Julia Roberts talks about why she decided to jump into TV with Amazon's 'Homecoming', and the challenges
Julia Roberts headlines Homecoming, a podcast-turned-series as Heidi Bergman, a caseworker in Florida who helps military veterans return to civilian life. Here's more details on it
When it comes to Julia Roberts' first major foray into series television, after a nearly three-decade-long blockbuster streak working in film, the Academy Award-winner says there was little adjustment required. “I didn't really think of it as ‘small screen’ versus ‘big screen’ – my television is very big,” she joked during a panel conversation while promoting the upcoming Amazon Studios series 'Homecoming' at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Beverly Hills on July 28.
Roberts, whose hair was a rare honey-blonde, then flashed her famed megawatt smile when her quip inspired a ripple of applause inside the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “I got the critics to clap! They said you guys wouldn’t clap for anything! I'm so happy!” she said.
Julia Roberts headlines 'Homecoming', a podcast-turned-series as Heidi Bergman, a caseworker in Florida who helps military veterans return to civilian life. The first show clip shown to critics, directed in a single, complex take in a dizzying, virtuoso Hitchcockian style, reveals the brunette Heidi walking from a sumptuously appointed office into a business-like corridor inexplicably filled with cheap hotel style bedroom attended to by low-level underlings.
In her mysterious telephone conversation with an unknown superior, their exchanges are both peppered with near-meaningless corporate jargon, clichés and buzzwords that reveal all too little. A second scene features her in a confrontational conversation with Walter, a young military vet played by Stephan James, who seems to lead her to question in what larger mystery they’re both involved.
Julia Roberts also appeared onstage alongside her 'Homecoming' castmembers (including newcomer James and Emmy-winner Bobby Cannavale), the podcast creators/writers Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg and the series’ driving creative force: Golden Globe-winning creator of USA Networks’ 'Mr. Robot', Sam Ismail.
“Sam is what attracted me [to the series],” Roberts explains. “It’s such a great sort of old-fashioned yarn set in this really modern conundrum of a morality play. And to put that in Sam's incredibly stylish, capable hands seemed a very safe place to be/ We were so excited to collaborate and have more time to shoot, which meant more time to unravel things.”
After the panel, Julia Roberts told Meaww she was excited to return to the thriller genre; one that fueled several of her earliest and most popular films, including 'Sleeping with the Enemy', 'The Pelican Brief' and 'Conspiracy Theory'.
“It's a genre I love,” she said. “I did get to do some great ones, and so it’s nice to come back to it with Sam, who is so clever. His version of twists and turns are so subtle. Also, I don't think anybody could top Sam’s daily enthusiasm. He just loves [the process] so much, and that is really contagious.”
Meaww asked if there was an element of her experience on Homecoming – which already received a season-two order - that was unique in her career so far; perhaps the ability to luxuriate in a character over the course of 10 episodes? Nope, she said. What was rare were those intensely long, dialogue-driven sequences.
“It's called the ‘11-page oner,’ ” she laughed, recalling some particularly challenging monologues. “It was anything but luxuriating! But it was a great mental challenge every day. I kind of loved that. It became really the fuel a lot of times is how many pages are we going to get to do tomorrow?
"And is there going to be one shot with all of them or do we get a couple of shots to make? It became exciting, and I think as a crew and as a cast, we all really enjoyed how challenging Sam made all the aspects for us. It’s not just about having ourselves prepared. It’s about can you be prepared and walk up and down 10 flights of stairs?”
“This show does have that old-fashioned, old-school thriller vibe to it, so really we more harkened back to Hitchcock, and his successor, [director Brian] De Palma,” Esmail explained. “There's obviously a bit of Mr. Robot DNA also in there too.”
Like his prior signature TV effort, Esmail says a contemporary sense of the dangers of monolithic corporations pose to the individual. “I think any art is kind of a sign of its times,” he said, “and I do think that there is something in the air about corporate greed and especially since the 2008 financial collapse, we're still reeling from that. How many of the perpetrators of that actually got arrested or jailed? I can count on one hand. And it’s actually probably to that point, none. I don't want to say that all corporations are the villains, but there is that untrustworthiness right now with capitalism in general, but corporations, especially large corporations specifically.”
For his part, Esmail says he was lured into the project by a deep affinity [with] the source material. “I was obsessed with the podcast; I binged it three times in a row,” he said. “Something about it deeply resonated with me. And then when Julia raised her hand, I was like, ‘I would be silly to say no to this! It could be something really special,’ which it’s turned out to be.”
Homecoming will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on November 2, 2018.
By Scott Huver