PARIS — Moments before making her debut as Lancôme’s global ambassador, Julia Roberts was coming to grips with her new responsibilities.

“I think I have to stand up straighter and wash my face more,” Roberts laughed.

This story first appeared in the January 22, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It’s kind of like every girl’s dream, really,” she continued, referring to her role with the L’Oréal-owned brand. “To be 42 and have three kids and be a working mom, it’s a great moment to be asked to do this and to be able to do it. I think it says a lot about Lancôme and what they stand for.”

Roberts said she was attracted to Lancôme in part because of its French je ne sais quoi. Looking chic on Tuesday in Paris’ Hôtel de la Monnaie prior to a sit-down dinner for 75, Roberts wore a black Alexander McQueen dress and Christian Louboutin heels, while her wrists were spangled in diamond bracelets, mainly from Cartier.

Her laughter, bubbling up frequently, was raucous and infectious. (Think Vivian Ward in “Pretty Woman.”) Roberts had Youcef Nabi, Lancôme International’s president, giggling, too.

“[Youcef] and I had such an immediate rapport the first time we met,” she said. “You really want to have a relationship where you don’t just want to be the face of something. You want to participate in it, and you want to have a voice in it. I still have to be myself.”

Nabi jumped on a plane from Asia to see Roberts in Los Angeles once the Lancôme executive learned they could meet for the first time. What might have been just a 20-minute get-together stretched into two-and-a-half hours.

“My husband sent me a text, ‘Where are you?’ I was having such a good time,” said Roberts.

She received oodles of text messages at the Golden Globes (two days ahead of the Lancôme event) as well. As soon as Sir Paul McCartney sat down at the table next to Roberts, her phone began chiming.

“It was so embarrassing,” she said. “It just started going ‘ding, ding.’”

Roberts said people sent her messages like, “OMG I can’t believe you’re sitting next to Paul McCartney.”

Jetting to Paris from Los Angeles was a mere puddle jump compared with the miles she clocked working on the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” (which comes out Aug. 13). Based on the best-selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert, the film tracks Gilbert’s postdivorce, soul-searching adventure spanning Italy, India and Indonesia.

“It was quite a huge undertaking. It was a little bit daunting, dragging three little kids around the world, but well worth it,” said Roberts, referring to her three children, the oldest of whom are five-year-old twins.

She plays the role of Gilbert, someone Roberts lauded for her intelligence, among other strengths.

“I think that she just showed so much courage and humor,” said the actress. “I just felt an incredible sense of need to accomplish the task on a great level. Ryan Murphy, who adapted the screenplay and was our director, was incredible.

“It was really like the acting Olympics,” continued Roberts. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a full-time acting job. I am really glad that I made the decision to go off and do that movie. I hope that Liz [Gilbert] really likes it more than anything. She’s a really interesting woman. I’m pretty fascinated by her, and I think a lot of people relate to her. So that’s the greatest challenge [with] a book that’s so well-known: You want people to see the movie and have that same sense of interest and comfort that they got from reading the book.”

Roberts opted not to meet Gilbert until after the shooting of the movie began, however.

“I didn’t want to be overly influenced,” explained Roberts. “She’s such an incandescent personality. I’ve seen her on television, and I’ve heard her on the radio and so I thought, ‘OK, I have to be objective.’ I wanted to at least start the movie before I met her. We were a few weeks into filming when I met her and her husband, and she was exactly what I wanted her to be.”

Roberts also has acted in another movie, “Valentine’s Day,” due out Feb. 12. What drew her to that project was Garry Marshall. “He’s just one of my favorite people in the world, and I owe my career to him,” she said.

Marshall was, after all, the director of the 1990 hit “Pretty Woman,” which catapulted Roberts into the stratosphere.

“He took a chance on me when it wasn’t the easiest decision to make, and he really stood up for me,” said Roberts. “He’s a great director. It’s insane the people that are in [‘Valentine’s Day’].”

The cast she was referring to includes the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner and Patrick Dempsey.

“This movie is just about people loving each other and missing out and getting it right, and it’s pretty incredible,” said Roberts.

Despite her affection for Marshall, though, she can’t choose a favorite film she’s played in.

“[It] is like picking your favorite friend; it’s impossible,” she said. “There are different reasons to love them. Obviously, ‘Pretty Woman’ had a profound effect on my life, so I have an incredible affection for that movie. ‘Pelican Brief’ was another really profound moment for me and my relationship with Alan Pakula is a treasure. ‘Erin Brockovich’ for obvious reasons and then just my own personal reason is so incredible. I met my husband while making ‘The Mexican.’”

Looking ahead, Roberts doesn’t have in mind specific types of roles she would like to play.

“I’ve never really thought like that,” she explained. “I don’t have a linear thought process…when it comes to movies. I just feel like they find me. We find each other. It all kind of works out.”

Ditto for choosing films to produce for her production company.

“You just feel that connection,” she said. “My sister is one of my producing partners and my brother-in-law is my other. I think we have really diverse tastes, but we appreciate kind of the same idea of where a story comes from. We don’t pursue specific things. It’s just about looking and finding stories that the three of us together are passionate about because it’s a long process to produce and develop a movie.”

Roberts refuted the report that she might want to act in “Glee,” saying the rumor probably started “because I love Ryan Murphy [who’s produced and cocreated the TV musical comedy], and we’ve become great friends.” Roberts added any neighbor who’s passed by her house while she sings in the shower “knows I probably shouldn’t be on ‘Glee.’”

Theater, however, is a lure.

“I did a play a few years ago, and I loved it,” she said. “It is a challenging medium, theater, and I would love to do it again certainly.”

And film directing?

“Nope, no interest,” she said. “I don’t want that many people asking me questions.”

Roberts said she has seen a huge evolution in the movie industry since she began her career twentysomething years ago, due largely to the multiplication of media outlets, including the Internet.

“There’s just news and fodder and gossip just sort of churned out every second of the day, so in that regard, it’s gotten a little less interesting,” she said. “Things aren’t allowed to take their time and to blossom and to happen the way they used to. I think it’s so much harder to really start out now than it was when I started.”

Roberts will start filming “Larry Crowne” this spring with Tom Hanks and is active in Hope for Haiti fund-raising.

As for the Lancôme deal, the first advertisement she is featured in — for its Définicils Precious Cells Mascara in the U.S. (called also Hypnôse Precious Cells Mascara and Virtuôse Precious Cells Mascara in overseas markets) — was shot by Mario Testino in a private apartment in Manhattan. They will break in March in Europe, followed by Asia in April and then in the U.S. this summer. There also is a TV ad, although its rollout is still being finalized. Lancôme executives, meanwhile, remain mum about specific terms of what is believed to be a multiyear contract with Roberts, although suffice it to say it’s likely one of the most lucrative deals the industry has seen, with estimates ranging from $10 million to $15 million depending on exact duration and other clauses.

Whatever the terms of the agreement, Roberts is basking in her fledgling role at the brand, where she takes a hands-on approach.

“Julia really wants to be involved in the development of the products,” said Nabi, explaining Roberts has shared ideas she had after reading about Lancôme’s history.

“I get all these things to play with and test and give my opinion about,” said Roberts. “And it’s quite exciting without having to invest all of myself in how I look because they did come to me as me, which is a pretty casual mom. But you know, it’s nice to up your game a little bit.”

When asked how having children has changed her beauty regimen, Roberts said, “It kind of comes to a screeching halt. At a certain point in the future, I’ll pick it back up again.

“I think the nice thing about getting older is it forces you in a way to take a greater interest in your [beauty] regime. And so it’s a good moment for me to join forces with people who can help me,” she said, laughing.


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