Their honeymoon was barely over when the first rumours about Julia Roberts’ marriage to cinematographer Danny Moder surfaced. That was 13 years ago and the same old gossip crops up with remarkable regularity. She controls him – and now their children, twins Phinnaeus (known as Finn) and Hazel (10), and Henry (7). He resents it and thinks he could have had a bigger career without her. He’s had enough. She doesn’t want him to leave.
“Can you imagine what that’s like to live with?” says a friend. “It’s been almost nonstop ever since they got together.”
Julia, who is protective of her personal life, is always ready to defend her relationship with Danny. “I know this is right. I knew it straightaway. I know it in my body. Time’s just gone by in the blink of an eye. It’s really only all these kids in the house that show that a lot of time has gone by. Otherwise, it feels like, you know, me buckling and swooning still.”
But like many persistent rumours, there is a grain of sense behind the stories. Julia (47) certainly has every reason to want reliable relationships.
“She had a chaotic childhood and has clawed her way up from a less than easy background with talent and iron willpower,” says the friend. “She needs to be in control – whether that’s control of her career, her home, her kids or her marriage – or else she feels totally insecure. She’s scared of spiralling down into the emotional mess of her early life. And that’s sometimes not so easy to be around.”
In the wake of her mother Betty Lou’s death from lung cancer in February and her half-sister Nancy’s suicide last year, Julia has certainly had a lot to cope with. Nancy left a suicide note blaming her family, and wrote tweets in which she described “America’s sweetheart” as “an awful, hate-filled, pathetic excuse for a human”. Her mother shared Julia’s LA home in her last months, with her daughter devastated at having to watch her rapid downhill slide.
No wonder that Julia was pictured last week looking strained and isolated, shortly after a memorial service for her mother in her hometown of Smyrna, Georgia.
“Bad things keep happening to her,” says the friend. “She’s a very emotional person, crying one moment, apologising the next. It’s like living in a soap opera.”
She and Danny (46) are alleged to have resorted to couples counselling each week.
“The marriage is not in trouble,” insists one of Danny’s friends. “The counselling sessions are more of an intentional meeting so they don’t grow apart.”
First and foremost, Julia adores her family. “Danny and I do not work at the same time,” she says. “I’m able to be really devoted to my home life, then when a job comes up that really attracts my attention, I can commit to that. Having said that, it’s so much more fun when I don’t have to leave my family. I’m always the first one up in the morning, getting things ready for them. In that blind half-light, I just take a moment to feel gratitude or meditate or whatever. I need the balance of starting the day very sure of who I am and my place in the world.”
This is not to say that she spoils her babies. Their time on the computer or watching television is strictly limited and sweets are an occasional treat.
“Yes, I am pretty strict,” she admits. “But now and again it’s great to say, ’Let’s do this outrageous thing – let’s have an ice cream on a Wednesday!’ But you can only have that moment if you have good boundaries around the rest of it.”
The days when Julia, an advocate of attachment parenting, gathered her brood together to sleep in the same bed as their parents, are over. Instead, she brings the family together before bedtime for “talking and sharing the day, and reading books”.
According to a neighbour at her LA home, this approach to parenting is working well. “They are very well-adjusted, not spoiled. Thoughtful, nice kids – a tribute to their parents,” she says. “The family is her centre – never doubt that.”