Sure, most moms aren’t A-list actresses who, in the course of a day’s work, find themselves introducing their kids to their Oscar-winning friends. But it’s strangely comforting to see Julia Roberts struggle with normal parenting issues as she attempts to get her 5-year-old daughter to acknowledge Javier Bardem, the love interest in her new drama Eat Pray Love. It’s Roberts’ ability to come across as both otherworldly and accessible that makes her a good fit to embody memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert in the screen adaptation of Gilbert’s smash 2006 book by the same name. Directed by Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, the PG-13-rated Eat Pray Love, out Aug. 13, follows a despondent New York writer as she spends a year traveling to Italy (eating), India (praying), and Indonesia (loving) in search of happiness and meaning. For Roberts, 42, it’s the first time in a decade that she’s truly carried a movie. Though she’s worked steadily since marrying cinematographer Danny Moder in 2002, she’s become known for turning down as many blockbusters (The Proposal and The Blind Side, to name two) as she’s starred in, a development that stems from her desire to spend as much time with her family as possible (Hazel has a twin brother, Finn, and there’s also 3-year-old sibling Henry).
But the appeal of Eat Pray Love (or, as Roberts calls it, EPL) was too strong for her to pass up. During the globe-trotting shoot (the movie was filmed in sequence), she served as ringleader to a band of male costars, including Billy Crudup as Gilbert’s ex-husband, James Franco as her flighty boyfriend, Richard Jenkins as a troubled Texan she meets in India, and Bardem as the Brazilian who shows her how to love again in Bali. ”She’s not one of those actresses who are stuck in the scene, who have a plan and follow that plan no matter what,” Bardem says. ”She’s the opposite. It’s like an adventure. Every take is different. She likes to be present and alive.” While picking at a fruit plate in a hotel suite in Cancún, Mexico, Roberts opens up about spit buckets, elephant costars, and how EPL changed her outlook on life.
EW Ryan Murphy says you had strong opinions about which elements from the book should be in the film, and which shouldn’t. What were you willing to lose?
Julia Roberts You do have to lose a lot. Some things just were too complicated — some of her mental conflicts. Just to briefly touch on things like that in a movie might come across as irresponsible. ”You’re depressed? [Snaps her fingers] This is all you gotta do.” If people are really struggling with depression or real mental conflicts, then eating a pizza in Naples is not going to solve those problems.
EW Speaking of pizza, did you have a spit bucket by your side for all of the food scenes?
Roberts Well, first of all, that grosses me out. But the truth of the matter is, there probably would have come a point when I would have used it. If you look at any of the scenes of eating, by the end of the scene, I’m done eating. Like in the scene with the pizza, by the time the scene is over, I’ve eaten the entire piece. When we were in Naples, we started shooting at 8 in the morning, and I think by 8:45 I’d eaten 8 or 10 pieces of pizza. Pizza was what I ate all day that day.
EW Did you want it to look like you had gained weight after the Italy portion of the film?
Roberts You know, we talked about that. Because I didn’t want people to say, ”Well, she’s supposed to go to Italy and eat all this food, but she looks the same in the whole thing.” So I talked to Ryan about it. And one of the things I love the most about Ryan is that he has a real legitimate answer for everything. There’s nothing that he hasn’t considered weeks before I’ve thought of the question. When it came to that, I said, ”What do we do?” And he said, ”By the time Liz got to Italy, she was so underweight that the weight she put on really got her back to normal and then a little bit more.” It wasn’t like she [became] a tub. So because I started at normal weight for me, by the time we left Rome and I was 7 to 10 pounds heavier, that was probably the truth of what she was dealing with. I could’ve used a bigger pair of jeans when I went off to India!