In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts takes on the role of the book’s real-life author, Liz Gilbert.

And while having the person you’re portraying alive and available is a heck of a luxury for an actress, Roberts was keen on putting her own stamp on the character before meeting the genuine article.

“I was worried about actually falling too in love with her, that I would try to be her as opposed to just interpret her as an actor,” Roberts says. “That’s why I didn’t want to meet her until we had done so much I couldn’t change it.”

Instead, Roberts turned to director and co-writer Ryan Murphy for cues on characterization. “The first step that I took was putting my complete and total trust in Ryan, which was one of the smarter things I’ve ever done in four years,” Roberts says. “I knew that his paper interpretation of her that he gave me as my reference was all that I would need.”

And it turns out Roberts’ fears of falling too in love with Gilbert were well-founded, as she discovered when Gilbert visited the production while it was shooting in Rome. “She was a delight,” the actress gushes. “She’s like a warm hug the second you lay eyes on her.”