It is the international sensation that started with three simple words: eat, pray, love.
When author Elizabeth "Liz" Gilbert was 31 years old, she had the husband, career and life many women envy. But, night after night, she found herself kneeling on the bathroom floor in a puddle of tears.
So, Liz took a leap of faith. She left her husband, filed for divorce and embarked on a spiritual journey that led her to Italy, India and Bali. Liz turned her quest to reclaim her life and heal her broken heart into a book, Eat, Pray, Love.
Her words struck a nerve with millions of women—including Oprah—and Eat, Pray, Love went on to become one of the best-selling books of the decade. More than 7 million copies of this memoir have been sold in 40 different languages, and now die-hard devotees will get to see Liz's travels come to life on the big screen.
In the film adaptation, Oscar®-winning actress Julia Roberts takes on the role of Liz and returns to the very pizza parlors and spiritual centers the author discovered during her original adventure.
Julia shares the screen with some of Hollywood's most talented leading men. Actor Billy Crudup plays Steven, the husband Liz walks out on, and James Franco is David, a free-spirited young actor who Liz falls for after her marriage falls apart.
Oscar® nominee Richard Jenkins plays the real-life Richard, a spiritual friend Liz meets while in India. And, last but not least, Spanish heartthrob Javier Bardem plays Felipe, the man who makes Liz want to love again.
Well before Julia knew Eat, Pray, Love would become a feature film, she says she fell under the book's spell. After receiving a copy from her agent, Julia says she started reading.
"I hadn't heard anything about it," she says. "I got about 30 pages into it. ... And I remember putting the book down and walking over to the computer, getting on Amazon and ordering the book."
Julia sent a copy to her best friend, Paige, with a note. "It said, 'I want to be reading this book while someone I love is reading it at the same time,'" she says. "She caught up, and we sort of read it in tandem. We didn't even discuss it deeply. I just wanted to know that somewhere in the world, she knew what I knew."
While reading, Julia says she surrendered and couldn't help but put herself into the book. "It's the way that [Liz] wrote this book," she says. "It's like a bell that just keeps ringing."
When Liz traveled through Italy, India and Bali, all she had with her was a journal and a carry-on. Years later, when Julia retraced her steps, she was accompanied by her husband, Danny Moder, their 5-year-old twins, Finn and Hazel, their 2 1/2-year-old son, Henry, and a film crew. Plus, Julia says her family brought along about 16 pieces of luggage. "I got the bag with snacks in it," she says. "I got the bag with medicine in it."
The film shoot mirrored Liz's journey, so the Moder family's first stop was Italy. "We did it in sequence," Julia says. "Ryan [Murphy, the director] felt it was really important for me as an actor, which it just makes it easier when you're kind of taking the trip the way that she took it."
In Italy, Julia lived out Liz's pursuit of pleasure by indulging in all the pizza, pasta and gelato she could handle. "Well, the permission to eat, I think, is a gift. For someone to say: 'Just eat it. Eat all of it,'" she says. "It always had to be the gusto. Like by the seventh plate of pasta, the gusto became a little more of: 'Give me a minute. I'm going to look like I like it in just a minute.'"
Julia and the crew even filmed a scene at Pizzeria da Michele, the Naples, Italy, pizzeria Liz made famous in her memoir.
Like Liz, Julia says she gained a few pounds during the "eat" portion of the story. "I ate a lot, and [the producers] made me eat it," she says. "They knew I was going to advance my muffin top, which I did, but it all worked out."
After their Italian adventure came to an end, Julia packed up her family and traveled to India.
In the book, Liz spends months living, praying and meditating at an Indian ashram. To replicate this spiritual experience, Julia says they filmed scenes at an actual ashram—but not the one Liz visited—in a remote area of the country.
"They were very giving, which I guess is inherent to living on an ashram, to be open and giving. But [they] let us descend upon them," she says. "We had some rules to adhere to, and we tried to be on our best behavior. And we didn't show our shoulders."
Julia says she and her children were amazed by India. "To be in India is to experience India. It's not that you have to go find it. It's all right there," she says. "[The children] love it. I mean, Hazel said when she grows up, that's where she's going to live."
Finn, Julia's son, even shaved his head before the family arrived in India. "My kids were really into the culture of every place we went," she says. "Hazel [also] wanted to shave her head, so I let her shave the back half of her head. They would chant, and they were just interested."
Like Liz, the film's stars and crew ended their exotic journey in Bali, which Julia describes as heaven on earth. "I love, loved, loved it," she says. "It was like the world opened up, like someone took the lid off and there we were."
While in Bali, the film's producers and director embarked on a daunting talent search. They had to find someone to play the role of Ketut, a wise Balinese medicine man who befriends Liz and becomes a mentor of sorts.
Ryan, the Eat, Pray, Love director, screenwriter and creator of the hit TV show Glee, says casting this role took longer than they imagined. "We looked and looked and looked from the beginning," he says. "We got to Bali, and we hadn't found him."
