For Roberts, Success Means Overwork

June 23, 1991|By Ivor Davis | Ivor Davis,Copyright 1991 Ivor Davis. Distributed by Special Features/Syndication Sales

June has not been an easy month for Julia Roberts.

Less than two weeks ago, the 23-year-old actress abruptly postponed her June 14 wedding to actor boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland, whom she met on the set of the 1990 movie "Flatliners."

She's now wrapping up her role as Tinkerbell in "Hook" -- a $50 million Steven Spielberg remake of the fairy tale co-starring Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams -- which has required her to work long hours in an uncomfortable harness for the flight scenes.

Apparently still suffering from a lingering case of flu, she flew to Ireland last weekend, telling a reporter for Reuters News Service, "I am here for a quiet break and I don't really want too many people to know about it. I need a rest. I am sick."

But illness, a grueling schedule and putting her marriage on hold are not the only sources of stress for Ms. Roberts: 20th Century-Fox is testing her drawing power by releasing her new film "Dying Young" between two of Hollywood's biggest box-office giants -- Kevin Costner's $50 million "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator II," which steamrolls its way into the movie houses in early July.

Next on her agenda is "Renegades," in which she'll co-star with her fiance and for which she'll receive a reported $7 million -- one of the highest amounts ever paid to a female star for one picture.

Such has been the meteoric rise of the young actress. A couple of short years ago she was just one of a handful of up-and-coming starlets. But thanks to "Pretty Woman" (1990) -- and her Oscar nomination for the role of the happy hooker -- followed by the box-office success of "Sleeping with the Enemy,"Roberts has swiftly become America's No. 1 female draw.

The native of Smyrna, Ga., has spoken little to the press of late, but during a brief interview while filming "Hook," she said she tries to take all the attention in stride.

"I don't run around saying, 'Oohh -- I light up the screen . . . I light up the screen. But now [because of the success] I don't have to do anything I don't want to do."

As for the pressures of fame and popularity, she noted, "I was raised by parents who believed in love and peace and happiness and flower power and all those things. . . . I still believe in them. Your life is, I think, as pressure-filled as you allow it to be. Things can be quite simple, actually, if you choose to conduct yourself in that manner."

Still, a toll has been exacted. In late May, suffering from fever and a bad headache, she was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and put through a massive battery of tests for five days. At the time doctors found nothing wrong with her and she was released, diagnosed as having a severe case of flu.

But when she came home friends say she was wan and had lost a great deal of weight. Though there was talk then of postponing the wedding, Mr. Roberts insisted it take place as announced. Two days before the big event, however, with 600 guests invited to a ceremony that was to take place in a soundstage at 20th Century-Fox film studios, it was called off.

"She needs to take care of herself first," says a friend who was asked why the big event was squashed. "As much as she'd like to be a normal girl getting married at a fairy-tale wedding, she's been under more pressure than anyone can possibly imagine."

In "Dying Young," Ms. Roberts plays a young working-class woman, hired as a companion for a wealthy, terminally ill young student, played by Campbell Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst.

Not surprisingly, the two characters fall in love.

Director Joel Schumacher, who introduced Ms. Roberts to Mr. Sutherland in "Flatliners," raves about his young protegee.

"I don't think there's anybody in the world like Julia. She's a true original. Always has been. When she first came to my house to talk about 'Flatliners' she was barefoot in cutoff short shorts and an old-man T-shirt.

"She had no makeup, her hair was piled up on her head and I sat with my mouth open for two hours as she told me she was born for this movie.

"She can be the sexiest and shyest and the most vulnerable and the most street smart. Julia is far more talented than even she realizes.

Ms. Roberts first caught moviegoers' attention as the down-to-earth waitress in "Mystic Pizza" (1988). In "Steel Magnolias" (1989) she played Sally Field's dying daughter and picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

But it was as the Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward, opposite Richard Gere, that Ms. Roberts began her rapid climb to stardom.

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