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Eat Pray Love – Why Julia Roberts was worried about falling too in love with her character

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Eat Pray Love - Julia Roberts
Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) in India © Columbia Pictures

Julia Roberts’ new movie Eat Pray Love, is based on the memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert. A self-described search for everything, the book achieved extraordinary success when it was published in 2006, selling over 6.2 million copies in the United States and overseas.

Ryan Murphy, the creator of Nip/Tuck and Glee, who wrote the screenplay along with Jennifer Salt, also directs the movie. Julia Roberts returns to the screen as Elizabeth, a woman at a crossroads following a divorce, who takes a year off from her job, risking everything to change her life. She experiences the simple pleasures of eating in Italy, the power of prayer in India, and finally love in Bali.

Julia Roberts spoke about the movie at the press event for the film, which was held in Napa Valley, California.

What was it that connected you most to this story?

Eat Pray Love - Julia Roberts
Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) in New York © Columbia Pictures

Everybody has a journey, a moment in their lives when they need to redefine who they are and what they’re looking for. 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.

Liz goes through a wide range of emotions – as you’d expect, because the story covers a year in her life. 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.

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, it was a delicious endeavor.

Ryan Murphy, along with Jennifer Salt, adapted the memoir into a screenplay. How close was it to the original?

Eat Pray Love - Hadi Subiyanto and Julia Roberts
Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto) and Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) © Columbia Pictures

Ryan and Jennifer did a very reverential adaptation. 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 ay 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.

What did you admire most about Liz?

For her to take that time for herself is what is deeply interesting and encouraging to other people. 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.

Did you meet Liz Gilbert during the making of the movie?

Eat Pray Love - Julia Roberts
Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) in Italy © Columbia Pictures

I did meet her, I met her in Rome, I didn’t want to meet her before that because I knew that she and Ryan were in close communication and the first step that I took was putting my complete and total trust in Ryan, which was one of the smarter things I’ve done for years. I felt it was important for me in portraying her to go with my instincts, and I was also worried about falling too in love with her and that I would try to be her, as opposed to just interpret her as an actor.

That’s why I didn’t want to meet her until we had done so much I couldn’t change it. And so she came to Rome and she was a delight. She’s like a warm hug the second you lay eyes on her. 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.

Viola Davis plays Liz’s best friend Delia – what she like to work with?

Eat Pray Love - Julia Roberts and Viola Davis
Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) and Delia (Viola Davis) © Columbia Pictures

It was so fabulous. For me this was four movies and then there was a person who tethered me to the world. Viola was the one that has the great lines in all of our scenes. And she’s just an amazing actress and it was so nice to get to know her and to watch her perform, and she’s very friendly, and her talent is so ferocious, and I thought what an honor to get to share that time as well as space in a scene together.

Liz is ready for a life change at the end of the movie, you’ve made a lot of changes in your life, getting married and having kids. Were you ready for that change when it came about?

Not in the urgent pursuit way that she’s experiencing it. But I definitely knew that my life would continue to evolve until I found that place where I could fully occupy and live in, which is the home that I have now. I relate to her search and her pursuit and it was definitely great to have a fulfilled sense of my own life and be playing some of these scenes and then come home at the end of the day and say, ‘Everybody’s here. We’re good.’

The title is Eat Pray Love, you have the eating and loving part down, can you talk about the praying part?

I think that if you’ve gotten to a place in your life where you have found a capacity to eat and nourish yourself in that way and love and nourish your life in that way, that somewhere along the way you figured out your own identity and how to pray and relate to an energy or a creation that is more than you, or else you can’t accomplish those other things.

How you do it, and how you relate to it and what you name it I think becomes insignificant to the act of understanding it.