Julia Roberts could never be a carb-conscious gay man. While filming “Eat Pray Love,” she ate starch like she was making a fashion statement. Take after take of pizza-shoveling and pasta-sucking left the lovable A-list actress almost 10 pounds heavier, and rightfully burned out on Italian food.
“The deliciousness of something wears a tiny bit after piece seven,” says Roberts, 42, who plays the memoir’s author, Elizabeth Gilbert. “I sort of relished just wolfing it down because I just felt like she was so excited to be there. She was so excited to be eating this pizza, and I would eat an entire slice in a take. I don’t know why I thought that was a great idea!”
No worries, though: “I loved every pound,” she says proudly from a press conference in Napa Valley, Calif., where she’s deliciously charming as she unleashes her bellowing laugh and luminous smile like only Roberts can.
Food appropriately brought Roberts and director Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee,” together before they shot on-location in Italy, India and Indonesia. The two met for lunch, but the legendary actress, who hasn’t truly anchored a film since “Erin Brockovich” and “Runaway Bride” a decade ago, wasn’t sure if being a mommy would allow her time for Murphy’s project. She deliberated for weeks, and finally agreed to take on the film.
That’s when their “love affair,” as Roberts coins it, began: “I put a lot of eggs in his basket and he never, for one second of five months of traveling, let me down, never wasn’t there to hold my hand, coax me into another bowl of pasta or just give me that extra piece of encouragement that I needed.”
Roberts was already familiar with Murphy’s work, like “Nip/Tuck,” which she watched when her hands weren’t guarding her eyes from the gory surgeries. But working with the director for “Eat Pray Love” really left a lasting impression on her (so much so that the two are teaming for another Sony Pictures feature, a romantic comedy) – especially when temps were scorching and they were, believe it or not, starving.
“He’d extract some prepositional phrase (from the book), and it would make all the difference,” Roberts recalls. “It would just bloom; the whole idea of what we were trying to accomplish over and over again would just take flight at his helm. It’s his second movie. How?! I don’t even know how it happened, but then we leave as in love as we were the first day, and that says a lot … because we went through a lot. We actually really are interested in each other – still.”
That loving feeling was mutual, as Murphy says: “One of the things that made me love Julia so much (was) she thought one of the reasons why the book was so successful (was) because it gave women permission to eat. Julia was so right when she said that, and we tried to bring that spirit to the movie.”
Despite all the gluttonous chowing down she did in “Eat Pray Love” – the six bowls of pasta, the eight slices of pizza – Roberts is still giving herself that permission. Just how much?
“Tons,” she says, without hesitation. “It can’t slow me down.”