Published March 23, 2009
This weekend’s pretty terrible opening for Julia Roberts in "Duplicity" raises a couple of good questions. Is she still a box office draw? Was she ever?
The total of $14.4 million for "Duplicity" for an actress who commands $15 million a picture is a scary new fact of life.
The second question is easily answered. For about four years, from 1997 to 2001, Roberts was at her peak. She had a wildly successful run of commercial films beginning with "My Best Friend’s Wedding," and continuing with "Conspiracy Theory," "Stepmom," "Notting Hill," "Runaway Bride," "Erin Brokovich," "The Mexican," and "America’s Sweethearts."
The run sort of unofficially ended in late 2001 with "Ocean’s Eleven," which really can’t be counted as a Julia Roberts movie exclusively — it starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. But you might say it was the culmination of all Roberts’ good will with her audience.
And then, it was over.
Instead of capitalizing on her good fortune and making a run of it in her 30s, Roberts fizzed out. She made four clunkers in a row — appearances in Steven Soderbergh’s self indulgent Full Frontal and George Clooney’s poorly handled Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; starring roles in Mike Nichols’s artsy "Closer" and Mike Newell’s fussy "Mona Lisa Smile" didn’t help.
Either she simply didn’t care or wasn’t getting good advice. But the magic was gone. In most fans’ minds, the Julia Roberts Era ends in 2001, eight years ago.
In fact, Roberts got out of the game around age 33. That’s about ten years earlier than most actresses with star power in the past have shifted downward a bit as roles become harder to find.
Instead of ramping up, looking to develop projects or create a legacy, Roberts went in the other direction. She got married for a second time, in 2002, when she was 35, and ultimately had three children. She tried one comeback in 2007, with "Charlie Wilson’s War," that didn’t amount to much.
Taking the time off didn’t help, plus choosing mediocre material. The answer to the first question is that, with the release of "Duplicity," Roberts is now in a period of re-evaluation. She takes her place in line behind Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, and yes, Jennifer Aniston, as America’s First Lady of the Movies.
It’s the curse of being on TV. You can be the most successful actor ever on the little box and never work again. Or worse yet, be typecast as your popular alter ego into eternity.
These were certainly James Gandolfini’s fears until last night when he opened in "God of Carnage" on Broadway. Gandolfini tried countless movie roles during the decade it took to make "The Sopranos." But the movies kept flopping and Tony Soprano’s shadow kept getting longer.
This morning he must be happy with the reviews for "God of Carnage." Last night, he brought his whole family to the opening and told me, at the after party, how relieved he was about crossing over into a Broadway comedy.
"We waited a long time for this," he said with a smile, and everyone at his table nodded in assent.
Gandolfini plays Michael, the more blue collar husband in one of the two married couples in Yasmin Reza’s funny 90 minute one acter. Marcia Gay Harden is his wife, Ronnie, an art historian. Into their Cobble Hill, Brooklyn apartment comes Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis, upscale lawyer and wealth manager. Their 11 year old sons have had a playground fight. The two couples are there to resolve it in as an adult a way possible.
The play is fast and furious and not particularly a landmark. But the actors — all stars — are an amazing quartet. My guess is they will play to sold out audiences at least until July, when their first contract options come up. If they leave, there are no doubt dozens of brand actors who will kill to take their places.
Some may have been in the A list audience that came for opening night. The group included Gandolfini’s ex TV wife, Edie Falco, as well as Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, Janet McTeer, Chris Meloni, America Ferrara and Eric Mabius from "Ugly Betty," playwright — whoops — movie director and Oscar nominated screenwriter — John Patrick Shanley, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Caroline Rhea, ex Soprano Joey Pantoliano, Emily Mortimer and Alessandro Nivola, David Hyde Pierce, Alan Alda, and what seemed like every Broadway performer who had the night off like Colin Hanks from "33 Variations" and Cody Green from "West Side Story."
Hugh Jackman, wife Deborah Lee and her mom made quite the appearance when they first arrived at the theater. But later they escaped the paparazzi the minute the show was over. The Jackmans skipped the lovely after party at Espace as well, much to everyone’s disappointment.
Spotted at the "God of Carnage" premiere: former Tom Cruise partner Paula Wagner with husband Rick Nicita, now running Morgan Creek Productions; and CAA’s Chris Anderson, who missed the play – he reps Marcia Gay Harden — understandably because he’d been at Natasha Richardson’s funeral upstate.
P.S. And guess who took in "West Side Story" on Friday night? Making it a Broadway family experience was former — and much disgraced — New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, his wife and their whole clan. Observers say they took up about 12 seats. No word on whether the prostitute loving pol favored the Jets or the Sharks.
The Spitzers did not visit the "WSS" cast backstage. But the whole cast of "Ugly Betty" did, including America Ferrara and Vanessa Williams.
Matthew Modine — on leave from film and TV—is knocking ‘em dead as Atticus Finch in the stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the prestigious Hartford Stage Company. Tickets are so sold out that the subscription series has just extended performances through its absolute final possible date — until April 12…The next step would be a move to New York…
…Very unnerving to hear Todd Rundgren’s pop classic, "Hello It’s Me," in a Tums commercial last night. I don’t even know what the connection was, except that the guy in the spot seemed to be singing the song to food. The recession is bringing out a lot of ugliness I guess…
…The hottest group out of the UK trying to make a U.S. transition, Hoarsebox, which you can hear on MySpace. They remind me of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which is a good thing.