“I don’t think that unconditional love is logical,” Julia Roberts tells us during promotional duties for her latest film, Ben is Back. “I don’t think that there’s a clarity; a linear thought where you say, ‘Well, if I do this, I’m sacrificing all these other things’. I just don’t think it’s that logical. It doesn’t exist in those sorts of compartments of thought. If you’re a forgiving person, if you’re open to that kind of ability to repair things and move forward; it’s a complicated emotion, forgiveness, deeply complicated…”
The Peter Hedges written and directed – and starring his son, the ubiquitous Lucas Hedges in the title role – drama charts a tumultuous 24-hour period in the life of the Burns family: mum Holly, daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newtown) and son Ben, with the latter returning unexpectedly to the family home for Christmas, promising to address his drug abusing lifestyle.
A modestly budgeted film, Ben is Back appealed to Julia Roberts because of its subject matter, and the filmmakers’ complex approach to the material, which resonated with the actress’s criteria for choosing roles.
“I do try to just have this instinct for something that is meaningful to me and that I hopefully can be meaningful in service of that part. There are a lot of great stories out there and unfortunately, in this day and age, a lot of them surround the kind of cultural tragedies that we’re all dealing with, as the 21st century kind of takes over our connections.”
One of these connections is Obamacare, which Roberts is very passionate about.
“It put into place a complete infrastructure to help people that had addiction problems, so that people could go to rehab and insurance would cover this,” Roberts says.
“And of course, what happens is that people get their hands on it and they just turn it into a money-making scheme where people that really need help are in fact in greater peril because their desperation is now being used as a game for people to make a profit from their suffering.
“It was so shocking to me when it was revealed that finally, an incredible opportunity of healthcare and it just gets absolutely, unsystematically, destroyed by people trying to profit. Unfortunately, a lot of the pharmaceutical companies, it’s a big business, and I think one of the beautiful things about a film like this and this family that we’ve created in this 24 hour period, it takes this epidemic from being statistics and ‘oh right, opioid crisis, how many millions of people?’, and it says, ‘it’s not millions of people, it’s everyone, and it’s also people. It’s this beautiful girl whose life is affected, it’s this mum who’s struggling to keep her family together who’s affected…’
“It’s humanising it and sharing it in a way that says, ‘this is really happening everywhere and it’s happening to everybody’. I think to make it not so much numbers on a page but people who are desperately trying to find solutions, is important.”
Ben is Back is in cinemas January 31, 2019