Julia Roberts for “The Mexican”

Academy Award nominee Julia Roberts remains Hollywood’s golden girl, and odds on favourite to win this year’s Best Actress Oscar. In her latest movie, The Mexican, Roberts teams up with Brad Pitt in an irreverent black comedy, in which she plays a highly-strung woman kidnapped by a gay hit man.

In the movie, Pitt plays Jerry Welbach, who is given two ultimatums. His mob boss wants him to travel to Mexico to get a priceless antique pistol called “The Mexican” or he will suffer the consequences. The other ultimatum comes from his girlfriend Samantha, (Roberts) who wants him to end his association with the mob. Jerry figures that being alive, although in trouble with his girlfriend is the better alternative so he heads south of the border.

Finding the pistol is easy but getting it home is a whole other matter. The pistol supposedly carries a curse – a curse Jerry is given every reason to believe, especially when Samantha is held hostage by the gay hit man Leroy (played by The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini) to ensure the safe return of the pistol. Sporting an orange leather jacket and sense of humour intact, the radiant star talked to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

Question: Does it gratify you that at this point in your career you have been nominated for another Oscar for Erin Brockovich?

Answer: Especially for a movie I love. It’s very exciting and overwhelming. Yeah, it’s a good time for me.

Question: How important, generally, is an Oscar individually, for you as an actor, as opposed to the film as a whole?

Answer: Well I mean, outside of your own home it’s the highest praise you can get as an actor, isn’t it? So yeah, it’s exciting.

Question: The Mexican was initially going to be a small film. I’m just wondering what attracted you to this piece of material and how did it come across your desk, etc?

Answer: Well I just thought it was incredibly original. It was sent to me and I was told Brad Pitt was interested; this guy Gore Verbinski is going to direct, have a look at it. I read it and was sort of taken by ability to take every GENRE known to film and kind of put it into one script, have it make sense and be interesting.

Question: What was it about this character that appealed to you, that made her different from others that you’ve recently played?

Answer: She’s just so wacky and wonderfully misguided in her pursuit of enlightenment. The fact that she really THINKS if she reads all these books, then she’ll understand all her problems; I LOVE that about her.

Question: Are you emotional as she is?

Answer: She’s pretty high strung. Maybe if I slept more I’d be a lot closer to her emotional level but I think one has to put in some pretty good wrack time to get to that place. But I like how emotional she is. She’s got her heart on her sleeve. The reason why I was intrigued by her, was because I think she’s really well intended, really motivated, she has all the best reasons for what she’s doing, she’s just going about them in a kind of wonderfully messy and erratic way. I understand her GOAL; I just don’t necessarily subscribe to her AAPPROACH so in that way, so it’s kinda fun to figure out HER way of figuring things out.

Question: How hard is it for you to remain so grounded? You’re defined as this larger-than-life movie star. What is it that you do that makes you realise, as you said in Notting Hill, it’s not real. How do you get past that?

Answer: Your perspective would probably present more of a challenge to me than my reality; do you know what I mean? The way that you see my reality would probably take a lot more effort to get through all of that, to just have a day and be a girl; for me it’s not a matter of something I do or don’t do, it just is.

Question: Being who are, you obviously get a lot of scripts and a lot of good ones. Is there a point where you have to say: I DO want time off; I can’t keep on doing this all the time, just because I’m hot. That must be difficult for you with the pressure that you’re under.

Answer: It’s not difficult at all; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. I mean the power of this job is in the ‘no’. The ‘yes’ is easy; if you want to do something, then it’s ‘yeah, I want to do that. Saying no is the big moment. Yeah, it’s good, but somebody else can make it or it wait for me to go on vacation or it can go away.

Question: Have you ever said no to anything you wish you hadn’t said no to?

Answer: No, isn’t that lucky for me?

Question: But it’s easy for you to say no?

Answer: I find it incredibly easy. But I got into good practice with ‘no’ early on, because when I was 23 with everyone saying all these lovely things about me, I was reading scripts that I just didn’t like, so at a time when I DIDN’T have a lot of money to be frivolous about NOT having an income, I said ‘No’ for two years. It wasn’t until I made The Pelican Brief that I realised that it wasn’t about working just to work; you have to really want to do what you’re doing and I think that there is value in work, and value in staying home.

Question: Has your taste in scripts changed much?

