Can Julia Roberts' Career Bounce Back?

After shunning spotlight to raise kids, her first film in 5 years comes in 3rd.

March 24, 2009— -- It's a problem many moms face -- after taking time off to raise children, their careers suffer a setback.

And, yes, it happens even to big Hollywood stars like Julia Roberts.

After essentially taking five years off to raise her three children, Roberts returned to the big screen this past weekend in "Duplicity." Seen as Roberts' comeback film, "Duplicity" earned $14 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend, placing third behind a Nicolas Cage action flick and the Paul Rudd-Jason Segel bromance. Not exactly a comeback.

Not exactly a setback either, according to E! gossip columnist Ted Casablanca.

"She's the last person concerned about it," he said. "She's got the Oscar, a great dossier and a great box office track record. She doesn't care. I find her like a modern [Greta] Garbo -- Garbo with a family. I think everyone is fretting but Julia Roberts. With the right project she could come back in an instant."

Us Weekly's senior editor Bradley Jacobs agrees.

"I don't think (the film's box office return) is going to make Julia go back and say, 'I need a hit now,'" he said. "It's very clear that's not where her priorities are."

In fact, Roberts, along with other Hollywood star moms Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman, have deliberately put family first, shunning the spotlight for themselves and their families.

Roberts preaches the benefits of putting family first, sometimes to success -- after ribbing David Letterman for not having wed his longtime girlfriend during an appearance on his show last week, the "Late Show" host announced Monday that he tied the knot.

But in today's Shiloh-and-Suri saturated media culture, is such a move to keep themselves and their children out of the public eye hurting their careers?

"I do think there is something to that," Jacobs said. "You do see Angelina [Jolie] with her kids everywhere and Tom [Cruise] and Katie [Holmes] withSuri everywhere. Perhaps it has diminished Julia Roberts' star quality in the eyes of the public, which is so used to seeing these women and their families. She wants her life to be private, which is why she lives in Taos [New Mexico], not New York or L.A. It's a deliberate decision. She doesn't want to be back on top."

"I think the biggest impact it has is she'll probably have healthy normal children," famed Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman said about Roberts. "I applaud her. Compared to so many Hollywood actors, she and Danny (Moder, her husband) live a shockingly normal life. Children are not ATMs and publicity machines. They are children, to be shielded and protected, and when a mother does it, I say to myself, 'that's a good mother.' We already knew she was a good actor. Now we know she's a good mother, too."

Celebrity Kids in the Spotlight

Los Angeles-based family therapist Chrystal Evans said it's also better for the kids to grow up outside the spotlight.

"Toddlers and preschoolers don't have the cognitive ability to understand the paparazzi, and when they go to school, kids are making jokes or comments on their personal life," said Evans, an expert for "Kids don't have the ability to separate the issues that come up, unless mom and dad are able to work through the issues with them and prepare them for it. I think it would be more traumatic than keeping them out of the spotlight."

Casablanca said he thinks Roberts is just being herself, and he likes that.

"My hat's off to the Roberts way. I find it much less duplicitous," he said. "A lot of what Angelina's doing is by design. She's a master at playing the press, playing Brad [Pitt], the kids, her directors, the movies. She's interested in being a walking headline. She's a woman filled to the brim with guile, and I think Roberts just wants to be her own gal."

In addition, exposure does not necessarily translate into box-office success, Bragman points out.

"Nobody gets more press than Angelina Jolie," said the author of the bestselling book, "Where's My Fifteen Minutes." "How did 'Changeling'open? Nine-point-four million. It doesn't go hand in hand."

Meanwhile, Roberts, Berry and Kidman have less to prove, according to Jacobs.

"Halle, Nicole and Julia have all been to the top, they've won best actress. If that's what it's about, they've already achieved it. They've been movie stars," Jacobs said. "They also had babies toward the end of their 30s or early 40s, which, for any woman, is a time of re-evaluation. As a woman approaches 40, there are also fewer roles. That's always been an unfortunate reality in Hollywood. So they have the pull to their families and fewer interesting roles."

Casablanca believes the lack of good roles for older Hollywood moms is often a bigger problem than finding a work-family balance.

Julia Roberts Balancing Career and Motherhood

"The whole discussion gets couched in 'they are raising a family now.' That becomes the story rather than the real story of how horrible it is for women aging in Hollywood," he said. "This is a town that does not allow women to age gracefully. [Meryl] Streep is the exception."

But Streep and Roberts are also two very different actresses. Roberts was one of the first female blockbuster stars, earning up to $20 million per flick and paving the way for someone like Jolie. Many will be watching to see what's in store next for the 41-year-old actress's career.

Other than collecting the occasional "paycheck" for movies like "Duplicity," Casablanca said he believes Roberts can afford to take her time.

"I think she's still putting together what kind of career she wants to have with her life [as a mother]," he said. "There's such frenzy from women who think they have only so many minutes [of their career] left. I do see Roberts fighting that more than someone like Nicole Kidman. More women should be like her."