. When he was acting unexpectedly for the role, I was ready to accept it.
• Do you deal with politics? Do you have directions or opinions about what is happening around us?
JR: Yes, of course, but it is mine alone and I do not want to become an activist.
• Do you feel as an actress that you have too much power over your own decisions? For example, what should the movie you are with look like? How do you deal with your fame on your own terms?
JR: Of course, every actor who reaches this level has power over his decisions, rather he must have power over his decisions. The matter is self-evident to me, but authority does not make me differ in behaviour. I am a pure professional whose role is to improve my work, improve my relationships with my surroundings, and deal with aspects of this profession.