Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Return of a Hollywood A-lister

Clare Walmsley
Entertainment Reporter, BBC News

"I think you missed me" Julia Roberts laughs, at the press conference for her new film Duplicity.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen
The film relies on quick-fire chemistry between the two leads

The actress, in her first lead role for five years, is facing a blizzard of blunt questions about why she has been away for so long, whether she's too old for this showbiz lark and how she balances family life with work.

As an Oscar winner and the first woman to receive $20 million for a film - both for Erin Brockovich in 2000 - Roberts is a genuine Hollywood A-lister.

But lately she has been sticking to cameos and voiceovers, concentrating on raising her three young children.

Now the actress seems happy to be back centre stage, laughing and joking with her Duplicity co-star Clive Owen and writer-director Tony Gilroy.

Rapid banter

The new film is a fast-paced mix of romantic comedy and spy thriller.

Roberts and Owen are agents Claire Stenwick and Ray Koval, working for the CIA and MI6 respectively.

The opening scene shows Ray seducing Claire at a party only to have her drug him and steal secrets out of his hotel room. The battle is on.

As both spies turn to private industry, working in the 'corporate intelligence' departments of competing multinationals, the drama hangs on whether the two are now partners or enemies.

Roberts and Owen previously played a couple in the 2004 film Closer.

Julia Roberts
What do I know about sexy?
Julia Roberts

Owen, already on board to star in Duplicity, named Roberts as his first choice for co-star.

"With this kind of material I don't think there's anybody better" he says.

"It's very much a banter-based movie, quick-witted, sharp. It needs a deftness, an intelligence, a lightness of touch which she's got in abundance.

'Double chin'

Roberts revealed a more transparent reason for working with Owen again: "He's nice and tall. I never have a double chin. Who doesn't love that? In every scene, I'm a swan."

But she too enjoyed the rapid-fire dialogue. "It's my favourite way of giving information, that rhythm, and he's the master at it" she says, with a nod towards Owen.

"No, she's the queen" he comes back. "Alright," Roberts concedes, with a laugh.

The film relies on convincing chemistry between the two leads for its success. Roberts has always refused to do nude scenes and the sex scene Gilroy originally wrote into the script was toned down for her.

"What do I know about sexy?" she says disingenuously, when asked whether it is a sexy role.

Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson
The film stars Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti as warring heads of industry

Owen says the bedroom scenes, as always on film sets, were awkward. "It's never going to be comfortable but it helps if you keep things light."

"We laugh at the same things" adds Roberts.

Duplicity takes a satirical pop at the huge amounts of money and time thrown at trivial causes, which means Owen continues his run of films in tune with the zeitgeist - following the release of his banking thriller The International in February.

Yet despite the contemporary theme, Duplicity is shot with a classic 1960s look, from the use of split-screen devices to the impeccably tailored costumes.

There are also echoes of Hollywood's classic screwball comedies, with Owen comparing the film to His Girl Friday.

So in the style of repeated 1940s onscreen pairings like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, will there be a continuing screen relationship for Owen and Roberts?

"We've both said to each other we'd do it again." says Owen. "It's just about finding a script as good as this one"

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