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Julia Roberts: Actress

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Her million-watt smile is lighting up America again, and it’s easy to see why. Julia Roberts has finally got her man. No, not a flesh and blood one (that’s her boyfriend of more than three years, actor Benjamin Bratt), but the little golden guy that stands on the mantel. Accepting the Best Actress Oscar for her pumped-up—and pushed-up—star turn as Erin Brockovich, Roberts, 33, exuberantly shouted, “I love the world! I’m so happy!”

She has good reason to be. Not only did Roberts win her first Academy Award (she was nominated twice before, for 1989’s Steel Magnolias and ’90’s Pretty Woman), but earlier this year she picked up the L.A. Film Critics Award, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts trophy and a Golden Globe. Erin Brockovich, along with The Mexican, this year’s crime caper with Brad Pitt, have made Roberts the first leading lady whose movies (25 in all) have grossed over $1 billion. And her $20 million paycheck for Brockovich is more than any other actress has ever gotten for a film. The accolades and the assets are homage to the Smyrna, Ga., native’s unprecedented appeal. “She has a special luminosity,” says designer Giorgio Armani, who has dressed her for many occasions. “She’s one of the true screen icons of this century.”

It’s been a long journey from ingenue to icon. “She used to be like a deer caught in the headlights,” says Garry Marshall, who directed Roberts in Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride. “Now she handles the pressure. She’s matured and is a lot stronger.” After failed relationships with actor Kiefer Sutherland and ex-husband Lyle Lovett, she has found stability with Bratt, 37. Between them, she says, “everything is great.”

Roberts, who has homes in Manhattan and Taos, N.Mex., also reaches the kind of men who are not easily captivated. In Brockovich, she has “a moral beauty…a gutsy beauty,” consumer advocate and 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader recently enthused to Esquire. Such praise might kindle the devastating Roberts smile, which, according to her Runaway Bride costar Hector Elizondo, “lights up your heart and makes everyone feel better.”

Does the 5’9″ paragon of perfection have problems with any of her own attributes? “She tends not to like her arms,” says stylist Debbi Mason, who has worked with her on photo shoots and for public appearances. “Everybody has a sensitive part.” And not even Roberts, who just finished filming the romantic comedy America’s Sweethearts with Catherine Zeta-Jones, was immune to Oscar-night beauty jitters. “The one thing I learned is to wear a tight hairdo—pulled back,” she said. “If you have loose hair, they can see you trembling.”