Javier Bardem and Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love." (Francois Duhamel / Sony )
When Julia Roberts signed on to play the title role in "Eat, Pray, Love," she made one thing clear: She wanted the film to be shot in the locations where the story was set. That wish, of course, would mean quite a lot of work for the film's crew, which spent nine months in pre-production trying to figure out how to logistically shoot a movie in New York, Italy, India and Bali.
But the effort was essential to making the movie work, said director Ryan Murphy. He wanted the film to stay true to the work it is based on, Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 bestselling memoir about a post-divorce journey of self-discovery that leads her around the world.
"Julia was really adamant about wanting to film in the locations because the book has become such a phenomenon over the years. There are actual ‘Eat, Pray, Love' vacation tours people do to travel all over the world like Liz did," said Murphy.
But mapping out Gilbert's journey was, in Murphy's words, a "Herculean effort" that required multiple location scouts, thousands of photographs and a handful of e-mail exchanges with the author herself. But while the director was worried about straying from Gilbert's story, she had no such concerns and invited him to take creative liberties.
The idea of filming in Bali was one of the selling points for the film's stars, including Javier Bardem, who plays Felipe. "It was the chance to go there and see what was there to discover."
That audiences will be able to share in the locations is one of the special aspects of the film, believes Richard Jenkins, who plays Richard from Texas. As a kid, he first viewed the world through film. "I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and that's how I saw the world — through movies," he said.
The locations add a little bang to the movie buck too, Murphy said, because the film "is like four movies in one. The light in each one of these countries is so different — and the colors and the ambiance and the smells," he said. "They kind of don't make movies that let you do this type of traveling anymore."
NEW YORK: While filming here — like this scene in Washington Square Park with James Franco — the production often attracted eager onlookers. "Julia Roberts is the biggest female movie star of all time — she's been famous since God was a boy," director Murphy said. "So in New York, we had to have a lot of security. But the worst was Rome. We would have 500 people showing up every day screaming Julia's name — it was like a rock concert every day."
ITALY: Though Roberts wears a scarf in this scene, director Murphy said it was actually blistering hot while they were shooting. "That's why Julia is such a great actor, because we shot Rome in August and you see her all bundled up in all these fall clothes eating pasta," he said. "Imagine eating tripe and spaghetti carbonara when it's 102 degrees outside. Not a lot of fun."
INDIA: During their down time, cast and crew would sometimes take side trips — Jenkins went to Varanasi. "It's the holy place for Hindus, and it was really great," he said. "To see what a holy site means to Hindus and how much they revere and worship it every night was terrific. They had fabulous lights and fires, and I learned a lot."
BALI: In Bali, Bardem noticed that the local people had a special relationship with their surroundings. "They truly feel they are a component of nature itself and that nature has a power to create and destroy," he said. "So nature is like a god itself on that island. It's a beautiful thing because I think it brings a humble feeling to life that we need to remind ourselves of — that we live in a place that is thousands of years older than us."