Julia Roberts, WSJ Magazine

Photography by Josh Olins for WSJ. Magazine

Julia Roberts has been privately mourning the death of her half-sister, Nancy Motes. The 37-year-old died Feb. 9 of an apparent drug overdose, and at the time, her family was understandably "shocked and devastated."

In WSJ. Magazine's May issue, Roberts opens up for the first time about her sibling's sudden passing. "It's just heartbreak," she says, tearing up. "It's only been 20 days. There aren't words to explain what any of us have been through in these last 20 days. It's hour by hour some days, but you just keep looking ahead. It's hour by hour some days, but you just keep looking ahead. You don't want anything bad to happen to anyone, but there are so many tragic, painful, inexplicable things in the world.

"But [as with] any situation of challenge and despair," the Normal Heart actress says, "we must find a way, as a family. It's so hard to formulate a sentence about it outside the weepy huddle of my family."

Family is important to the actress, who has three children with husband Danny Moder. "By the time we had kids," she says, referring to Henry, 6, and twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, 9, "I had accomplished things and felt secure about that part of my life. I was so joyful moving into the family phase of my life in a sincere way." The quintet lives a quiet life in Malibu, according to Roberts. "We're just grateful for the sense we have of being like any other family down the street," she says. "I don't question it."

Since becoming a mother, Roberts has shifted her focus to her children. "For a long time, they weren't even aware I had a job because I was home so much," she says of her kids. "Now they get it."

Roberts—who never Googles herself and avoids social media at all costs—tells WSJ. Magazine that she doesn't see herself as a world famous movie star these days. "I don't consider myself a celebrity, [at least not] how it is fostered in our culture today," the 46-year-old star of August: Osage County explains. "I don't know if I'm old and slow, but there seems to be a frenzy to it."

"I think there is a dehumanization that goes with fame, especially in the present culture of it, which isn't the culture I started off in," Roberts continues. "There wasn't this analysis of every iota of every moment of every day. Nobody cared about what you wore, nobody cared what haircut you had, if you had on makeup or didn't—it's become this sort of sport."

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