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Julia Roberts understands the ‘mama bear’ instincts seen in ‘Wonder’

Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from "Wonder." | Lionsgate

LONDON — Julia Roberts doesn’t have a child with special needs or severe facial deformities, as is the case with Augie Pullman, her character’s son in “Wonder” (opening Friday), the film based on R.J. Palacio’s acclaimed bestselling first novel. However, as a mother herself, the Oscar-winning actress understands the overwhelming “mama bear” desire to protect your kids, beginning with their birth.

“What is that expression? ‘Once you have a child, your heart now lives on the outside of your body.’ I know from experience that is true,” said Roberts, joined by co-star Owen Wilson, who plays her husband in the film. “In the case of Augie in this story, there is such a greater sense of vulnerability, considering the way he looks — yet, the amazing thing is his parents push him out into the world, and in 5th grade of all places!”

As the actress explained, sending Augie into the mainstream was meant to build fortitude, to enable him to deal with the inevitable rough patches he will face in life. “It’s all about providing a child with his true needs — the things he will need in his toolbox of life. For Augie’s parents, that was more important than their desire to keep him at home and safe,” added Roberts.

From Wilson’s standpoint, he noted, “even dropping off my 6-year-old at kindergarten the first day — seeing him all nervous, walking around with his hands in his pockets — was tough for me. We want to protect our kids from anything, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Hearing a mention of Chicago, the actress flashed that world-famous smile as she reminisced a bit about the city where she has shot several films over the years.

A favorite memory? “Well, of course, whenever I think of Chicago, the first thing that comes to mind is my best friend, who lives there. But beside that, I’ll never forget being on a river boat dancing with Dermot Mulroney in ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’ That whole experience of making that movie was very special to me, but that particular scene made for such a magical, beautiful day.”

As for young Jacob Tremblay, who first found fame with his amazing performance in “Room,” playing Augie was a tough challenge. “I’m not going to lie,” said the young actor, who spent two hours daily having makeup and prosthetics applied to his face. “It was hard sometimes and there were days when I really got tired of it.”

The anti-bullying message of the film “was the main reason I did it,” said Tremblay. “Bullying mostly takes place at school, and school needs to be a place where kids can feel safe, so they can learn. They can’t do that if kids are judging them. I hope this movie teaches bullies to stop, so people of all ages, races and genders can just be who they are.”