The line between film and television has become thinner than ever. Superhero blockbusters play out like big-screen TV series, while cinematic production values permeate television series like Game of Thrones. Perhaps most tellingly, there's no shortage of movie stars lining up to take TV roles.

Nevertheless, it feels somewhat significant that Oscar-winner Julia Roberts, a movie star who shines brighter than most, has accepted her first regular starring role on a TV show: Amazon Prime Video's Homecoming. So why has one of the most recognisable big-screen talents in the world decided to make the shift to the small screen?

"I guess I didn't really think about it as small screen versus big screen," Roberts tells TimeOut in Los Angeles. "My television is very big."

A very big television will suit Homecoming, a highly cinematic psychological thriller that evokes classic paranoid conspiracy movies like The Manchurian Candidate and The Parallax View.


Roberts acknowledges that many TV shows resemble movies these days.

"There kind of isn't [a difference] anymore. Everything is so good, the bar is so high and for me, it's nice to bring something into people's home. This wasn't that different than film just by virtue of the way that we shot it and had Sam helm all the episodes, so we were all together in a way that we would be on a movie."

"Sam" is Sam Esmail, who directed all of Homecoming's 10 half-hour episodes, his first job since creating the zeitgeist-capturing series Mr. Robot. Roberts says it was Esmail's involvement in Homecoming that secured her participation.

"[Sam] is what attracted me," says Roberts. "Just a total treasure. I loved every minute we spent together, creatively, and socially. He knows exactly the thing to say at all the right times. I felt we had a great symbiotic relationship."

Although Esmail's creative fingerprints are all over Homecoming, the show was created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, who adapted it from their 2016 podcast of the same name.

"I think that what Eli and Micah have written is such a great old-fashioned yarn," explains Roberts. "Set in this really modern conundrum of a morality play, and to put that in Sam's incredibly stylish, capable, huge hands, it seemed a very safe place to be."

Homecoming's primary setting is the titular facility, where social worker Heidi Bergman (Roberts) helps American soldiers returning from active duty prepare for integration back into civilian life. The story also takes place several years later as a government auditor looks into the Homecoming facility, an investigation which causes Bergman (now a waitress) to doubt her memories of the time she spent there.

Something Homecoming does that most TV shows don't (although it will be familiar to fans of Mr. Robot) is execute extremely long, complex shots done entirely in one take, never an easy task in any medium.

"It was a great mental challenge, every day," says Roberts. "It became really the fuel: how many pages are we going to get to do tomorrow, and is there going to be one shot through all of them? It became exciting, and I think as a crew and as a cast, we all really enjoyed how challenging Sam made all those aspects for us."


Another element of Homecoming that will be familiar to fans of Mr. Robot is the theme of corporate malfeasance: the private company running the facility is clearly up to no good.

"I think any art is a sign of its times and I do think there is something in the air about corporate greed, especially since the 2008 financial collapse," Esmail tells TimeOut. "I don't want to say that all corporations are villains, but there is that untrustworthiness right now with capitalism in general, but corporations, especially large corporations, specifically."

Julia Roberts and Stephen James in the psychological thriller Homecoming. Photo / supplied
Julia Roberts and Stephen James in the psychological thriller Homecoming. Photo / supplied

Esmail believes fans of Mr. Robot will enjoy the new show, even though they're very different.

"There's always going to be that Mr. Robot DNA inside of me, but for this, we really wanted to have an old-fashioned, old-school thriller vibe to it. So really we more harked back to [Alfred] Hitchcock and his successor [Brian] De Palma."

Homecoming features a heavyweight supporting cast in the form of Bobby Cannavale (Mr. Robot) as Heidi's demanding boss; Sissy Spacek (Carrie) as her mother, Stephan James (the upcoming If Beale Street Could Talk) as a soldier with whom Heidi becomes close; and Dermot Mulroney (New Girl) as Heidi's boyfriend.

Mulroney's participation will excite fans of Roberts' 1997 classic My Best Friend's Wedding, where he played the object of Roberts' platonic-turned-romantic affections.

"This is our third time working together," says Roberts. "The first time we were best friends. Then he was my sister's fiance in August: Osage County, and finally [in Homecoming], my boyfriend. Only took 30 years."

Who: Julia Roberts
What: Homecoming
Where: Amazon Prime Video
When: Available to stream from Saturday