The Kind I'd Like to Meet
With her iconic role in "Pretty Woman," Julia Roberts became known as America's sweetheart—and she still holds that mantle. Here, to celebrate her 50th birthday, are 50 fun facts.
She's a Beautiful American Mutt
Born and raised in Georgia, Julia Roberts has a complex family tree with English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, French and Scandinavian roots.
Coretta Scott King Paid for Her Birth
Julia's parents ran an acting school, and among its students were the children of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. To show her appreciation, Mrs. King took care of the hospital bill when Julia was born.
She Didn't Always Want to Be an Actress
As a child, Julia dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. "I saw Rex Harrison play Dr. Dolittle when I was a kid, and I thought, 'Well, I have that power. I can talk to the animals. I will be a great vet,'" she said. "But then I started taking science and biology and realized, 'Wow, that is hard.'"
She Had a Childhood Crush on Abraham Lincoln
"Why I would choose to reveal this, I know not," Roberts said when Barbara Walter raised the subject in a TV interview. Apparently, some things are best kept private.
She Was Flexible Long Before She Took Up Yoga
In her youth, Julia (seen here with her brother Eric and Jon Voight) could bite her toenails—and often did.
She Made Her Debut on TV
Roberts first appeared on the small screen, playing a teenage rape victim on a 1987 episode of "Crime Story."
She Had a More Grown-Up Role on "Miami Vice"
In 1988, she played an art gallery manager and drug dealer's assistant who hooks up with Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) in one episode of the crime series. Roberts was in good company: Many A-list actors, from Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson to Kyra Sedgwick and Helena Bonham Carter, showed up on "Miami Vice" early in their careers.
The "Mystic Pizza" Cast Saw What Was Coming
"There was no doubt in our minds, any of us," co-star Vincent D'Onofrio said during a 25th anniversary cast reunion on "Good Morning America." "She was like a bomb waiting to go off when you met her—a big bomb."
She Got Engaged While Making "Steel Magnolias"
Roberts (seen here at the movie's premiere) planned to marry co-star Dylan McDermott. She scored an Oscar nomination but broke off the engagement.
To pass the time between takes, Roberts often works on a sweater or scarf when she's on a movie set. And she's not the only one: Daryl Hannah, Julianne Moore and Hilary Swank are also avid knitters.
She's a Straight Shooter
"It's funny when people say, 'I don't think Julia likes me,'" Roberts once said. "Honey, if I don't like you, you're going to know about it."
That Straight-Shooting Thing? She Got It From Her Mom
Roberts' parents divorced when Julia was 4 years old. After that, her mother, Betty Lou Bredemus (seen here in 1989), began to raise her three kids single-handedly while holding a full-time job. Years later, when Roberts had three small children of her own, she asked her mom how she did it. "It's called daycare, honey," Betty Lou replied.
She Fell in Love Again While Making "Flatliners"
While the 1990 sci-fi horror movie was in production, Roberts hooked up with co-star Kiefer Sutherland. Pretty soon they were engaged.
She Was a Real-Life Runaway Bride
In June 1991, Roberts broke up with Sutherland—three days before they were scheduled to tie the knot. "It took a lot of courage," Kiefer said in 2016, adding that there were no hard feelings.
She Wasn't the First Choice for "Pretty Woman"
Director Gary Marshall offered the role of Vivian, the Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold, to Karen Allen and then Molly Ringwald. Roberts was cast after they turned it down.
She Talked Richard Gere Into Joining the Cast
He initially turned down the role of Edward Lewis, the corporate raider who hires and ultimately falls for Vivien. Roberts persuaded Gere to change his mind.
In This Famous Scene, She Wasn't Acting
During one take, Gere playfully snapped the jewelry case shut just to make Roberts laugh. It wasn't in the script, but her reaction was so charming and genuine that it ended up in the movie.
The Director Summed Up Her Appeal
"She's is a cross between Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball and Bambi," Garry Marshall told People magazine.
