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An interview with Julia Roberts
by Joanne Soh

After all, she has been at the top of her game for almost two decades.

The best part of being the queen is having the luxury of doing whatever you want, whenever you want and with whomever you want.

The 42-year-old movie star is back to carrying an entire film on her shoulders - something she hadn't done since her Oscar-winning role in 2000's Erin Brockovich.

Directed by Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of popular TV series Glee, Eat Pray Love is the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 best-selling memoir about the author's year-long quest for happiness and serenity after a divorce.

Roberts plays Gilbert, who discovers the pleasure and power of nourishment by eating in Italy, the balance of spirituality with meditation in India and finding inner peace through true love in Indonesia.

In the Italian part of the movie, Gilbert adopts the mantra "la dolce far niente" (the sweetness of doing nothing).

It's a philosophy Roberts tries to adopt in her own personal life too.

"Being a mother, there's not really any time where you can do nothing," she told FiRST with a hearty laugh.

"But because I have tremendous support from my family and friends, I can enjoy a good glass of wine and chill out at home."

Dressed in a black silk blouse and linen bermudas for our interview, Roberts looked the part of someone vacationing.

After all, we were at the beachfront Ritz Carlton hotel in the Mexican holiday resort of Cancun.

Her family - five-year-old twins Hazel and Finn, three-year-old son Henry and cameraman-husband of eight years Daniel Moder, 41 - were playing in the pool outside.

Attaining inner peace, balance and happiness didn't come easy for the highly sought-after actress who has embraced Hinduism.

Like Gilbert, Roberts once took two years off work in her 20s to figure out her career and what she wanted to do with her life.

"It was a really nice, empowering decision that I made for myself," she shared.

Roberts added that the decision stemmed from being offered too many roles after the breakout success she achieved from Pretty Woman (1990).

America's Sweetheart

It turned her into America's Sweetheart.

She continued: "It became an exercise in believing in my own choices and an exercise in saying no to everything."

The flawless-looking superstar with the megawatt smile admitted that she had to learn to stay calm during that period of rejecting work.

"What would happen if I made the wrong choice? What if I couldn't find work later on? It took a lot of determination to say no."

Roberts returned to the big screen in 1993 with The Pelican Brief, where the experience of working opposite Denzel Washington was "amazing".

That was when she knew she had waited for "the right thing", she said.

Now, Roberts seeks guidance mainly from her husband, whom she calls her "best bud".

"He's so smart and he has a great point of reference. I also have some great girlfriends, so I think I'm covered."

Being the queen of Hollywood indeed allows her to be picky about projects.

She was initially apprehensive when Murphy came knocking.

She admitted that she's no Gleek - she has never watched the hit show.

While she wanted to work with Murphy because of his vision for the movie and relished the opportunity to star alongside Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem, Eat Pray Love was scheduled for a four-month shoot and was a huge commitment.

"I didn't want to be away from my family for so long," she said. "It's a lot to consider, and to be responsible for the film's success, it's a real roll of the dice for me."

In the end, Murphy agreed to her condition of letting her brood tag along.

Eat Pray Love was shot chronologically, a feat that Roberts said Murphy pulled off perfectly.

"People are crazy about this book and you don't want to disappoint them. I put a lot of faith in Ryan, who was so passionate and completely determined to turn this book into a great movie," said Roberts.

Eat Pray Love may look like a relaxing travelogue. But it was emotionally taxing for Roberts who said she could relate to what Gilbert went through.

"We are all broken in some way at some time in our lives. To forgive ourselves, to forgive another person or situation in your life so that you can move forward, everyone had that version of an episode in their lives."

She was also quick to point out that making a film about food wasn't all that pleasant.

"That scene where Liz enjoyed a simple plate of spaghetti took so many takes," said Roberts, adding that she put on 4.5kg from all the eating scenes.

"It was such a hot day and honestly, I was almost in tears. I was so full and I was so hot, but I didn't want to blow off something so simple with my whining."

Still, filming Eat Pray Love proved to be a rewarding journey as it gave Roberts the chance to fine-tune her own eat, pray and love experience.

"You never stop pursuing greater understanding of yourself and the world and how you relate to everyone," Roberts said.

"I think none of eat, pray or love exists without the other. They are just different variations of one theme, so my vote is for it all whenever possible."

Latin lover

Javier Bardem is Spain's second most recognised export to Hollywood.

His pregnant actress-wife Penelope Cruz holds the top honour.

The last couple of years have seen the 41-year-old actor's star on the rise, especially after he won the best supporting actor Oscar for playing Anton Chigurh, the chilling sociopathic killer with the world's worst haircut in the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men (2007).

In Eat Pray Love, the Madrid-based father-to-be does a drastic about-turn as Felipe, the kind Brazilian divorcee whom Julia Roberts' Liz Gilbert falls in love with in Bali, Indonesia.

Have you ever taken time off because of a professional or personal need for reflection?

I took two months off and I went alone to Brazil when I was 19.

Those were my wild days when I felt I was immortal.

But that scared me because I felt I was moving away from reality.

I once read somewhere that I always take an annual sabbatical. I don't know where that came from as I was always working. I have not rested.

And in these crisis times, you don't want to stop. If you can work, you should take advantage of that.

What made you agree to work on Eat Pray Love?

Easy. Julia Roberts was the star and I was just an invited guest in Bali. Nylon shirts, Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins, Ryan Murphy...there's nothing wrong with that. It was perfect.

You have had a good run in your career lately.

Yes, I feel good. I'm very lucky that I can do what I love. I decided a long, long time ago that I will do only what I love and not care about what others say.

Thankfully, the response has been very good. One thing that I'm very proud of is that I have never had to bow to popular pressure. If the movie does well, it's great.

And if the movie doesn't do well, at least I've the feeling that I believed I've done the right thing.

Where do you keep all your awards?

In my mother's home and in my office. I'd look at them for a bit and then get scared off by them.

They're like little judges, always telling me to do much better.

Do you see food as an aphrodisiac?

Not really. I do love food, but fancy foods are not my cup of tea.

I love a good glass of wine and a plate of fried eggs. That's about it. A lot of women do love a good plate of fried eggs. (Laughs.)

What is the best experience for you: Eat, pray or love?

I will get the love one, right? (Laughs.) Love was always my thing, or so people say.

I didn't eat anything because I had to stay thin for Julia. So I had to eat all kinds of fruits that you could imagine in Bali while the rest of the crew ate the beautiful Indonesian food.

I could eat comfortably in Spain. I'm sorry about Italy; it's so boring.

Spain has a lot of flavours I love.

I love Italian food, who doesn't?

But I would like to eat in the north of Spain, a good beef steak or seafood in Galicia.

I don't pray. As I always say, I don't believe in God, I believe in Al Pacino. (Laughs.)

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