Did Julia Roberts Kill Somebody?

Well, one thing’s for sure. She won’t be humming “I Love New York” when she gets back to LA.

With all those reviews damning her debut Broadway performance in Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain,” the only question is this – life behind bars or the death penalty. Whoops. My mistake. I’m thinking of Zacarias Moussaoui, the man who’s accused of trying to hijack a fifth airplane, on 9/11, with the White House in mind as a target.

Still, even this guy, a terrorist, never got Julia’s reviews. Lackluster, stiff, long-nosed, and one reviewer even said that he “hated” her.

There’s been nothing that harsh for Moussaoui, or even for shoe bomber Richard Reid. Yasser Arafat is still dead but still gets better press than Julia, as does all of Hamas. The president of China did not get a terrific reception from President Bush, but nobody called Hu Jin-tao long-nosed.

Right now, given a choice, I’d rather be a member of Duke’s lacrosse team than Julia Roberts.

Surely she merits the same respect, sensitivity and benefits of the doubt our mainstream media extends to the detainees at Gitmo, most of whom (if not all) are in there for committing actual bloodshed. Her first mistake was arriving here, in New York, legally. Had she slipped in from Mexico her reception, by the press, would have been far more favorable.

(Yes, I know what she said about our president, that he’s “embarrassing.” So maybe this is divine payback. But I’m willing to give her a pass on this. She comes from that land of fantasy where ONE MUST MAKE SUCH REMARKS to keep up with the Sheens. This is not about her politics anyway. That’s another topic that I covered in a March 11 chronwatch.com piece titled “How To Forgive Actors’ Politics,” which cost me the few liberal friends I had left – no pun.)

What did she do to get (almost) all the reviewers so riled up? She took a chance, give her credit for that, please, but what she did was prove that screen acting is different from stage acting as soccer is different from football, though both are about getting a ball from one end of the field to the other.

The difference here is that, on stage, there is no camera to light up your smile and what you’re supposed to minimize for the movies you’re supposed to maximize for the stage. For film, stiff is good. Hitchcock told his actors to do nothing. Don’t do anything, he said, because the camera does the rest.

Julia thought she could win Broadway by just being Julia. Whatever her failings on stage, her fame and beauty would see her through. Or so she, and her fans, must have imagined. But New York is not the place to start a new career at the top, Broadway, even if you are the queen of Hollywood, or especially if you are this queen from some faraway kingdom.

The critics around here can get vicious when you give them an actor who (to their thinking) hasn’t paid her dues.

Now this last of the Big Stars, yes, Julia Roberts, the only royalty we have left, walks the streets of Manhattan like a criminal in search of a dark corner. She avoids the news media, her fans, the public, the multitudes that used to adore her. I still do. She is still my pretty woman. So long as she reads what’s on the page and forgets politics.

Julia did not reveal government and military secrets and then go on to win a Pulitzer. She’s an ACTOR! What do you want?

Hollywood -- that's the place where they take Richard Dreyfuss seriously.

As we run Julia out of town, let’s remember the many pleasures she’s given us on film, and well beyond “Pretty Woman.” She deserves some slack for the courage to take on a new medium and for the bravery to step up on a stage before an audience made up of judges, juries and executioners.

UPDATE 15:02 by Matthew Sheffield: In other "Pretty Woman" news, it was revealed today that the title of the movie was thought of by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.