How He Cleaned Up His Act
Like many young actors who hit the big time, Eric Roberts succumbed to self-destructive
habits and saw his well-being deteriorate. But now, at midlife, he may have finally
cleansed himself and found the way to health and peace.
When somebody mentions Eric Roberts, you probably remember him as one of those deep, dark, edgy characters he seems to slip into so well, whether it was his star-making role in the film Star 80 (1983), playing the real-life husband-turned-killer of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, or his Oscar-nominated turn as an escaped convict trapped on a train headed for destruction in the 1985 film Runaway Train.
You think of the chiseled features, the full lips (conjuring images of his sister, Julia) and the large, hypnotic eyes, an actor whose swarthy, striking good looks seem well suited to play a wide range of simmering antiheroes. From his first break on the soap opera Another World in 1977, a job he reportedly detested, to his recent role as a serial philanderer on Showtime’s The L Word, Roberts has covered a lot of dramatic territory (and comedy too)—but he’s at his best when exploring the darker parameters of the human psyche.
In his younger years, Roberts’ offscreen persona seemed to mirror the types of moody characters he often played. Reports of drug use spread through the press and by his own admission, Roberts smoked, drank and used drugs, often to excess.
Eric Roberts has come a long way since the days of such notorious behavior. In fact, you could say he has undertaken a thorough self-cleansing. These days you’re more likely to see a fatherly-like shot of him at a premiere with his wife of 14 years, Eliza Roberts, an actress, casting director and author—perhaps it’s for a film his daughter, Emma Roberts, appears in. (The 15-year-old starred in the teen comedy Aquamarine earlier this year.) Roberts, now 50, also plays a devoted dad to his two adult stepchildren, Keaton Simons, a musician, and Morgan Simons, a caterer. Rounding out the family, Roberts has two more sisters in addition to Julia: Lisa Roberts Gillan, an actress and producer, as well as a much younger half-sister, Nancy, whom he’s just getting to know.
“I go to bed around 7 p.m. almost every day and I’m usually wearing a flannel nightdress,” Roberts states in a soft-spoken voice with a slight Southern lilt, in sharp contrast to many of the volatile, ethnic characters he portrays. (He grew up in Atlanta, after all.) Here, the actor candidly reveals how he cleaned up his life and found peace—as he likes to sign off on all his emails—all through a healthy lifestyle and a lot of love from his wife.
Energy Times: So what would most people be surprised to know about your life these days?
Eric Roberts: Well, a non-working day is very different from a shooting day. If I am not working I wake up pretty early, throw on sweats, drink tea, watch a little news and go to one of the two gyms I work out in or I go to the Y and swim. On the way home I’ll stop at a health food store and I’ll put together a salad. That afternoon I’ll take one of my dogs to the farm where my horse, Silk, lives. I’ll have an early dinner, watch some CNN and go to bed. I’m a bore. That’s what I do.
ET: How important is maintaining your health to you?
Roberts: I can barely think of anything more important to me. I’ve always felt that way—I just had a funny way of showing it.
ET: What bad lifestyle choices did you make in your youth?
Roberts: I made them all. I smoked and did drugs. I smoked my weight in tobacco. I drank alcohol from time to time. I would use over-the-counter sleep aids. Those are really antihistamines and they put you in an awful mood the next day.
I have been a non-drug user for almost my whole marriage but I’ve been a non-smoker now for only about five months, so that’s brand new to me. I gained eight pounds but I dropped it, and it’s a matter of learning what to put in your mouth and when.
ET: What did you do to finally quit smoking? What worked?
Roberts: I kind of did a homemade patch thing. I smoked Camel filters for years, then I went to Marlboro Reds, then Marlboro Lights, then Marlboro Ultra Lights and then I quit. It took me two full years.
ET: Why do you think you turned to smoking and drugs?
