12/29/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
SWITCH ON THE PEACH-PIE smile and raise the volume on the smoky laugh. After a string of so-so roles (Tinkerbell, Mary Reilly), a 1995 separation from quirky crooner Lyle Lovett, and the inevitable speculation about personal problems and a fizzled career, Julia Roberts
has us hooked again. She turned her high-wattage
charm back on this year in My Best Friend's Wedding, which, along with Conspiracy Theory, grossed some $350 million worldwide. One reason for her resurgence—and her $12 million per picture asking price—is that Roberts has returned to the mode audiences like best: witty, sexy and bubble-bath smashing. "She doesn't want to play housemaids for Jekyll & Hyde and shave her eyebrows anymore," says Wedding production designer Richard Sylbert. "It's not good for her."
Roberts reached another watershed in October—her 30th birthday. Maturity has mellowed her sometimes difficult on-set behavior and put some steel in her magnolia vulnerability. "As I'm getting older, I'm getting smarter," she told Redbook last year. "My life in a lot of ways is the best it's ever been." On the romantic front, though, she's still giving us something to talk about. Her name regularly pops up in the gossip columns linked to a smorgasbord of suitors. But if she's serious about any of them, who can tell? After all, that smile we love hides as much as it reveals.