The 'Erin Brokovich' star is Oscar-nominated, along with co-star Meryl Streep, for her turn in the drama of family dysfunction, when the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, must deal with the matriarch they left behind.
Also starring are Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, as well as British faves Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch,
Julia Roberts recently sat down to explain just what it's all about, and why she thinks Meryl Streep has magic powers...
Q: What do you think the film is about?
A: Well, it is about secrets, a lot of it, and it’s also about the damage that silence can bring. The characters in this film are all really damaged people. That are at times, trying to do their best and at times, not trying to do anything at all but create as much pain as they are in. The more I break it down for innocent bystanders, (laughter) the more horrible it sounds.
Q: Did you discuss family dynamics during the rehearsal process?
A: Well that’s the fun stuff yeah, when everybody tells their secrets, especially John (the director). John Wells has some incredible stories and you think, here you sit with nice, sane reasonable people and everybody has some nutcase in their closet.
Q: Was this experience therapeutic for you? You have to get out so much anger and frustration in those scenes, can you use acting as therapy now?
A: Well you can. In this particular instance, I am so nauseatingly optimistic in my real life and just pretty happy in general, that I had to really figure out the math of what makes Barbara behave this way and have these conflicts and this kind of access to bitterness. There was a lot more work and understanding to figure out who all these people were and how they could behave like this. I mean this is pretty remarkable cruelty at a dinner table. I have seen some stuff, but we are amateurs compared to the Weston’s. You know? (laughter)
Q: Do you think your character, Barbara, thinks that she is the glue that brings this family together, or is she one step away from ripping the bandage off of everybody?
A: I think that she imagines that she is helping everyone by being there, but her life is so undone (which I don’t think she realizes) and that makes it very difficult for her to truly help the situation.
She is thinking, ‘I will help with this crisis and I will fix it all and get it all sorted out and go back to my life and my problems,’ but it doesn’t work out that way.
Q: Was there something in the script that made you feel you had to be a part of this film?
A: Well I had seen the play, which I thought was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was three and a half hours of being pummeled, it was amazing. When I was called about it as a movie, and told that Meryl Streep was going to play Violet, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. That was really such a dream come true for me.
Q: What was it like working with Meryl Streep?
A: Well she is the best there is. She is really phenomenal. To watch her up close doing that thing, that I, like everyone, have only sat in the dark and watched in awe of. Where does it come from? How does she think of this stuff? To get to watch that up close and to see her be a real life person, actually working really hard to be that great, it was a privilege.
Q: And then there’s the fighting scene with her…
A: Well the fight was not exactly part of my dream of working with Meryl, (laughter) she’s really strong! I just thought we would sit around and talk about being unique and inspiring, but there I was on top of her. (laughter) She was very strong and had a lot of sweet patience with all of us.
Q: You mentioned at the Toronto Film Festival Press Conference, that after filming, everybody got together at Meryl Streep’s house, and rehearsed. How often did that happen?
A: Well there were a lot of scenes that we were all in together, which was nice and did lend itself to supporting each other, because nobody wants to be the weak link in that room. When we did have those big scenes, we would always go to Meryl’s house and would sit and practice.
Q: What would you bring?
A: Soup or maybe a chicken dish. Meryl, she’s a magician. I don’t know how, but she would somehow get home faster than everybody, shower faster and then put together a casserole and just be ready for all of us to get there.
Q: There’s a lot of Oscar buzz for you in this movie…So how do you feel about that?
A: Very good. (laughter) Yeah, it’s so flattering. I am an actor and of course I respond very positively to flattery. So it’s nice, yeah, of course it is.
Q: August: Osage County is dark and intense with amazing acting but it’s not the most positive experience watching this film. What would you say to motivate people to come and pay money to see it?
A: Okay, this is a make or break moment for me. (laughter) I should have anticipated this, wait for it…(laughs) Okay, one of the ways that I felt honestly, at the end of these days where we just beat the hell out of each other emotionally while making this movie, is that you do come home and feel so happy that none of these people are in your house. (laughter) So there’s that. And maybe if they are in your house, you have a couple of new things to say at the table. (laughter) Listen, I think it’s just a phenomenal piece of writing and I think all the actors are great in it. One of my greatest challenges somedays was not being caught watching everyone else, because I would just think, ‘oh my God, she’s real, whoa, she went there.’ You know, you have to really stay focused. It’s something to see for sure.
'August: Osage County' is in UK cinemas from Friday 24 January. Watch the trailer here...