May 09, 2005 12:00 PM

Hair? Makeup? Julia Roberts had more important things on her mind as she prepped for a recent rare evening out. Though a team had arrived at her New York City apartment to coif her and make her up, the 37-year-old actress was busy doting on 5-month-old Phinnaeus and Hazel, getting them situated with a sitter.

“She wanted to make sure they were full, that they were fed and all,” says her friend and makeup artist Genevieve, “so they would be content” while Roberts attended a Lincoln Center benefit for Paul Newman’s Association of Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children. “The babies were fussing a little bit, so she took them next to her,” says Genevieve. They calmed down immediately and were transfixed. “They were looking up with big eyes as I was doing the makeup.”

Minutes later, Roberts scooped up her son and daughter and kissed them goodbye, assuring them she’d be back soon. Then she turned away to begin her evening. Although her instructions to the makeup artist were “Don’t make me too glamorous,” she accepted the lipstick-and powder-to-go that Genevieve pressed into her hands for touch-ups. And on her way out the door, Roberts grabbed something much more crucial. “She took her breast pump,” says Genevieve, “so she could pump later.”

Say hello to the new Julia Roberts: wife, mother and reluctant beauty. Never one to clamor for prissy blowouts and designer freebies, or even manicures or eyebrow plucking, Roberts has taken her nonchalance to a new level. “She likes to dress like a normal housewife or mother,” says Genevieve. “She doesn’t care at all.”

On the red carpet that night, Roberts braved the flashbulbs alone. Husband Danny Moder, a cameraman who rarely accompanies her to events, was not on hand, but neither did she bask in the security of Valentino, Armani or Dolce & Gabbana. When a reporter asked, “Julia, what are you wearing?” the actress did not provide a designer name. In fact, she’d just picked out some plain pants and a sweater. And so her answer was simple: “I’m wearing black.”

Yet thanks to two secret weapons, Roberts looks better than ever, her famous smile lighting up her world. “Now that she has the babies, she has reached her peak of beauty,” says Genevieve. “She is satisfied and content. All of that shows. It shows through the makeup, through the pictures. Being a mom has changed her whole life.”

Moder, adds Genevieve, “is made for her. This is the guy. They really have a good relationship.” The twins have decidedly different personalities: “The boy wakes up and starts screaming for food right away, and the girl is like, ‘I’ll wait.’ ”

Roberts is handling all of it with aplomb. Says good friend and hairdresser Serge Normant, who has minded Julia’s auburn locks for 13 years: “She is very hands-on. She is a mom that takes care of her children from morning to the end. She loves that.” And her body is responding. “She has a glow, her skin; her hair is thick and beautiful. If anything, it’s better than ever. She is so happy right now.”

Clearly the simple life agrees with Roberts. After 17 years of stardom, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, who insists she’s still “just a girl from Smyrna, Ga.,” has embraced domesticity as if it were a fantasy come true. Although the Moders have the luxury of splitting their time between homes in Malibu, Taos, N.Mex., and New York City, she loves to do her own cooking and shopping. “You see those pictures of Julia walking around the neighborhood with a big overcoat and maybe her pajamas, just to go buy a container of milk,” says her friend, acclaimed photographer Sante D’Orazio, who was the only photographer allowed at her wedding. “That is great. She is not vain in any way.”

Good genes helped when it came to shedding her baby weight quickly. But friends report that Roberts follows a workout discipline that includes Pilates and yoga, as well as a healthy diet. “She’s happy with her figure right now,” says Genevieve. “She says, ‘I have to be in top shape for the babies.’ She doesn’t smoke or anything like that. I have never seen her eating any junk food. She drinks a lot of water, all the right things.”

Now that she’s back in fighting form, will Roberts return to acting? Actually, she recently supplied voices for two children’s movies: Charlotte’s Web (as Charlotte) and Ant Bully, about a childhood bully who gets shrunk to insect size and pulled into an ant colony, from Tom Hanks’s production company. Between feedings and knitting baby clothes, she’s reading scripts and mulling her next project. “Right now,” says Normant, “it is a beautiful evolution of her life.”

And as for her appearance? “You look at the kids, and then you look at her, and you think, ‘Oh my God, she actually had two kids and she looks like that,’ ” says Normant. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I look at her. Those two gorgeous little things came from her, and she is looking unbelievable!”

Joanna Powell. Rebecca Paley in New York City

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