Julia Roberts on ‘Ben is Back’ and the ‘insidious’ opioid crisis it depicts

TORONTO — When Julia Roberts arrived at the recent Toronto International Film Festival with a drama about drug addiction, rapper Mac Miller had just died of what was later deemed an accidental overdose, and singer-actress Demi Lovato was recovering from an overdose in the summer.

The headlines served as yet another tragic reminder of how addiction knows no boundaries and added a sense of urgency to presenting “Ben is Back,” in which Roberts stars as the mother of a drug-addled teen (played by Lucas Hedges) who returns home from rehab for the holidays.

“It makes no distinctions anymore, these drugs,” Roberts said in an interview during the September festival. “They don’t care where you come from, how much money you make, what you do for a living.

“It’s so insidious and pervasive, and I think that in a time when it’s gone on for such a long time, that people have just grown immune to the statistics written in the paper.”

Highlighting how a teen falls prey to addiction and how the entire family has to deal with the fallout might help humanize and pierce through the staggering numbers that make many immune to the crisis, added the four-time Oscar-nominated actress.

“Everyone is affected by this in some way or another,” Roberts said, “and I think it’s so interesting to have an actor like Lucas — who looks like every boy in any neighbourhood, and just getting along and he’s got his hoodie — and he has this demon that does not leave him.”

Peter Hedges wrote and directed “Ben is Back,” which hits theatres in Toronto on Friday and other markets in the coming weeks.

Roberts is earning critical raves for her role as Holly, an image-conscious church-goer who is enamoured with her son and seemingly in denial about the severity of his addiction.

Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton co-star in the story, which takes place over 24 hours as the family grapples with Ben’s roller-coaster ride of recovery in their affluent neighbourhood.

Vance plays Holly’s husband, who highlights the racial divide that can exist for some addicts when he declares: “If Ben were black, he would be in jail.”

The film also shows the role medical professionals, pharmaceutical companies and addictions specialists play in the crisis.

“You really get to see the true effects of this sad, sad addiction issue that affects so many families,” said Roberts, who won an Oscar for best actress in 2000’s “Erin Brockovich.”

“I also love that it’s Christmastime, this sort of happy-face time and you decorate your house and sing all these beautiful songs, and to have this undertow that’s constantly going in all their minds.”

There are some heart-wrenching moments in the film and the atmosphere on set was intense, Roberts admitted.

“We were outside at night a lot and it was dark topics, dark atmospheres,” she said. “It was freezing cold and Lucas and I, just together in this endless odyssey of trying to get to the morning.”

To lighten the mood, cast members would sing Christmas carols together while walking back to their trailers from the set.

“Jingle bells was always the big hit,” says Roberts. “And you know what? Everybody joins in. Doesn’t matter how much you think you don’t want to.

“See, we kept it happy. We had to. I felt a real responsibility, especially for the younger actors, to rescue us in between setups and stuff, because it could be so intense. We also had little children on the set, and so I think we were all devoted to a sense of being happy and keeping that going when we weren’t filming.”

Just Posted

Two people die in Highway 11 crash

RCMP continue to investigate

Bank of Canada deputy governor Timothy Lane says Canadian economy resilient

OTTAWA — The Canadian economy remains resilient despite the global uncertainty caused… Continue reading

The Second Cup agrees to buy Ottawa chain Bridgehead Coffee for $9.5 million

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Second Cup Ltd. says it has agreed to… Continue reading

Telus to buy German call centre firm Competence Call Center for $1.3 billion

VANCOUVER — Telus Corp. is buying a German call centre company through… Continue reading

High court to decide if it will hear Alberta man’s appeal in seniors slayings

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada is to release a decision… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Tuesday The Central Alberta Council on Aging will hold its Christmas General… Continue reading

NASCAR goes back to its roots with a huge Nashville blowout

NASHVILLE — Kyle Busch toted his championship trophy all over Nashville for… Continue reading

Alphonso Davies, Ashley Lawrence named Canada Soccer Players of the Month

TORONTO — Alphonso Davies and Ashley Lawrence have been named Canada Soccer… Continue reading

Much anticipated Star Wars-based ride debuts at Disney World

ORLANDO, Fla. — The resistance is rising. “Rise of the Resistance,” the… Continue reading

Alex Trebek among special 2020 Canadian Academy award recipients

TORONTO — Alex Trebek, David Suzuki, Tina Keeper and Daniel Levy will… Continue reading

Ennis records three points to help lift Senators over Oilers

Senators 5 Oilers 2 EDMONTON — Tyler Ennis had a goal and… Continue reading

Alberta Finance Minister voted MLA of the year in poll of political peers

EDMONTON — Finance Minister Travis Toews come on down, you’ve been voted… Continue reading

Quebec police seek potential victims of former cop, coach accused of sex crimes

LONGUEUIL, Que. — A former Montreal police officer and minor hockey coach… Continue reading

Most Read