She Upset Some Folks in South Carolina
After filming "Sleeping With the Enemy" on location in the town of Abbeville, S.C., she called the place as ''horribly racist'' and a ''living hell." Roberts later explained that she was reacting to a single incident, in which an African-American friend was refused service at an Abbeville restaurant. "I was born in the South, so in no way am I trying to create a stereotype," she said.
She's "Innately Happy"
That's how she describes herself. It shows.
She and Lyle Lovett Were a Love Match
Not a mismatch, as the press maintained. Roberts said her reaction to meeting the country singer was "different from the way I've ever reacted to any person on the planet." She and Lovett (seen here on their wedding day) married in Indiana while he was on tour, three weeks after they started dating. They divorced two years later, but stayed friends.
She Wasn't Always Box Office Gold
Just before the release of "Dying Young," Premiere magazine made an easy prediction: Julia Roberts' follow-up to "Pretty Woman" and "Sleeping With the Enemy" would be the highest-grossing film of the summer of 1991. The movie was a critical and financial dud.
She Took Time to Smell the Roses
Still one of the hottest stars in Hollywood, she went on hiatus for a couple of years, prompting a 1993 cover story in People magazine to ask, "What Happened to Julia Roberts?" Answer: She need a break. As Roberts told Barbara Walters, "It took me almost a year and a half to realize, 'Hey, I can make every minute exactly what I want it to be.'"
Her Biggest Feud Was With Nick Nolte
There was bad blood on the set of 1994's "I Love Trouble." So bad that the movie's two stars, who played newlyweds, had to rely heavily on stand-ins and shoot many scenes separately. In interviews, Roberts called Nolte "completely disgusting" and the worst actor she'd ever worked with. Nolte dismissed her as "not a nice person."
She Turned Down Some Iconic Roles
Roberts said no to "Sleepless in Seattle" (the part that went to Meg Ryan), "Shakespeare in Love" (for which Gwyneth Paltrow won an Academy Award) and "The Blind Side" (another Oscar-winning role, this time for Sandra Bullock).
She's Not Shy
Late one night in 1996, Roberts showed up at Hogs & Heifers in New York's Meatpacking District and, after some beers, climbed onto the bar and danced to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Respecting the famous roadhouse's tradition, she ceremoniously took off her bra, pulling it through the sleeve of her shirt, and left it at the bar.
She Doesn't Consider Herself a Sex Symbol
"People don't want to see me having sex," Roberts said. "I'm the queen of the 'kiss, foreplay, dissolve.' And then the 'Whoo! Good morning, tiger.'"
She Believes Practice Makes Perfect
Roberts was dating Matthew Perry when she did her star turn on a 1996 episode of "Friends." After their kissing scene, she reportedly said, "I'm glad we rehearsed this over the weekend."
Her Nickname Is Jules
It's also a pet name for Julianne Potter, the character she played in 1997's "My Best Friend's Wedding."
She Fought to Narrow Hollywood's Pay Gap Between Men and Women
Her feelings on the subject are reflected in 1999's "Notting Hill," in which she plays a movie star not unlike herself. When her character is asked how much she was paid for a picture, Roberts was supposed to say "$10 million," but she ad-libbed "$12 million"—and, in a subsequent take, "$15 million." Asked why she kept changing the dialogue, she said, "I'm kind of tired of lowballing."
Hugh Grant Complained About Their Kissing Scene
In interviews, he mentioned something about her having "such a large mouth." Grant later added, "I was aware of a faint echo as I was kissing her." Yet Roberts said she'd happily work with the English actor again: "Even though he is cruel about my looks, he is a great talent, so it would be fun. He's forgiven now."
She Broke a Barrier for Female Stars
For her starring role in "Erin Brockovich," Roberts was paid an unprecedented $20 million.
She Gives an Awesome Speech
Accepting the Best Actress Oscar for "Erin Brockovich," Roberts started by laying down the ground rules. "I'm going to spend some time here to tell you some things," she said. "And, sir [speaking to conductor Bill Conti], you're doing a great job, but you're so quick with that stick. So, why don't you sit, 'cause I may never be here again."
