By Karen Valby
July 08, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Francois Duhamel

STARRING Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Billy Crudup
WRITTEN BY Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt

Ryan Murphy knows the impulse some people have to pigeonhole a film, especially one based on a memoir masses of women have claimed as their personal bible. ”Everybody’s going to come to the movie and say ‘Oh, it’s Sex and the City meets Out of Africa,”’ he says. ”Ha!” laughs Roberts. ”I hadn’t heard that one. But one of the things I really loved about our approach to this material is that people took it very seriously. This wasn’t gone into as a frothy, girl journey. This is a person’s soul-searching experience.”

Murphy worked for a year on the script with his writing partner Jennifer Salt, routinely seeking input from Roberts. ”I remember in the first draft I read, there was, like, one dinner,” says the actress. ”So, much to my ultimate chagrin, I said to Ryan, ‘There’s just not enough eating! It is called EAT Pray Love.’ Of course, there I am stuffing my face in Rome every other day. I gained seven pounds in Italy.” In Rome, the star finally met Gilbert. ”She just walks in the room and it’s like a warm light comes on,” says Roberts.