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November 11, 2013

Natural Wonder: Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts has been stealing scenes for more than two decades, and this month is no different with an Oscar-worthy performance in the dark comedy August: Osage County. Here, she talks to friend, director, and collaborator Ryan Murphy about holding her own against Meryl Streep, the pleasures of being a grown-up, and the perils of social media.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cedric Buchet

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That's a constant refrain in her work, whether it's gripping drama or lighter comedic fare. "One thing that's consistent is that Julia is a really hard worker," says Mulroney, her costar in 1997's My Best Friend's Wedding and a close friend. "On Wedding, she threw herself against the glass door of a building, so she's still bashing herself against plate-glass windows to get the part right. In August, she goes all the way out. Except for casting! I have to be frank with you, I'd already auditioned for the part. I had not once in the intervening years found myself in a position where I was up for a role in a movie that Julia was doing, so I thought, I'm just going to go for it, tell her to put in a good word for me. And you know what she said? 'No!'" Here he lets out a mock incredulous laugh. "There's integrity in her friendship as well."

Although Streep might have the showier role, Roberts is the film's grounding presence, the soil in which it grows, and it's no wonder that those who have seen it pretty much agree it's the stuff Oscars are made of. (Chatter has speculated both will receive nominations.) Mulroney agrees that the film works because of Roberts: "So much of the movie's integrity you can trace back to Julia," he says, "largely because of her performance and her dedication to"—again those words—getting it "exactly right."

"I had many imaginary conversations with Meryl about working together," says Roberts, 46, as she arrives for lunch at a favorite Malibu café near where her children with cinematographer husband Danny Moder (9-year-old twins Hazel and Phinnaeus and 6-year-old Henry) go to school. "One night we did a play together at Lincoln Center for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp fundraiser. When a person goes from being on a pedestal in your mind to even cooler, better, and more fabulous up close, you get to understand them a little more intimately." But how did the two end up doing a film together? "We have the same agent, Kevin Huvane, and it was his dream. As my career is slowing down, he thought, I've got to figure this out before she brings it all to a screeching halt in favor of car pools."

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