Answer: I’m sure it has changed since I started making movies because I’m a grown up now, if you hadn’t noticed. So sure, my tastes changed, and something has to be really good for me to leave my house, as opposed to just: That’s pretty good, I think I can make that work. Maybe now it has to EXCEPTIONALLY good. But every really good script that I’ve ever read and believed in, THAT is the sum of the movies that I’ve made.

Question: You have the ability to change emotions quickly. Even Gore Verbinski (director of The Mexican) commented that your real talent blows him away. Does that effect you that you can still wow people in your industry?

Answer: To wow Gore was my sole purpose on the set of The Mexican; that’s why I go to work every day, to try to impress him. He’s so smart and so clear and I just really want him to say: Yeah, ok, we’ve got it.

Question: You’re shooting two films at the moment, yes?

Answer: No, that’s just a rumour started here in the hospitality suite.

Question: There’s America’s Sweethearts, right?

Answer: Yep, which is what I’m doing right now.

Question: Now since that film satirises press junkets, is doing this junket for Mexican research for you?

Answer: No, we already shot the junket. I’m just the assistant, and so I brought in the water, did some knitting and I got the rest of the day off. Catherine Zeta had to sit there and answer all the questions.

Question: What’s the story with Ocean’s 11 then?

Answer: I’m going to do that, but my part doesn’t come into play till April.

Question: I understand that you and Brad [Pitt] have been wanting to make a movie together for over a decade. How did this one bear fruit?

Answer: Brad said yesterday it was because all the movies I liked that I wanted him to make, stunk. Don’t worry he was kidding. You know what it is? It’s kind of a testament to the sweet nature of THIS movie, and the idea and concepts of fate and timing, and that which passes through our lives, because this is a movie that truly came out of a conversation between two people, one of whom works with Brad, one of whom works with me, at a social event, chit chatting. That simple. It was just one of those trains that was destined to pull out of the station.

Question: And how was it to finally work with him?

Answer: It was so great. He’s so lovely, which I had always known, but you get on a movie set and sometimes people change. And Brad is the sunniest guy that I know.

Question: You both have a lot of screen time, but not just together in this film. Do you hope to work with him again in the future where you actually have a lot of scenes together?

Answer: Ocean’s 11, just a couple of months away.

Question: So with that big cast, you have a lot of scenes together?

Answer: Actually, I only have scenes with Andy Garcia, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Question: Geez, what a shocking line up of guys.

Answer: Yeah I know. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through.

Question: What is it about Soderbergh that attracts such a high calibre of actors?

Answer: He is a bona fide genius, certainly. He has a respect and love for movies that is paramount to being a really good director and he knows how to tell a story so well to that topic. All of his movies are very different because he doesn’t just .Soderbergh’ every movie; he really takes care of the stories that he tells. And he’s also nice to be around; he’s just a nice, smart guy and to serve him is to feel as though you’re serving a higher purpose.

Question: Was your character in Ocean’s 11 in the original Rat Pack version?

Answer: Yeah, Angie Dickinson, right? But this isn’t a remake but more a massive retelling. The script is so smart, so gripping. When I first read it, it was the old actor’s joke that when you read a script it’s bullshit, bullshit my line, bullshit, bullshit my line, etc. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, it’s more, lines, lines, bullshit stage direction, line, line. But in Ocean’s 11, I probably only have 37 lines in the whole script, and found it solo gripping; it’s really compelling.

Question: Obviously it’s different from his two previous films, devoid of a moral centre.

Answer: That’s true, there’s no moral centre to Ocean’s 11, it’s about burglars.

Question: What do you like the LEAST about this movie business and what do you relish?

Answer: I guess what I like the least is would be that there doesn’t seem to be too much interest or room for the simple truth. I think what I like the best is that I get to, once or twice a year, go off to interesting places, such as Mexico on this, where I’d never been before, with some travelling band of gypsies and try to tell a good story.

Question: When you mentioned the simple truth as being a negative factor, not telling on whose part?

Answer: I just think that in the big scheme of the world, the way media deals with people in showbusiness, is that the fiction it fodders is so salivated after and so the simple truth doesn’t really seem to serve much of a purpose.

Question: Is there any simple truth in YOUR life, which you would like to tell people?

Answer: No, because nobody cares, so I don’t care to offer it. I’m so peaceful and content with what I know is MY truth, I’m YEARS over trying to go: No, no, you don’t understand, because at one point you realise: Oh wait it’s not about that you have no ability to comprehend, it’s about you having no INTEREST in what I’m REALLY saying. So at THAT point, the battle’s over.