Born in Epsom, England, British actress Julia Ormond always knew she was destined to act. She first enjoyed the bright lights with school plays and later studied drama at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
After graduation, Ormond, now 44, again worked in theater until she got a starring role in a television epic about Catherine the Great called “Young Catherine.” HBO took notice and cast her as Mrs. Stalin in the “Stalin” biopic opposite Robert Duvall. But it wasn’t until “Legends of the Fall” in 1994, when she played opposite Brad Pitt that audiences and critics took notice of Ormond’s cascading hair, delicate features and acting talent.
She followed up her “Legends” role opposite Sean Connery and Richard Gere in “First Knight” and then she was cast in the title role in the “Sabrina” remake. For a moment in the ’90s, Julia Ormond was sitting on top of Hollywood’s “it” list before taking time off to catch her breath, marry, divorce and raise her young daughter. Ormond gained popularity in Hollywood the second time around, starring in “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.” She then starred opposite Brad Pitt again in the Oscar-nominated film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
Not only has she thrown herself back into the acting pool, she was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and started her own charity, Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking, or ASSET.
Bankrate caught up with Ormond as she works on a new film project, “The Wronged Man.”
Bankrate: In the late ’90s you walked away from Hollywood. Is it hard to face a moment when you’re up and then suddenly no longer the flavor of the month?
Julia Ormond: Sure. But it strengthens you, too.
Bankrate: In what ways did this period in your life strengthen you?
Julia Ormond: I felt as if I had to step out in order to find a better path back in — one that allowed me more range as an actor. I don’t think I dealt with the attention very well. I found being flavor of the month pretty confusing and I kind of didn’t buy it. But as frightening as taking a break was — and everyone made it very clear it was lousy timing — it felt like the only choice. All that stuff that happened with “Legends” happens without your control.
You can’t stop people from saying things or projecting stardom onto you or making comparisons. I had to become an actress again, not just a star, and that meant I had to step away. I packed my time away still doing creative work. I fell in love, had a kid, helped build FilmAid and now have a new NGO (nongovernmental organization) — the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking. You can be 1,000 percent committed to your craft without success, or lack of it, dictating who you are.
Bankrate: Your character, Janet Gregory in “The Wronged Man,” is a true life person who finally befriends the man who was wrongfully accused and sentenced. What do you personally look for in a friend and how important are friendships to your overall balance?
Julia Ormond: Humor, loyalty, flexibility, kindness, integrity — hugely important.
Bankrate: Janet Gregory worked pro bono for 22 years on this case. Have you ever been that passionate about something that you would take it on pro bono?
Julia Ormond: I do it all the time, but I have enough of a secure financial cushion. This woman put everything she had into this case. I’ve worked many years and have, thankfully, made a secure financial future for myself. At least I think so. I actually think that people who are in hard times, or have known hard times like Janet Gregory, have a tendency to find generosity easier. They have more of a “there but for the grace of God go I” approach. She had a profound sense of injustice. She’s remarkable; I’m not remarkable. I’ve been lucky at work and that’s enabled me to participate pro bono.
Bankrate: In this economic climate, how have you instituted cost-saving measures in your everyday life?
Julia Ormond: I’ve been streamlining everything, getting rid of old stuff and it’s very liberating. I think understanding just how much a tiny portion of slavery is in so many of the products I buy — cotton, coffee, sugar, steel, microchips, citrus fruits, gold, diamonds, shrimp, fish — has curbed my spending appetite a ton. I haven’t stopped entirely, but I’m now always aware of it. I don’t believe that boycotting at the moment is the right way forward, as necessary as that process has been. My focus is to work on cleaning up supply chains by having all players come to the table to work on solutions.
Bankrate: It sounds as if you’re still very active with the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking.
Julia Ormond: Actually I founded ASSET, so yes, extremely involved! People can go onto www.assetcampaign.org to see how they can engage and help. ASSET is an advocacy group that currently continues to raise awareness around at least 27 million people who are still enslaved. We work with a coalition of other North American NGOs who tackle this issue, and together we’re trying to mobilize more resources and update legislation that will help us implement solutions.
Bankrate: You say you have streamlined things, but have you ever kept any items of clothing from certain films as remembrance?
Julia Ormond: I should have kept one of the dresses from “Legends,” but instead I kept the gray jeans (laughs). They still fit. And I also have the cowboy boots. They were so cool, I’ll never get rid of them. And Ed Zwick very sweetly gave me the gold bracelet from the movie that they made, and that’s the bracelet that Tristan sends her. It was given to a charity a long time ago, though. A lot of stuff I have taken from films, I’ve given to auctions. It’s hard to hold onto some things when it can have another impact somewhere else. Fortunately, nobody wants those jeans and boots.
Bankrate: I know you grew up a tomboy in England. What do you like to do that’s still tomboy-ish?
Julia Ormond: I guess I’m not somebody who embraces the whole girly dresses thing. I’m much more likely to be in jeans and a simple T-shirt or sweater. And I think I’ve enjoyed career stuff that has been particularly physically challenging, whether it’s repelling down the side of a boat, doing fight sequences or trying to do my own stunts, I think that definitely brings out the tomboy in me and gives a side of my work that’s fun.
Bankrate: You mentioned ASSET and how passionate you are about that. Are you looking to change the world one passion at a time?
Julia Ormond: I think how I feel about it is I feel passionate about the potential of the world and the potential of humanity, and I think that means that, from my perspective, spiritually and to keep in balance, one has to do something everyday to try and reach that potential. There’s a Gandhi quote where he says, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” I think the more that each individual voice takes part in something positive, the more chances we have to overcome the negatives. But it takes all of us doing it together.