Julia Roberts begins by excusing herself for having the flu.
"I keep on throwing up, which is quite disgusting, but don't worry, I'm not contagious," Roberts says laughingly. Never a big fan of press junkets, with a reputation for being difficult, the Oscar-winning actress was surprisingly good-humoured when promoting the Fifties-set Mona Lisa Smile last month.
In the film, Roberts plays a forward-thinking Art History teacher who accepts a job in a prestigious, but highly conservative all-female college in 1953. Roberts says that she didn't find it too difficult to relate to this progressive character.
"I liked the fact that she was someone who had latched onto an idea and felt a strong conviction about one that was very new. At that time, not a lot of people were saying: 'Look further, explore your options and expect more. It was a new cry for women," Roberts explains.
"I also liked the fact that she really believed in it so much that, even in the face of people that she knew... didn't agree and weren't interested in what she was saying, she still kept on."
One of the prevalent themes of Mona Lisa Smile is the question of choice: marriage or career.
Roberts, recently married, is someone who gets to have both, a balancing act that she says is not so tough.
"It's not hard to balance those things at all. I have a very blessed life and situation, and the timing of the convergence of things for me has worked out in a way that I'm just humbled by and really grateful for," says Roberts, smiling.
Robert also seems unaffected by her fame and power, saying that it's not so crazy that she remains so grounded.
"I find a natural instinct to be sort of indifferent to it in a way, to the idea of being famous, because that's not something that one does. It's not my job or something I do."
These days Roberts prefers to expend her energies in being wife to cameraman Danny Moder. "It's a joy being domestic. It's something I want and something that makes me very happy," she says, somewhat shyly.
Playing a teacher in Mona Lisa Smile, one wonders whether she has been influenced by teachers throughout her life. Surprisingly, Roberts is reticent.
"I just want to make a point that it's not just great teachers that sometimes shape your life. Sometimes it's the absence of great teachers that shapes your life and being ignored can be just as good for a person as being lauded."
In a career spanning some 15 years, Roberts has risen to the top of a patriarchal Hollywood. At this point, the 36-year old actor cannot think of anything major to add to her life, insisting "I don't have specific goals like that. I suppose my desire is just evolution and growth," and of course good roles, but not necessarily designed to shock her legion of fans.
"I would like to do things that are different. My reason wouldn't be, 'Oh, I'll do this to shock people, because I don't really know what people would find shocking'. 'Though someone asked me a few weeks ago if I would be in the movie called Cock. And I said, 'You know, I don't think I'm ready for that.' I have no idea what it's about, but I just can't call my mom and say, 'So, Cock...'" she says, amidst peels of hysterical laughter. And though she has mastered the romantic comedy genre, Roberts isn't ruling out a return to the genre that made her a superstar.
"I love romantic comedies. I like to watch them and I like to be in them. It's something that's increasingly difficult to find that spark of originality, that makes it different than the ones that come before."
Yet it was a very serious film that she first saw as a Southern child that made her fall in love with the movies.
"I think the first movie that really impacted me was Beckett (with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole). I know what you're thinking: me of all people - Beckett. Figure that out."
"It was the first time I realized actors commanded such great power. I was really affected by it and was just really impacted by the power of this film."