The runaway bride

2010-10-08 13:53

There are times when even a pretty woman has to let herself go and, for Julia Roberts, one of those ­moments came at a local pizzeria in Naples, Italy, during the making of her new film, Eat Pray Love.

“I ate eight slices of pizza in 45 ­minutes,” Roberts recalls. “Sure, the utter deliciousness of it wore off on slice seven. But there I was, just wolfing it down for ­womankind across the globe.”

Eight slices? Really?

If any of that pizza went to her hips, it’s not apparent on a cool summer morning in Napa Valley, California, as the actress settles in for an interview at a posh hotel.

Looking willowy thin, Roberts wears a broad smile, her hair dark and flowing over her thin face.

Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert, who finds herself trapped in ­unhealthy habits after a painful ­divorce and decides to make a ­radical break with her past, heading on an around-the-world trip that includes extended stays in Italy, India and Bali, where she learns to eat, to pray and to love again.

“I gained under 10 pounds (4.5kg) for this movie,” Roberts says.

“I packed on the pounds during the Italy part of the shoot,” she says, “but then people said, ‘Oh, you’ll lose it when you film in India’.”

She rolls her eyes.

“Somehow I didn’t get that memo,” she says.

It took a great deal of consideration, Roberts says, before she signed on to do the film.

“For starters, I’m a mother of three young children and this was a huge workload.

This wasn’t just driving to Sony three days a week to shoot on a sound stage. It was shooting across the world.”

The biggest selling point, ­however, was Gilbert’s memoir – Eat Pray Love – which, like millions of other women, Roberts had ­devoured when it first appeared.

“When I heard about this book, I bought two copies and sent one to my best friend in Chicago.

I said ‘This seems special. Let’s read it ­together’.”

She decided to meet Gilbert only after she had sorted out how she would play the character.

“I didn’t want to meet her until we got to the first location, which was Rome,” Roberts says.

“It was one of the smarter things I’ve done in the past four years. I didn’t want to fall too in love with her and try to be her. It was my job as an actor job to interpret her.”

Though it increased the cost and the length of the shoot, director Ryan Murphy decided to recreate the arc of ­Gilbert’s journey, shooting the film in chronological order.

Roberts says: “For me it was a great luxury to shoot it the way it happened. It was almost necessary for the emotional evolution.”

The trickiest part of that journey was the first step, in which Gilbert ends what looks on the surface to be a happy marriage. There is no cheating, no abuse, no conflict; she has simply fallen out of love with her husband.

The actress says that she can understand the search for true love.

As is well known, she was ­engaged to both Kiefer Sutherland and Dylan McDermott in the past, as well as previously married to ­singer Lyle Lovett in 1993.

They ­divorced in 1995. Since 2002, she has been married to cameraman ­Danny Moder, father of five-year-old twins Hazel and Phinnaeus, and ­three-year-old Henry.

Her own search, she emphasises, is over.

“It’s great to finally get there,” she says, “to come home and say, ‘Good. Everyone is here. We’re all good’.”

Roberts took her husband and their children to all the Eat Pray Love locations, which wasn’t ­always for the faint-hearted.

As for the local cuisine in Italy and Bali, well, it didn’t hurt her ­efforts to gain a bit of weight for the role.

“I thought I’d hurt myself trying to get my jeans on,” Roberts says with a laugh.

She agrees with Gilbert that men don’t mind a few extra pounds.

“I also believe that guys don’t care about what you look like ­naked,” Roberts says, laughing. ­“Anyway, that’s what dimmer switches are for!”

Her scenes with Javier Bardem, who joined the company only when it reached Bali, were among Roberts’ favourite in the film.

She says: “Working with Javier was like getting a puppy. I’m ­serious.

I was settled into the role and he came to the set with so much enthusiasm, like a puppy.”

The eating and loving get most of the attention in the film, but praying is a big part of Gilbert’s story.

“It’s your job to figure out how to pray,” Roberts says thoughtfully.

“You must relate to a creation that’s more than you or you can’t accomplish other things in life.

How you name it is insignificant. What you’re doing to accomplish those prayers is what counts.” ©?2010 New York Times News Service.

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