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Julia Roberts Is Mom In 'Wonder,' And In Life

Nov 12, 2017

In the new movie Wonder, Julia Roberts plays the mother of a child named August Pullman who was born with severe facial differences. It's prevented Auggie from going to a mainstream school until now, when he's about to enter fifth grade at the local elementary school.

Wonder is based on a novel of the same title by R.J. Palacio. Roberts says she was attracted to the project because she loved the book, and shared it with her three children.

"I had read it myself," she says. "I'd brought it home to my kids, we all read it together – and we were all just so moved as a family. And really great conversations were coming out of it, and ideas, and thoughts and feelings why this person would have done this, or wouldn't have done that."

We spoke about her role as Isabel Pullman, among other things.


Interview Highlights

On Wonder's theme of attempting to see people beyond preconceptions or appearances

It's too pertinent, isn't it? You know, it's a hard time, as parents, to explain the world, particularly when it's so incomprehensible at times to you, to one. And then to try to explain it without judgment or fear in your voice to your children, which I think is the parent's responsibility.

On whether she has had direct experience with sexual assault or harassment in Hollywood

I have not. I have not. And I don't know why or how I was, you know, spared this as part of my life experience, but you know, some of these stories are so challenging to read or to hear about — someone going through something like that, that kind of pain, that kind of dehumanization. And of my three children, I have a daughter, and so certainly all conversations like this do – I mean, here we're talking about protecting our children, protecting our family, and then this becomes the daily conversation, and you just — of course you think: How close can I hold my daughter? How safe can we keep her from a predator? So it becomes very deeply disturbing. But it has not been part of my life experience.

On accepting fewer roles recently

Not really a mathematical step back, it's just more – there's a lot of math that goes into the equation now of taking a job or not. You know, there's five of us to consider. But if something feels right, you make it work. So I don't think it's so much about taking time off – it's just about being incredibly discerning.

On what she wants people to take away from the movie

You know? Joy. And just a feeling of the best of all humanity can do a little bit better. No matter what we're trying to accomplish in our day, there's always that little bit more space to be a little bit more gentle with each other, or sweet with each other, or take the time to look somebody in the eye and say "hi" when you shake their hand. Whatever it is, there are so many little gentle moments in the day to express kindness to one another, and it's just about taking the time and being reminded to do that.

Sarah Handel and Ed McNulty produced and edited the audio of this interview, and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When Julia Roberts read the book "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio, she knew she wanted to star in its adaptation. So she called her agent. And as luck would have it, the producer on the project had worked with her on "Pretty Woman."

"Wonder" tells the story of August Pullman, a little boy born with a facial deformity going to school for the first time. In the film, Julia Roberts is Augie's mom, Isabel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WONDER")

JULIA ROBERTS: (As Isabel Pullman) Look at me. We all have marks on our face. I have this wrinkle here from your first surgery. I have these wrinkles here from your last surgery. This is the map that shows us where you've been. And it's never, never ugly.

JACOB TREMBLAY: (As August Pullman) What about your gray hair?

ROBERTS: (As Isabel Pullman) That's compliments of your dad, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julia Roberts says her character spent years homeschooling Auggie. So they are incredibly close.

ROBERTS: She's an artist. And she's put a lot of that creativity into educating August and, you know, making it interesting and fun for them. And I think it really is so much the fabric of their bond that they spend so much time together. And I think that it says a lot about her character that she sees that maybe what is best for her son becomes something that she's not entirely comfortable with but she goes forward with because she knows it's the right thing to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You have three kids around Auggie's age.

ROBERTS: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was it about the portrayal of motherhood that resonated for you? What attracted you to the project?

ROBERTS: That I just had loved the book. I had read it myself. I brought it home to my kids. We all read it together, and we were just all so moved as a family. And really great conversations were coming out of it and ideas and thoughts and feelings about why this person would have done this or wouldn't have done that and...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really? What were you talking about?

ROBERTS: Well, just, you know, I think at certain points, you do feel like, oh, Julian is not nice. You know, he's so mean - he plays the kind of bully that rises above the other bullies. And it's just interesting to really talk about - why is he this way? Is he really mean? And why would he be mean? He's 11, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So one of the themes in the film, as well, is that we sort of need to look past our fears and how we see other people and try and find out who they really are. And that seems like a pertinent message for this moment in time.

ROBERTS: It's too pertinent, isn't it? You know, it's a hard time, I think, as as parents to explain the world, particularly, when it's so incomprehensible at times to you, to one, and then to try to explain it without judgment or fear in your voice to your children, which I think is the parents' responsibility.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Speaking of this moment in time, I'm going to ask you about the now-global discussion of sexual harassment and assault. You wrote a statement after the Harvey Weinstein allegations. But I want to ask you about your experience. You've been in this business a long time. Have you experienced any of what so many women are now discussing?

ROBERTS: I have not. I have not. And I don't know why or how I was, you know, spared this as part of my life experience. But, you know, some of these stories are so challenging to read or to hear about - someone going through something like that that kind of pain, that kind of dehumanization. And of my three children, I have a daughter. And so certainly, all conversations like this do - I mean, here we're talking about protecting our children, protecting our family, and then this becomes the daily conversation. You just - of course, you think, how close can I hold my daughter? How safe can we keep her from a predator? So it becomes very deeply disturbing. But it has not been part of my life experience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is this scene at the end of the film where you laugh. And, you know, you are famous for that amazing laugh of yours. And we've, you know it ot was reminding me that we missed you on the screen. You've taken a step back from being in the movies. Why?

ROBERTS: Not really a step back. It's just more - there's a lot of math that goes into the equation now of taking a job or not. You know, there's five of us to consider. But, you know, if something feels right, you make it work. So I don't think it's so much about taking time off. It's just about being incredibly discerning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you want people to get from "Wonder?"

ROBERTS: You know, joy and just a feeling of the best of all humanity can do a little bit better. You know, no matter what we're trying to accomplish in our day, there's always that little bit more space to be a little bit more gentle with each other or sweet with each other or take the time to look somebody in the eye and say hi when you shake their hand or whatever it is. There's so many little gentle moments in the day to express kindness to one another. And it's just about taking the time and being reminded to do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julia Roberts is in the new film "Wonder." Thank you very much for joining us.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT AND DAY/REACH FOR THE SUN")

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: (Singing) Just follow the day. Follow the day and reach for the sun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.