Character fascination: Julia Roberts on her role in Wonder
The Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS), a genetic disorder characterised by deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin, is the focus of the film Wonder, directed by Stephen Chbosky, and based on the 2012 novel of the same name by RJ Palacio.
In the film, Julia Roberts plays Isabel Pullman, mother to August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, a fifth-grade boy in upper Manhattan, who has an extremely rare medical facial deformity. The story is incredibly touching, as Auggie, as Isabel and her husband Nate (Owen Wilson) take their son out of home-schooling and enrol him in a private school.
At first, Auggie is ostracised by the students but is soon befriended by a boy named Jack. In a chat leading up the film’s premiere, Julia spoke with Indulge about the emotional impact of the film, and her role.
How was it working with director Stephen Chbosky?
Stephen is interested in people and in the ways they relate to each other. He brings so much tenderness to looking at the human condition. Sometimes, he would even cry while explaining something, because it was all so meaningful to him. On top of all that, he also has a great sense of humour. If the sets and the shoot were fun, it was only because of him.
What attracted you the most to the book and the film?
I think that if we could really hold on to the concepts of this book of simply being fair and understanding, we would be in better times.
For me, it has been a really wonderful reminder to find more ways in a day, or even in a conversation, to choose the nicer way rather than the faster, sarcastic or negative way. I thought it had an incredible scope of characters, and I loved the character’s different points of view, their compassion and their complexities. I read it with my kids, they all loved it, and it was at that point that I decide to be a part of the film
Tell us about your role as Isabel Pullman.
She’s an independent woman whose life and ambitions have been overtaken by an unusually intense motherhood. Isabel is at an interesting crossroads when you become a steward to another human life, who becomes your complete priority. For her, being Auggie’s (Jacob Tremblay) mom would have been immediately consuming, because just trying to keep this little boy alive was very challenging. At the same time, everything that she was trying to accomplish as a creative individual in the world fell to the wayside.
So now, with Auggie finally going to school, it is very bittersweet for her. It’s the first time that they haven’t been together almost every minute of the day. But it does allow for her to slowly go back to the things she was doing before he was born.
This is the first time you have worked with Owen Wilson. How was the experience?
The rapport between us was instinctive, as we improvised our husband-and-wife bond. Owen reinvented Nate for me, and I thought he was fantastic at it. We have similar senses of humour, so we kind of lead each other in this little comic dance.
And how was it to work with Jacob Tremblay?
I had plenty to learn from Tremblay. I think I briefly met him, because most of the time when we were working, he was purely Auggie to me. I remember when production finished, and I was saying goodbye to Jacob’s mom, she said, ‘I feel like you’re Auggie’s mom, and I’m Jacob’s mom’, which is exactly how it felt to me.”
Wonder releases on December 1, 2017.
Watch the trailer here: