Julia Roberts celebrated her 50th birthday in what may be considered an unconventional manner. In the middle of an off-the-grid getaway, however, her husband, Danny Moder, was able to orchestrate a surprise. And as a result, he left the actress genuinely stunned.
Roberts had lived quite the life before she reached her half-century, though. Just three days after she turned the tassel on her high school mortarboard, she was ready to become a star; to that end, then, in 1985 she moved from her hometown of Smyrna, Georgia, to New York City.
But while Roberts was quickly picked up by an agent, the teenager had little acting experience. She also had an intense Southern accent that had to go. And although, with the help of a speech coach, the future Academy Award winner conquered the latter hurdle, she would learn how to act, as she told the Los Angeles Times in 1991, “on the job.”
That approach to her craft didn’t seem to harm Roberts’ prospects much, either, as she would ultimately land a major role in 1988’s Mystic Pizza. “A lot of people went up for the movie,” Elaine Goldsmith, an agent who later joined Roberts’ team, told the Los Angeles Times. “But when Julia wants something, she goes after it.”
And Mystic Pizza did well with both critics and moviegoers, which may have given Roberts leverage as she went for her next role. Meg Ryan had just backed out of upcoming feature Steel Magnolias – instead deciding to star in When Harry Met Sally.
Plenty of other actresses were vying for Ryan’s part in the film, though, and Roberts ended up having to audition to play Shelby three times. However, her future co-star Sally Field later told the Los Angeles Times that Roberts’ natural presence had helped her get the role. “Something about her makes you care for her, watch her,” Field recalled.
And soon it was clear that Field wasn’t the only Hollywood heavyweight to notice Roberts’ star power. The actress was nominated for an Oscar for Steel Magnolias – and she won a Golden Globe for the part, too. In fact, she was the only actress in the film to earn the latter honor, despite the movie boasting an ensemble cast featuring Field, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis.
Then came what would prove to be the role of a lifetime: starring as Vivian Ward in 1990’s Pretty Woman. The film – which became a smash hit upon its release – saw Roberts playing a prostitute to Richard Gere’s corporate bigwig Edward Lewis.
And, once again, Roberts had earned her part in Pretty Woman after other more famous stars had turned it down. But the actress had the last laugh, since she eventually earned her second Academy Award nomination for the performance. She picked up another Golden Globe Award, too.
From there, Roberts quickly became one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Her films – which include Notting Hill, Ocean’s Eleven and Eat Pray Love – have proved to be lucrative ones to boot, having raked in more than $2.8 billion together at the box office.
“When you have Julia’s name on the marquee, you have the biggest female star in the world – one of less than ten people in the world who can ‘open’ a picture simply because she’s in it,” former 20th Century Fox chairman Joe Roth claimed to the Los Angeles Times. “She can carry a picture regardless of genre – domestic or abroad.”
And, of course, Roberts has been honored at awards ceremonies for her work. Apart from her two Golden Globes, she picked up accolades across the board for her titular role in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich – and she finally won a Best Actress Oscar for the performance, too.
In fact, the first year of the new millennium was a fruitful one for Roberts in more ways than one, since she also met her future husband in 2000. His name was Danny Moder, and he was a cameraman on her movie The Mexican.
Roberts later told Harper’s Bazaar that making Moder’s acquaintance on set was what she considered her life’s most pivotal moment. “It was meeting Danny… finding my person,” she said to the magazine in 2017. “When I think about what makes my life my life… it’s him. Everything has come from that for me.” The couple now also have a trio of kids, named Henry, Hazel and Phinnaeus.
But although the actress is usually fiercely private in relation to her family, she nevertheless opened up to Oprah Winfrey for a 2018 Harper’s Bazaar interview. And during the chat, she shed light on her husband and children as well as discussing her 50th birthday, which she had celebrated on October 28, 2017.
There, Roberts divulged the unexpected way in which she had decided to celebrate a half-century of life. “Danny goes, ‘What should we do for your 50th?’ And I said, ‘How about this? We have five days away with zero contact with the outside world,’” Roberts recalled to Oprah. However, she realized mid-trip that something was missing.
Without her brood, Roberts felt that the trip was somewhat lacking. She added in the interview, “Not being all together, the five of us, for my birthday – I was kind of like, ‘Huh. Maybe I didn’t think this all the way through.’” But the star and her husband traveled on, eventually landing in a city Roberts liked.
Roberts received updates on her kids’ soccer games, however, which made her feel a bit better. “I knew when all their games were over that… we’d talk to them on my birthday,” she said. Comforted, she and Moder then headed into a surf shop to browse. “Danny’s standing there holding a surfboard, and he goes, ‘What do you think of this one?’” Roberts recalled in the Harper’s Bazaar interview.
“I said, ‘That’s a big board. What is that for?’” Roberts continued. And that was when the surprise came. “He moves [the board], and all three kids are standing behind it. I could burst into tears thinking about it,” she said. It turned out that all of the soccer game updates had been made up to help with Moder’s surprise for Roberts.
And the 50-year-old said that that very moment represented the beauty of a birthday – even for a person who had reached so many impressive milestones already. “It was so incredible and beautiful,” Roberts said. “That’s what getting older is all about; it’s about turning even more into the person your loved ones know you to be.”