Eat Pray Love: Interview with Julia Roberts

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Julia Roberts stars in Ryan Murphy's "Eat Pray Love," the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the same name. The film, which also stars Javier Bardem and James Franco is released by Columbia August 13. 

Connecting with the Material


Julia Roberts read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love when it was first released in 2006.  She sent it to one of her best friends and they read it at the same time, and both immediately connected with the story.  “Everybody has a journey, a moment in their lives when they need to redefine who they are and what they’re looking for,” says Roberts.  “Liz’s journey is very specific and very visual, in a way that’s very appealing as a story, but it’s also a universal story that can apply to anybody.”


Gilbert’s memoir – a self-described search for everything – has achieved extraordinary success, selling over 6.2 million copies in the United States, and overseas, it has been translated into 40 languages.  It is the book that attracted Roberts to the project, along with the chance to work with Ryan Murphy, the film’s co-writer/director.  “I love the way the book talks about life experience, searching for answers, and how meaningful people can be in our lives.  I think that’s really such a vibrant story.  It’s great to be part of it, and part of it with Ryan at the helm of it – it was a delicious endeavor,” says the actress.


A "reverential" adaptation


“Ryan and Jennifer did a very reverential adaptation,” says Roberts.  “Ryan was really in sync with Liz Gilbert and talked to her a lot – they tried to be very true to the book.  There comes a moment in any film adaptation where things have to be a little bit different, but we always protected the spine of the story – Liz’s journey of self-discovery.” 


Her character Liz


“Liz goes through a wide range of emotions – as you’d expect, because the story covers a year of her life,” says Roberts.  “Between going through divorce and dating and traveling and meeting strangers and not knowing what to do, it’s a great opportunity to play a complex and fascinating character.”


“At the beginning of the movie, Liz is unraveling a bit, and she’s not sure why,” Roberts adds.  “She’s a traveler – she’s always traveled – so that was an instinct for her to pack her bags.  Obviously, not everybody can do what she did, but it’s not really about that.  It’s fun to watch her go around the world in the movie, but it’s really about her own self-examination and figuring out what she wants out of life.”


Roberts says that kind of reflection isn’t easy and it’s what makes Gilbert’s journey remarkable.  “For her to take that time for herself is what is deeply interesting and encouraging to other people,” she says.  “I think that’s courageous and admirable; it’s such a busy, rapid-fire world, so to try to stop and figure out what’s right for you is a good thing.”


Meeting the real Liz


Roberts had the opportunity to meet the real Elizabeth Gilbert in Rome.  “Ryan had a relationship with her through pre-production, but I felt it was important for me in portraying her to go with my instincts, to get enough filming done that I was already on a course by the time that I met her,” says Roberts.  “She’s a lovely, lovely person, and she has a great way of talking and very specific mannerisms, and I didn’t want to imitate her.  She’s a beautiful human being.”


Shooting all over the world


“Rome welcomes you with open arms,” says Roberts.  “I have been lucky to work there several times.  It’s a very welcoming place and a great choice for Liz’s first stop on her journey.”


“Liz enters India like a young girl with a backpack, with this dream of going to an Ashram and finding peace,” says Roberts.  “What she finds is that it doesn’t really come that simply.”


Only after learning the joy of indulgence in Italy and the power of inner peace in India is Liz ready to receive the messages of Bali: balance.  “Liz had been to Bali before,” Roberts notes.  “She had heard a prophecy that she’d return one day.  I think that guided her to the final leg of her journey.  And the lesson she learns in Bali – seek balance – is something she isn’t quite ready to receive when she first arrives, but we all need to learn that life is not linear or logical.”


Working with Javier Bardem


“I was very intrigued but also very nervous about working with Julia Roberts,” says Bardem.  “I truly admire her and am a fan of her work, but I had never met her personally. I was coming into the film late in the game, and I didn’t want to change the rhythm of things.  But Julia was so welcoming and as human as a person can be, and funny as hell. She is so present when she is working, it almost hurts.”


Roberts says that as the long shoot – literally around the world – reached its final days in Bali, Bardem infused fresh energy into the project.  “He gave all of us a new joyous sense of purpose,” she says.  “He is so great in the part of Felipe, because he really is just so human and natural.”