Roberts: I think if anyone in the house smokes, probably half of your kids will smoke. One of my parents was a smoker. And of course all young actors smoke because it's cool and I guess that’s why I smoked—and why I did drugs. I just thought it was this world—this is what we do—and like everyone else I got into it. It was only really with the birth of my daughter [in 1991] and then subsequent marriage to my wife, Eliza, that I realized I had lots of responsibilities and had to stop getting high. And so I did.
ET: What impact has your wife had on your life?
Roberts: I think she saved my life—if you can save someone else’s life. She is such a clean liver, and she made it seem easy and tempting. Eliza’s philosophy is, “When in doubt, give.” You never feel lost or confused if you follow that.
She’s probably the most intelligent woman I have ever kissed; she’s also probably the very nicest woman I have ever kissed. Not that I always didn’t kiss nice women but she takes the cake in all the categories. I suppose what I like most about her is that she’s smarter than I am.
She wrote a book called The Drive Home and the theme is that no matter what we do, what we become or what we achieve, it all comes out of where we are from and who we are basically—and you can never change that. There’s a drive to always take you back to the behavior from whence you came, hence the drive home.
ET: So how difficult was it to overhaul your life?
Roberts: There are no real formulas, but there is a real need to complete yourself. When you have that and pursue it everything will work out. You just have to really want it, and other people can’t do it for you. They can want to or they can try to but the end result is that they are just going to irritate you, so you have to be your own guide.
ET: What keeps you motivated to keep a clean life?
Roberts: I’ve never been in a 12-step program, really. I went to meetings but I don’t go through every day like, “One day at time. Okay, here I go inching along.” Every day is brand new. I get up and I think, “I’m going to rip it,” and that’s how I maintain my sense of well-being.
ET: What is your current approach to your health?
Roberts: Even though we’ve heard all those expressions, “You are what you eat” and “You’re only as good as you feel” 10,000 times, they are all true. You are what you eat and you are only as good as your health. In my middle age I’ve come to decide that I am what I eat so I eat just about perfectly, thanks to my stepdaughter, Morgan Simons. She and her partner, Theresa Gluck, have a company called A Catering Company that custom prepares and delivers meals, and that is how I eat and live. [For more information, visit www.acateringco.com; 1-818-752-1505.]
ET: What diet do you follow?
Roberts: I just changed everything because I was on a high-protein, low-carb diet for about a decade. Then I read a book called The China Study and it kind of changed my life. Now my diet is basically plant protein-based—lots of broccoli, beans, brown rice, seven-grain bread and protein bread. I’m pretty much off all dairy, and I don’t do animal protein anymore. Morgan and Theresa cook as needed for the diet.
ET: Was it difficult to go essentially vegetarian?
Roberts: Not when you read how bad it is for you to not go vegetarian. I felt, “I have to fix this. I just have to do it.” Not like, “Oh God, I miss pork chops,” because when you know what they’ll do to you, you don’t miss them. By the time we are 30 the only thing that keeps growing is our hair and fingernails, and we don’t need chicken or beef to do that.
ET: Is it difficult to stay healthy when you’re working away from home?
Roberts: I’m adamant about trying to create as much of my routine as I possibly can wherever I am. The first thing I ask about is a Y with a pool or a gym. I take walks around where I’m staying. A Catering Company vacuum-seals my meals for me, freezes them and packages them for me to take to every location around the world. They know all the travel regulations about produce and travel legalities. I’ve had to learn not to be anxious about having to adjust my eating and exercise, and to kind of roll with the changes that are required for travel.
ET: Do you take vitamins, minerals and other supplements?
Roberts: I take vitamin C twice a day, B complex and calcium at night, phosphatidylcholine for memory, vitamin E and selenium. But I also have found from my homework that I like to adhere to what Dr. Andrew Weil says about the simplicity of what’s required in terms of the supplements we take. You can’t make up for unhealthy living by taking healthy things out of bottles; you have to sort of live up to the supplements you take.
ET: Do you use any kind of holistic therapies?
Roberts: It’s the only way to go. I think what has happened in our country with medicine is stupid and ought to be embarrassing to us—but apparently it is not. We treat symptoms; we don’t treat problems.
