SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Who hasn’t wanted to do it? Pack bags and catch a plane to a faraway land. Escape the world, reflect on life and reclaim your soul from modern fast foods, hectic careers and speed dating.
New movie “Eat Pray Love” debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday as among the most highly-anticipated films of the summer. It is based on best-selling memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert and her globe-trotting quest for self-discovery after divorce.
While big-budget Hollywood movies often are dreamed up around a fantasy, the stars of “Eat Pray Love,” Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem, say their film is different because it is real. And, in some ways, it helped change their own lives.
“We’ve all thought about leaving everything and taking a journey to someplace else,” says Bardem, who plays Felipe, Gilbert’s love interest and who recently married actress Penelope Cruz following the film’s production.
“The movie speaks about people trying to face doubts, fears, insecurities and that speaks to everybody,” he said.
Roberts, who portrays Gilbert, told Reuters in a separate interview that she could relate to Gilbert’s soul-searching.
The actress, 42, was once Hollywood’s highest paid stars. She won an Oscar in 2000 for her role in legal drama “Erin Brockovich,” but since then has starred in mostly small roles in movies and taken time to get married and have three kids.
“I haven’t done a main part in a movie in a long time and I wondered if that kind of work load would still be interesting to me, and I was very happy at the end of this that I felt incredibly fulfilled as a creative person,” she said.
Roberts made headlines this past week when she said in an interview that she was now practicing Hinduism.
The film charts Gilbert’s year-long trek to Italy, India and Indonesia, where she seeks new horizons through large portions of pasta, prayer and spiritual guidance from a Balinese medicine man.
She carries heavy emotional baggage too — an ex-husband (Billy Crudup) with whom she went through a nasty divorce that she has difficulty reconciling and an ex-boyfriend (James Franco) with whom she had a torrid affair after her marriage.
The excess weight of these bad love affairs eases as Gilbert regains her footing and learns to move on.
Yet letting yourself go — the crux of Gilbert’s story and the film’s mantra — opening yourself up to new experiences and taking risks was not an easy endeavor. Nor was it simple for both Roberts and director Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of television mega-hit “Glee”, as they made the film.
“I was definitely outside of my comfort zone but, I mean, as an actor that’s what you want to go to work for. It’s to find a thing that’s challenging and unnerving and far reaching,” Roberts said.
Part of the “challenge” for the tall, slender Roberts was gaining weight. She put on roughly 10 lbs. in Rome, wolfing down eight slices of pizza in under an hour for one scene. In another instance, she ate about six bowls of pasta in one sitting relishing, she said, every bite.
Like the others, director Murphy admitted to coming out of the film “a different person” because of the travel to exotic locales and experiencing different people and cultures.
Spanning four continents, the cast and crew literally went off the grid, filming at actual locations Gilbert visited, even shooting at an ashram in India and at the real home of a Balinese healer — an important figure in the book and film.
The cast faced brutal conditions in India, including viral infections, building sets in Bali from scratch, and a revolving door of production crew at each new location
Murphy, who worked closely with Gilbert throughout the production, said he read her memoir for insight at every stage. By his count he’s walked in Gilbert’s footsteps at least 120 times, and he still has the first handful of copies he bought.
At the end of his trip, the books’ dog-eared and heavily underlined pages had to be carefully pieced back together.
“I feel like the only person in the world who knows that book better than me is Liz Gilbert,” Murphy said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte