Byline: RICHARD PENDLEBURY
THERE is a hot-tub platform on the edge of Julia Verdin's garden from which, given a big enough special effects budget, you could take wing and swoop over Sunset Boulevard, 100ft below, and across the hazy panorama of West Hollywood.
In this part of the world, who has spent time in your hot-tub is an indicator of how much clout you command in the movie business. And in Miss Verdin's case, if stars like Dennis Hopper, Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen have yet to take the plunge, they've certainly been close enough to consider the bubbles.
So just who is Julia Verdin? Fewer people in Tinseltown are having to ask these days. Since she arrived in Los Angeles three years ago, she has produced three feature films, shared a house and confidences with Liz Hurley and hosted starry poetry readings `at home', at which Madonna's volatile ex-husband, Sean Penn, recited verses rather than obscenities.
Robert de Niro and Al Pacino are lunchtime companions, and there's been a romantic interlude with another superstar, Kevin Costner.
Now Miss Verdin is reported to be the new love in the life of veteran hedonist John Hurt, from whom a bouquet newly arrived on her sun terrace and addressed to `Pie' may or may not have been sent.
`I probably know more than 1,000 people in Hollywood,' beams Miss Verdin, radiating the sort of energy that suggests the figure may be 10,000 by the end of the year. `I feel fairly confident that I can become one of the film industry's major players.'
In a business dominated by middle-aged American males, this 32-year-old daughter of Oxford academic parents is something of a phenomenon. The question probably isn't: `Who?' but: `How?'
The story of Julia Verdin is an extraordinary tale of a rather ordinary looking but fiercely ambitious middle-class girl who has single-mindedly used her affable charm and astute business brain to escape the confines of Middle England.
From an early age, she set to work perfecting her networking talents and refining the art of getting men - often older than her - to bankroll her taste for high living.
`The thing about Julia,' says an aquaintance who has known her for more than ten years, `is that she is incredibly nice to everyone and a brilliant hostess. When she lived in London she was the ultimate party organiser.'
Her impressive social skills were born out of her somewhat unusual family background. Her father, Anthony Verdin, was a scientist who diversified into commercial analysis and restaurateuring, becoming a director of the louche Chelsea Arts Club. Her mother Greta, from whom her father separated when Julia was 18, is an English tutor.
While in her Oxford sixth-form, Julia made an acquaintance which was to be of long-term significance. Hugh Grant - a couple of years her senior - was an undergraduate at New College and a member of the dramatic
Julia, who had friends at the university and ambitions for the stage, also joined and played opposite Grant in The Ideal Husband.
Grant later introduced her to his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley, who very soon became Julia's best friend.
While studying English and Drama at London University, she embarked on a part-time acting and modelling career. This featured advertisements for fizzy drinks and oven chips - the type of advertisement where, she says, `they wanted a sweet, girl-next-door type.'
Her first proper TV role was in Tenko, the BBC prisoner-of-war camp saga, followed by a part the yachting Howard's Way. Most of her subsequent credits were in period romances and moderate comedies such as Never The Twain and French Fields.
Ironically, it was a casting visit to director Michael Winner's offices that put her on the other side of the camera. She recalls: `He stuck a podgy finger into my mouth and declared: `Darling, you can't …