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COUNTERPUNCH

Roberts Runs With Character

August 21, 1995|DARA MONAHAN | Dara Monahan is a comedy writer. She was associate producer of the sitcom "Hearts Afire" and wrote for the show

At the end of his favorable review of "Something to Talk About" ("Strong Cast Lifts a Familiar 'Something,' " Calendar, Aug. 4), Kenneth Turan added a comment that I found not only unfair, but a little disturbing. He asked, "When is Julia Roberts going to allow herself to smile more than briefly in a major motion picture? Although it is heartening to see her involved with this kind of quality material, her long-ago sunniness remains a distant memory."

What was Roberts supposed to glean from this? That it's not good to take risks? That it's safer to play what the public wants you to play? That your own instincts and desires as an actor should be secondary?

Grace Bichon, as written by Callie Khouri, is an engaging and complex character. Grace is a mother, but not a perfect one. She's a wife, but her husband is cheating on her. She's a daughter, but her father's infidelity has led to her parents' separation. She'd like to have a career as a vet, but the demands of home and family, plus a healthy dose of insecurity, have made this an impossible dream. Roberts takes this decidedly unglamorous character and runs with it. What a blast to see her frumping around in a flannel nightgown and fuzzy boots! Yes, it's a long way from "Pretty Woman," but it's a role that's more true to life than just about any other Roberts has tackled.

The executive producer of this movie is Goldie Hawn, who could probably tell Roberts a thing or two about the dangers of being typecast. When Hawn's production company made a big deal a few months ago, a twentysomething co-worker of mine said: "Can you believe this? What makes some dumb blond actress who's been in a few movies think she can produce?"

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Instead of knocking him to the floor and stomping on his male-chauvinist heart, I calmly explained to him that since she's had about 15 years' experience as a producer and more than 25 as an actress, she might have a good instinct or two.

But apparently even though Hawn has recently played memorable dramatic roles in such movies as "Deceived" and "Criss Cross," that giggling airhead image is still as firmly attached to her as the body tattoos she used to wear on "Laugh-In." It's too bad--I think Goldie Hawn is one of the finest actresses around, and here's hoping Callie Khouri writes a fabulous role for her someday too.

Some may say Julia Roberts became a great star before she became a great actress. But let's remember that she's only 27, and her career is still in its infancy.

Every move she makes, public and private, is so intensely scrutinized that it's a wonder she's able to think clearly at all. I'm not pitying her--it's all part of the game in this business--but I wonder how any of us would fare under the same conditions. On her recent Oprah Winfrey appearance, I found her to be charming, intelligent and level-headed. Whatever personal heartaches she's dealing with, they do not seem to interfere with her being a genuinely nice person.

So relax, Mr. Turan. Julia Roberts is going to be around for a long time. She's going to be offered all different kinds of roles. Give her a chance to play interesting female characters--heaven knows, there aren't a lot of them being written. She's going to make some hit movies, and, if she's human, she's going to make some flops. But odds are, she's going to smile for you again.

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