She Met Her Husband on the Set of "The Mexican"
Not Brad Pitt, of course. The guy who won Roberts' heart was cameraman Danny Moder.
Her Wedding Was So Secret, Even the Guests Didn't Know About It
The couple (seen here on the set of "Mona Lisa Smile," four months later) were married at her 82-acre ranch in Taos, New Mexico, just after the clock struck 12, ringing in the Fourth of July, 2002. It was midnight when their guests were clued in that a wedding was about to take place.
She Can Recognize the Real Thing
"You know it's love when all you want is that person to be happy, even if you're not part of their happiness," said Roberts, who now has three children with Moder—twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, and their younger brother Henry.
George Clooney Once Sent Her 20 Bucks
This was in 2001, right after Roberts joined the cast of "Ocean's Eleven." Her soon-to-be co-star sent a card along with the $20 bill. On it was written: "I heard you're getting 20 a picture"—a reference to the $20 million she'd received for "Erin Brockovich."
A Skeleton Is Named After Her
In 2004, a team of Bulgarian archaeologist discovered a 9,000-year-old female skeleton, which they named "Julia Roberts" because of its nearly flawless teeth.
She Lies on Her Back When They're Doing Her Makeup
According to Roberts, this gives her "a relaxed look."
Away From the Red Carpet, She Often Goes Makeup-Free
In her private life, Roberts favors a casual, natural look, and that frequently means no cosmetics.
She Has a Serious Side
Roberts, who has devoted herself to a number of causes, testified on Capitol Hill after making a documentary on RETT syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects the motor skills of young girls. "I usually ramble," she said, "but this is important, so I'll read."
Paul Newman Was Her Hero
That's how she remembered him after the Hollywood legend died in 2008. Roberts was a major donor to Hole in the Wall Gang, Newman's non-profit camp for children with grave illnesses.
She Loves Pasta
Although her diet is protein-packed and strictly organic, Roberts doesn't shun carbs. "Why is everybody scared of pasta? Pasta never did anything to you," she told People magazine. "Don't be mean to pasta."
She Loves Dave—But Once Feared Him
They flirted on the air for years, but during her last "Late Show" appearance Roberts revealed just how scared she was the first time Letterman interviewed her. Out to promote "Mystic Pizza," she reflected on his biting wit. "And I thought ... he's going to know within 10 seconds what my IQ is, and you are going to be like a samurai, just sort of like Benihana me into pieces and I'll be left for dead and forgotten.'''
She Is a Practicing Hindu
Roberts (seen here in an Indian ashram with Swami Dharmdev) was raised Catholic but converted to Hinduism during the filming of 2010's "Eat Pray Love." She often goes to temple "to chant and pray and celebrate."
She Steers Clear of Botox
"Your face tells a story," Roberts said, "and it shouldn't be a story about your drive to the doctor's office."
She Swears Like a Sailor
"Julia Roberts Drops the F-Bomb on Tom Hanks," screamed one headline after she "stole the show" at a 2009 tribute to the actor. Hanks, with great affection, later reported that Roberts' language was no more ladylike when they were on the set of 2011's "Larry Crowne."
She Coached Clooney on Parenting
Roberts and George Clooney (seen here at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival) both have twins. Earlier this year, before his were born, he turned to her for advice, and Julia gave it to him straight. "There's no such thing as wisdom when you have twin babies in the house," she said. "There's just hopes and prayers and tears and holding on tight to each other."
She Helped Bring Red Nose Day to Africa
As part of Comic Relief's Make Your Laugh Matter campaign, Roberts and British adventurer Bear Grylls brought life-saving vaccines to Kenya. Some smiles, too.
She's Not Bummed About Turning 50
"The older you get, the more fragile you understand life to be," Roberts said. "I think that's good motivation for getting out of bed joyfully each day."
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