They searched the entire island and finally found the man for the job, a man named Hadi who'd never acted before. "It was just a feeling I wanted. It was a spirituality. It was a warmth," Ryan says. "It was somebody who was really authentic, and I wanted that and I couldn't find it. [Then], he walked through the door."
To make these pivotal scenes as authentic as possible, Ryan says they shot in the real Ketut's house. "Ketut was there giving us his blessing, giving Hadi some pointers," he says.
Throughout the filmmaking process, Ryan says he and the crew felt an obligation to Liz and her story. "I think it's more than a book. I think it's a movement, and I think it's so personal to so many people," he says. "It was to me. I was a fan, like Julia was, before it came into our lives."
Days before flying to Chicago to appear on The Oprah Show alongside Julia, Liz and her husband, Felipe, saw Eat, Pray, Love for the very first time. They asked to watch it alone.
"We're in this big empty movie theater, curled up on each other crying and shaking and laughing and talking out loud and saying, 'There's Richard, and there's Sophie, and there's Giovanni,'" Liz says. "What I was watching encapsulated the worst and best time of my life, condensed down into two hours. So I came out of it shaken, amazed, delighted, tearful."
After the movie, Liz and Felipe went home, drank two bottles of wine and went to bed at 8 p.m. Even now, she says she's still gets emotional thinking about it.
Though the film brought back a few sad memories, Liz says she was amazed by the process. "I'm not a visual person. I'm not a photographer. I didn't take pictures while I was traveling. I was writing," she says. "And Ryan was so adamant ... about going to exactly those locations, so it's essentially like this amazing director and this great actress and this cinematographer got together and made me a home movie of my year's journey. But they Photoshopped me out and replaced me with somebody with really amazing skin and 36-inch legs. Who wouldn't love that?"
As a bonus, Liz says the Hollywood version of herself gets entangled with a few handsome actors. "I get to watch me making out with Javier Bardem, which is also not a bad way to spend an afternoon," she says.
Liz says she never understood why so many people embraced her book...until now. Unexpectedly, she says the film helped her discover the universal truth embodied by her personal journey.
"[Eat, Pray, Love] always felt like such a contemplative, specific internal personal journey and a very private kind of internal conversation," she says. "It seemed like my trajectory was so different from others. Then I watched the movie and [I] figured out this piece of it, which is that it's more than just a spiritual journey. The book is also the story of how difficult it is to get over a broken heart."
Liz says every person in the story—herself included—has either disappointed someone, been disappointing themselves, is afraid of love or is beginning again at love.
"There's just this energy of the whole movie about how hard intimacy is. ... How much we long for it and need it," she says. "I saw it suddenly when it was on the screen and realized: 'Oh, that's everyone's story. That's where we all are in our lives, trying to figure out who we are in relationship to those around us and how we get over our greatest disappointments and try again.'"
There are some things books communicate better than movies and other things movies convey better than books. But, Liz says, there's one thing an actress like Julia can communicate better than anyone.
"Your gift is that you're able to take the personal and render it universal," Liz says to Julia. "I think that's what had to happen, because it's an incredibly personal story. And now it isn't. Now it is universal, which means everyone gets to have it as their own."
Liz says she's relieved Julia will share the role of "Liz Gilbert" with her because it had gotten too big for her to handle.
"I feel like, 'Oh, she's so much more to your scale what happened with Eat, Pray, Love.' Now I can go back to my garden, and you can go be Liz Gilbert, which makes me really happy," she says to Julia. "I've always felt like the energy of Eat, Pray, Love, it's like this parade that just keeps going around the block, and I'm looking out the window."
Millions of readers know where Liz went to eat, pray and love, but where would Julia find it?
When it comes to food, Julia says she always enjoys a good, big meal. "I had a big steak last night that just had me smiling until this morning," she says. "I like garlic. Anything with a lot of garlic on it, I'm going to like it. [I like] pasta, a nice ragout. But, you know, also put something in the Crock-Pot, it's going to come out, and I'm going to like it."
Julia finds peace during quiet times at home, at the end of a long day. "You can hear all the kids sleeping, breathing. [I'm] holding my husband's hand," she says. "Just knowing that tomorrow we get to do it all again."
For Julia, the love part isn't hard to find. "I have a great family, the family I'm a part of as a sister and a daughter and just really close friends," she says. "Then, to get to translate that into being with Danny and our three children, that's the biggest love that you can have. One you almost can't contain."
When she's not globe-trotting with her family and shooting Hollywood blockbusters, Julia says she's like most mothers. At home, she sews, knits, organizes playdates and carpools her children to preschool.
During the quiet moments, Julia takes time to appreciate her husband, a man she says she "sort of worships," and their three children.
"I live with four really strong personalities, and it's just really fascinating to me to be in this little biosphere of Moder-ville where we live," she says. "You just go, 'God, life is so cool.' If you can find that place where you can just watch it happening before your eyes...we're just filled with gratitude in our house."
Though she still loves acting, Julia says she now has something that takes top priority. "I definitely love my place in the world with these people more," she says. "If I had to make a choice, it would be a very easy choice to make."