Julia Roberts

12/19/2003 AT 01:25 PM EST

That smile is back. After a low-key year – away from the red carpet and spending time with husband Danny Moder – Julia Roberts is back in the spotlight with her new film, Mona Lisa Smile. In it, the actress plays an art history professor at the upper-crusty Wellesley College in the 1950s who helps liberate the minds of her young students, played by such Julias-to-be as Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Julia Stiles.

Roberts recently spoke to reporters about the power of teachers (and making do without them), balancing career and marriage, and her early days listening to .38 Special.

So, first off: Is Mona Lisa Smile a 'chick flick'?
We just made a movie.

The film is set in the 1950s. What did you do to prepare for the time warp?
I watched some really nice documentaries on the '50s which I thought were very informative. It was a really interesting period of time where our culture became ruled by television and advertising and you worried about the appliances that you had.

Your character has a huge influence on her students. Did you have any acting teachers that inspired you when you were younger?
No, but we didn't have a theater department or drama or anything where I went to school. I look at it as a positive – that no one did take that much interest in me. To be ignored can shape just as well as to be lauded, I suppose.

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