June 14, 2004 12:00 PM

Last winter, while filming Closer—a drama costarring Natalie Portman and Jude Law—in London, Julia Roberts seemed closer than ever to husband Danny Moder. When he wasn’t there, “Julia was adorable missing him,” recalls producer Cary Brokaw. But Brokaw adds that Moder often visited the set, much to the star’s delight: “They’re great together,” he says. “She’s incredibly demonstrative in her love and affection for him.” Roberts never let on that she and her husband were planning a pregnancy in the immediate future, but something, clearly, was up. “There was a sense of it,” says Brokaw, “but she always has a glow.”

Now more than ever. According to her spokeswoman, Marcy Engelman, Roberts, 36, is pregnant with twins and will deliver early next year. “I am so happy for her,” her pal and Ocean’s Twelve producer Jerry Weintraub told PEOPLE from Italy, where Roberts will spend part of the summer filming the sequel to Ocean’s Eleven. “I know she’s wanted a child for some time. I can’t wait for her to get here so I can give her a big hug.” Emphasis on big. One of the first signs that Roberts was about to get her wish to, as she told Oprah in December, “hold a baby in my arms,” was a tightening of her wardrobe—and of course the occasional bout of queasiness, which she’s still experiencing as she approaches her second trimester. By the time she was spotted strolling with Moder, 35, on a beach in late May, she was baring a telltale belly that heralded the approaching pitter-patter of little feet. Or rather, pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Though Roberts has a history of twins in the family—her great-grandmother has a twin and a pair of cousins are a set—she and Moder were surprised, to say the least, to discover they’d be shopping for two cribs. (They have not yet determined the sex of the twins.) Asked how they responded to the news, a friend says, “Probably, like any parents, they were thrilled—followed quickly by a little panic.”

They felt less panic than frustration, no doubt, about the reaction of the tabloids to their news. After spending much of the past year issuing reports of marital trouble, the rumor mill lost no time speculating about the various methods Roberts used to help get pregnant: intensive yoga, giving up smoking and hair dye, hiring a personal herbalist, acupuncture treatments, fertility treatments and in-vitro fertilization. Roberts has a policy not to confirm or deny rumors. (But this much is true: She quit smoking four years ago and colored her hair dark brown as recently as last month for her role beside George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s.) “For me, it’s a natural instinct to be indifferent to being famous,” she recently said about ignoring gossip. “My job is to be an actress, not to be famous. So I refuse to expend any energy on it.” However it happened, her friend says getting pregnant now is simply part of the plan: “When they got married, they said they wanted to have kids in a couple of years. So they are right on track.”

The couple, who met in 2000 while both were working on The Mexican, married over July 4th weekend in 2002, following the groom’s divorce from his wife, Vera. (Roberts, meanwhile, remains good friends with her ex, Lyle Lovett, to whom she was married for 21 months until their 1995 split.) Since the nuptials at her home in Taos, N.Mex., Roberts and Moder have become the most un-Hollywood of Hollywood couples, preferring to walk their 10 dogs over appearing on a red carpet. “There’s a real ease to my life,” Roberts said in December. “It’s such a joy being domestic. It’s something I want and something that makes me very happy.” Indeed, with her Oscar for 2000’s Erin Brockovich, more than $2.5 billion in box office receipts and a salary of up to $25 million per picture, the actress said in March, “I just don’t feel pressure to prove myself anymore.”

Or to put work first. While filming Mona Lisa Smile in late 2002, she felt funny about the movie’s message that “it’s okay for women to go off and have careers, but secretly I’m thinking, ‘What time do we get out of here?'” What she really wanted to do, she told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, was “stay home and cook dinner.” Which is pretty much all she did for most of 2003. She vacationed with Moder in Italy and did press for Smile. But mostly she passed time doing yoga, drinking soy lattes and nesting, as she renovated their house in L.A., fixed up their apartment in Manhattan and made plans to build another home in Malibu.

Roberts has chosen New York City as the birthplace for her twins because, her friend says, “she feels like it’s her hometown.” (See box.) While she shows no signs of giving up work—co-incidentally, her character in Ocean’s Twelve is pregnant, and Roberts was fitted for a fake pregnancy belly in January—but life at home is her priority. As she said in March, “I just want to be a good wife, a good family member, a good friend.” And now, a good mom—a task Brokaw has no doubt she will master. “She is simply one of the smartest, funniest, most real people I’ve ever met,” he says. “She’s centered and wise and thoughtful. She understands what’s important.” In other words, says her pal Jerry Weintraub, “she’ll make a wonderful mother.”

Karen S. Schneider. Julie Jordan in Los Angeles, Natasha Stoynoff in Manhattan and Peter Mikelbank in Paris

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