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Julia Roberts Has An Unexpected Christmas Guest In 'Ben Is Back'

In <em>Ben Is Back</em>, Julia Roberts plays a mother whose son, an opioid addict, unexpectedly returns home on Christmas Eve.
Mark Schafer
Courtesy of LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions
In Ben Is Back, Julia Roberts plays a mother whose son, an opioid addict, unexpectedly returns home on Christmas Eve.

Julia Roberts stars in Ben Is Back, a new film about a mother and son.

The latter is facing his addiction to opioids. Ben (Lucas Hedges) has been in treatment and shows up unexpectedly at his family's home on Christmas Eve.

Roberts says the film, directed by Lucas' father Peter Hedges, shows a complicated picture of addiction.

"It's fascinating how he points the finger in all directions, where you realize it's not just one person, ever," Roberts says in an interview. "It's not the person's fault who's addicted; it's not the person's fault who raised the person who's addicted. I think it does help people see it for what is — this monster that you don't know what direction it's coming from."

Interview Highlights

On the movie being set at Christmas

Well, it was something that I noted as supremely interesting, that Peter Hedges — he takes this very complicated issue that is very close to his heart, and he draws this sketch of a family and this scenario of this young man and this relationship with his mother, and then decides: That's not complicated enough. Let's make it Christmas Eve morning to Christmas morning. ...

And I just thought it's kind of genius, because Christmas does kind of bring out the heartstrings and the excitement and also all those things that make us feel delicate in the world. Because there's something very childlike about Christmas, and it does — we all revisit — I mean for me, my father's birthday is Christmas Day, and he passed away when I was a young girl. So there's all these things that we each have in our individual suitcases about Christmas, about the holidays, and I love that he has draped our story in that fabric.

On if she talked to parents of addicts for the role

I know a lot of people that are someone in this movie. Peter does as well — it's very close to him. I think everybody does — everybody has someone who goes to their church or someone who lives in their neighborhood or goes to their school. So it is not unfamiliar territory.

The specificity of a mother parenting a grown child who has this issue? My resources were on the Internet. I found a lot of online forums that were dedicated to mothers of addicted grown children. Lots of stories, lots of video that I watched, and I was so impressed with these mothers — their ability to share so openly, so freely. And it seemed to me to be a two-sided coin of unburdening yourself — you just want to say it all out loud, but also, there's so much a sense of compassionate teaching. "This is what I did, and this is how it worked, and this is how it was awful."

On working with Lucas Hedges for the first time

I think this alchemy that appears on screen where you really believe peoples' relationships that they are presenting to you: Sometimes it comes very easily, and sometimes it's agony. You just — you can't bend it to your will of art. You just can't if you don't have a connection with that person. ...

But with Lucas there was just a specialness to how immediately we were in sync. And I really credit the fact that Peter let us have our rehearsal period in California, because both Peter and Lucas are in New York, and he let the circus come to my house. So I think it really ultimately served Lucas and I so much, and it served me specifically so much, because my family got to know Lucas, got to know Peter. And so when I did leave home to go film, which — this is the second time I've left my family to work — they knew where I was going; they knew who I was with.

On other considerations in accepting roles these days

Wanting to keep our family intact is something that my husband and I — it's just always been a priority. And you know, he's a cinematographer, so two people in show business — it's amazing, we have actually only worked at the same time (separately) once. So I think in almost 19 years, that's pretty great. And it has as much to do with luck as with our hearts' desire. But for me it's always the script — I read a script and I just have a feeling and it's sort of in my heart or just in my fingertips where I say, "OK, let's see if we can make this work, because this is something that I want to do." And it's the same feeling in when I was 20 as when I was 36 as when I'm 50. The jumping-off point has always just been a sense I have.

Kevin Tidmarsh and Merrit Kennedy produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

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Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.