Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It’s not every day that we get to see America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts give it her all in a raw emotional crime-thriller like her newest feature, SECRET IN THEIR EYES. Writer-Director Billy Ray has updated 2010’s Oscar-winning Argentinean feature, putting the powerhouse talent in a standout role as a grieving mother who also happens to be a detective.
She found her conflicted character, Jess, within the bond she formed with Zoe Graham, who plays Jess’ daughter, Carolyn.
“It was definitely something that was very dream-like, just the anticipation of it, the waiting to shoot it, trying to stay very focused in my mind about what was happening without anticipating it. I just had such a clear idea of the love these two people had for each other. The girl that played my daughter, Zoe [Graham] was so remarkable. She informed my character so much in ways that are absolutely immeasurable just because of who she is and how her point of view and how fascinating I found her as a person. It really was just about getting there and thinking your whole universe is this person and this relationship. Coming home every day to that person, having lunch every day with that person and sharing what you have to share and hearing what they have to say. For that to be gone in one split second, but I kept it very much about the two of them and what that would be like for a person like Jess who’s whole world is this one girl.”
The complex part takes Roberts to places we’ve never seen her go before. Coming into the light from the character’s darkness was unexpectedly easy for her.
“When they say ‘wrap.’ It kind of has to, because really, as much as you put your heart and soul into it and you want to make it so real and you want people to have an emotional experience, it’s acting. It’s all going to be okay. I’m going to be able to get in a car with my husband and drive home and have dinner with our healthy children and have a lot of gratitude for that. There’s a perspective that has to go with all of that stuff.”
SECRET IN THEIR EYES hops around on a timeline, flashing back to 2002 and returning to the present. Roberts stated she creatively figured out things she could do to differentiate her character in the two time periods with help from her husband, cinematographer Daniel Moder.
“You don’t want it to look too contrived. You don’t want it to look too created. We tested a few different things and just tried to make it seem real enough. Danny brought up a great point one day when I was talking about all these different really great ideas that I had about the later part of the look. He said, “Okay, but you don’t want her to walk into the office and for Chiwetel [Ejifor] to think, ‘What has happened?’ It has to be an obvious continuation of what he knows has happened and not that something else occurred in the 13 years that he’s been gone.” That was a game changer comment for me because you realize it’s not about more, what else can I do to look damaged? It’s about what can I undo at that point?”
Having Moder there was a blessing for her.
“It’s great because he is a constant source of inspiration to me and he has an impeccable work ethic. I think that to really find the courage to just completely jump into a situation. Like the dumpster, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that I was in a space of understanding this person. If this person walked over and looked into this dumpster, whatever she would do is going to happen. I had an enormous amount of blind faith in my preparation. I definitely think that I was able to really have the blind faith of that moment because my safest place in the world is right there.”
Ray, who called his leading lady “extraordinary on every level,” was particularly impressed with the understated nuance of Roberts’ performance during the dumpster scene.
“Two hours before she’s shooting that dumpster scene, she’s shooting the scene that preceeds it where she’s in the car with Chiwetel, Michael Kelly and Dean Norris. In between takes, she says, ‘it might be good if I had those blue investigative gloves on like Chiwetel does. And when I go into the dumpster, I have to take them off because I want to feel my daughter.’ I thought, ‘That’s the greatest idea I’ve ever heard! How did I not see it? It’s so simple.’ You want the kind of actors in your movie that make your movie better. I had the kind of actors who could.”
SECRET IN THEIR EYES opens on November 20.