Julia Roberts Eats, Prays, Loves, and Plays a Game With Me
I’m sitting just a few feet away from Julia Roberts and I’m going to ask her to play a game with me. Yep. I’m in a room with 25 other people who are all here to ask her about her new film, Eat Pray Love, and I’m going to ask her to play a game.
The actress has revealed just a few minutes ago that she nearly didn’t take the part of Elizabeth Gilbert in the adaptation of Gilbert's bestselling memoir because the commitment just seemed too much: too long a shoot (three months), too arduous a daily schedule, and a too-distant trio of shooting locations – Italy, India and Indonesia. Those locations are the exact reason why I’m going to ask her to play my game.
Now, in a room at the Bardessono hotel in Yountville, California (part of Napa Valley's famed wine country), I’m sitting among several reporters and they’re all doing their reporter thing: asking various questions directed to Julia, her co-stars Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, and Billy Crudup, and the film's director, Ryan Murphy. The questions all sound very professional. Not mine. I’m going to ask one of Hollywood’s biggest stars something altogether different.
"Favorite Sight and Favorite Bite" is a game that the wife and I play after any trip. We both pick our one favorite bite and one favorite sight from the whole trip. You may think that sounds easy — one sweet or savory mouthful and one singular spectacle — but it’s actually quite hard. We’re not talking one whole five-course meal here – that’s cheating. One taste. One moment. In this case, I'm going to ask Julia to pick one of each from each of Eat Pray Love's overseas filming locations. I hope the wife doesn’t mind me dragging Julia into this.
Some of the other people covering the junket are asking Julia whether she related to her character and if she'd read the book before signing on to the film? Lay-up questions. Softballs. Tantamount to Jim Grey asking LeBron James if he's still a nail biter. Screw that. I’ve got Julia Roberts cornered and I want some answers.
I’ve raise my hand and the gentleman moderating the press conference lets me know that I’m fourth in line to ask my question. Okay, I’m committed now.
I start to wonder if Eat Pray Love would have even been made without Roberts. I’m not entirely sure it would have. Sure, the book was an enormous success, but adapting it was an expensive endeavor, what with all of those exotic (i.e., expensive) locales. And its director, Murphy, has one other feature film under his belt. Without Roberts' star power, this film could be considered a huge gamble.
I’ve just gotten the signal that I’m up next. The heart starts to pound a little and … am I really going to ask this ridiculous question? Shouldn’t I ask Ryan Murphy about his interesting choice of musicians, such as Neil Young and Eddie Vedder, for the film’s soundtrack? What about Richard Jenkins' performance on that rooftop in India? That would sound more journalist-y, right?
Ugh, no. Everyone is going to ask that. I get the nod that it’s my turn and here I go. I set up the question very innocently, telling Julia about the wife and the game – disarming her with my smile and charm, which, on the outside, probably looks more like post-marathon stomach cramps and flop sweat. (You think it’s easy speaking with Julia Roberts? I’d like to see you try). I blurt out my question and Julia Roberts looks at me like, smiles, and then a long pause, blank stare and … "Oh, this is gonna take some thinking, which I really try to avoid at these things."
Panic! Abort! She looks uncomfortable. More panic! She doesn’t think this is cute at all! My mother was wrong: Julia Roberts won’t think I’m the most charming man in the room! I’ve spit the bit. Shat the bed. I need to get out of here immediately.
And then suddenly she says, "Okay, well …" Game on.
She begins in Rome (the "Eat" portion of the film) and she says tells me about this one bowl of spaghetti. It was nothing special, she says, just one simple and amazing bowl of pasta. I’ve been to Rome and I know what she means. She explains that her favorite sight was when they were filming this one scene at a restaurant where she does all of the ordering for the whole table in Italian. It was a table full of wonderfully committed actors doing what they do best.
On to India ("Pray"), where she reveals, somewhat sheepishly, that her favorite bite probably came from a granola bar, part of the 10 lb box of snacks that she packed for herself. Indian food, I suppose, isn’t for every palate. She jokes that the box was probably her favorite sight but then goes on to reveal that while filming a scene with Richard Jenkins in a small village, there were these "extraordinary women" who she says wore “bright, elaborate clothing and jewelry” and she went on to reveal how stunning they were and that she found all that in this village that meant these ladies were married and that when their husbands pass away, they remove all their elaborate clothes.
Julia said that there’s not a bad sight in Bali ("Love") and that their fresh mangoes were her favorite bite. By that point I’m just dizzy and relieved to have gotten through it, but I’m also thinking, "Roberts gets it." She was decidedly funny and charming and so I decide to let her off the hook for not picking one sight in Bali. It’s not an easy game and frankly, I’m not sure I should even be playing this or any game with another woman. Besides, when I go to Bali (and after Eat Pray Love you probably will too) I’m probably going to have a hard time picking just one bite and one sight.