Julia Roberts' mother is calling, and Roberts isn't picking up the phone.
She stares at it while it rings once, twice, five times, before reluctantly deciding not to answer.
“Now it'll probably ring about 25 more times,” says Roberts, too polite to interrupt the interview she's in the midst of. “It's sweet that she's so determined.”
Her mother, a realtor based in Smyrna, Georgia, isn't the only one trying in vain to get at Julia Roberts these days. Since last May, when the news broke that the world's highest-paid actress was pregnant with twins, her expanding belly has gotten so much press attention that you'd think she was hiding Osama bin Laden in there. Roberts, as usual, has been mum about the details—which is why it's rather astounding that this interview is not taking place in the generic confines of a publicist's office or a hotel suite, but in a hospital room in Los Angeles, where Roberts is lying flat on her back, dressed in sweatpants and a white T-shirt. After experiencing contractions several weeks before her due date, Roberts rushed here with her husband, Danny Moder, from their home near the beach. The doctors placed her on temporary bed rest, and so for now she's forgoing Pilates classes in favor of endless rounds of Scrabble.
Why would the famously private Roberts invite a magazine writer to come hang with her in the maternity ward? Maybe she wants to make good on her earlier promise of a face-to-face interview; maybe she's just bored after watching one too many DVDs. Or maybe, as director Mike Nichols points out, she's acutely aware of the power of her own charisma, and she realizes that her charms might not be fully apparent on the phone. “I think Julia is a genius at how to be with people,” says Nichols, thinking back to how elated he was after meeting the actress for the first time, to discuss a starring role in his new film, Closer. “It's something she has a very rare understanding of, and gift for.”
Still, Nichols adds, pity the naive journalist who walks into an interview with Roberts and actually expects her to share any intimacies. He recalls a moment from the actress's November appearance on Oprah, when she was asked a personal question about pregnancy's effect on her hormones. Roberts let rip with a hyenalike laugh that stirred the audience into an almost freakish frenzy of delight. Then she seamlessly changed the subject. “You didn't realize until 10 minutes later that she never answered the question,” Nichols says. “That's another part of her genius. She gives you a great time, but she gives up nothing.”
Today, despite being attached by pink nylon straps to two heart monitors (one for her future daughter, one for her son), Roberts does an impressive job of churning out the charm, even when a nurse steps in to take her blood pressure and administer pills. (“I feel like I'm 12,” she says.) At one point she whips off the purple silk prayer shawl that's draped over her middle to reveal her bare belly in all its fertile glory. Reaching over toward the machine next to the bed, she successively turns up the volume on each of the two monitors, filling the room with the squishy pulsing sounds of tiny human hearts. “Listen,” she says. “That's her. And that's him. Isn't that amazing?”