ET: How do you feel now? Do you have any health conditions that you are concerned about?
Roberts: I’m getting a new hip. From all of my martial arts and all my crazy living in my youth, I strained my hip very badly. The last straw came when I was making a martial arts film in China—those guys are great and they crippled me. I tried physical therapy to fix it. I tried everything but actually getting a new hip, but now I’ve got to get it.
I also believe my workout might have been partially responsible. I was not doing balanced things, like swimming. I was doing lots of weight training. I think some of what we do to keep fit is actually a recipe for partial physical impairment in the future. I believe the body’s muscles naturally build with regular activity that is more like children or animals at play and at work.
ET: What kind of exercise regimen do you follow now?
Roberts: Mostly swimming, and I’m joining my wife in some free-form dancing as well, just at home to whatever music moves us. My stepson, Keaton, has the best workout music.
ET: What do you find is the best part about leading a healthy lifestyle?
Roberts: You feel like you’re getting something done every minute of every day. You feel your own strength. You also have a lot better mornings and a lot better sleep at night. That’s the long and short of it. And you have more friends.
ET: What are some of your most recent acting projects?
Roberts: I just got through a pilot for FOX called Southern Comfort with Madeline Stowe; it’s a great take on Mafia life. Then I have a movie that will be out in September called DOA: Dead or Alive with Jaime Pressly, based on the video game by the same name and I play the heavy in that, of course. I was just in the film Phat Girlz with Mo’Nique. I did a Lifetime movie with Anne Heche called Fatal Desire. I did two Mariah Carey videos and one Killers video, and they happened to all win a lot of trophies last year so that was kind of big news.
I also recently finished shooting a film called Light Years Away [starring Christopher Knight, Meadow Williams and Adrianne Curry]. It’s a science fiction fantasy and it was so much fun to shoot, partly because of the location right near Santa Barbara and partly because of the catering by my stepdaughter, Morgan—and most especially because of Chris Knight. [Fitness buff Knight was interviewed for the January ET cover story.] He’s an old friend of my wife. So when he called about this project Eliza said, “Chris is great. You’ll love working with him.” Chris turned out to be one of the most positive people I’ve ever met: funny, sweet and extremely bright. Meadow is wonderful and the director, Bryan Michael Stoller, is someone I’ve worked with twice now and loved it each time. He has the joy and acute instincts of a child with the skill of a good director. Making the film kind of felt like we were in camp, but with call sheets.
ET: What is the film about?
Roberts: A lonely astronomer, played by Chris, looks through his telescope and sees a beautiful woman on another planet, played by Meadow. Through some kind of magic, she is able to transport herself to earth through his telescope and she shows up on his doorstep. The catch is that he can’t touch her because she doesn’t really exist here. It’s a unique premise for a film.
I play the evil Dr. Howard Melvin.
ET: How did you stay in shape while shooting the film?
Roberts: There was a pool and a fitness room on the location. I’ll work out anywhere, though; a top gym is a luxury to me.
ET: What are your future goals?
Roberts: Actually, I’d like to retire from acting in the next five to eight years so I can try to save the rainforest. The amount of rainforest on the earth is about the size of the continental US, and the equivalent of the state of California has already been destroyed. We have to do something because those are the lungs of the earth and without them the whole earth is going to dry up and blow away. We are acting like it’s not going to happen but it is, perhaps in our grandchildren’s lifetime, which is very close. What’s happening is this: Burger King and McDonald’s are buying up tons of rainforest and they are grazing cattle on it for American hamburgers. I just think that’s totally criminal and it’s got to be stopped. I’m going to go down there with a camera crew and try to stop them.
ET: Now that this interview is over, we’re really surprised you don’t sound like Paulie from The Pope of Greenwich Village [the 1984 film about a couple of small-time crooks in New York City].
Roberts: That’s really funny. Everybody thinks I’ll sound like that. They also think I’m nuts, you know. I play so many on-the-edge guys that everybody thinks, “God, he’s crazy that guy.” I’m really boring but I love playing crazy people.