Julie Andrews on love scenes, learning from Hitchcock, and finding new ways to use her voice
When you're interviewing Julie Andrews, there's not much point in starting at the very beginning.
For one thing, she's been giving interviews the majority of her life. And for another, she's told a lot of stories in her two memoirs, Home and Home Work (and she's working on a third).
But there is still, remarkably, some new ground to cover, and we attempted to do so during a special episode of The Awardist celebrating Julie Andrews being the latest recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award.
Andrews was feted in a June 9 ceremony at the Dolby Theater, which included a Sound of Music singalong with the actors who portrayed the Von Trapp children. Her longtime friend Carol Burnett also presented her with the award. That ceremony will air Thursday, June 16 on TNT (and get a reprise on TCM on July 15), and it also celebrates some of the highlights of Andrews' career.
Now a veteran of stage and screen, Andrews began her career singing while she was still a child, before breaking out on Broadway and eventually making the jump to Hollywood as the title role in Disney's Mary Poppins (1964). She was famously passed over to reprise her star-making stage role as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (the part went to Audrey Hepburn), but it freed her up to make Poppins instead.
Perhaps it was kismet as the character of the practically perfect nanny would win Andrews both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. She famously thanked Warner Bros. chief Jack Warner, who selected Hepburn over her, in her Golden Globe acceptance speech.
"Oh gosh, that took a lot of courage, believe me," she remembers. "I wasn't sure whether to do it. And then I thought, 'Well, I mean it,' because if it hadn't been for being passed up on My Fair Lady, I would never have gotten to do Mary Poppins. And look where that led me. So it was quite genuine as well as being a very slight dig."
Still, Andrews was concerned she'd made a huge misstep taking a shot at one of Hollywood's biggest executives. "I thought that I'd be ostracized from Hollywood for being rude and that it wasn't very smart," she says. "But there was that awful moment of silence and then the audience burst into laughter. And so it was fine. They liked the fact that I teased him a bit and he himself had the grace to laugh that night too."
Andrews says she'd absolutely do it again if presented with a do-over.
From her Oscar success came a slew of major roles, including The Sound of Music and her first drama, The Americanization of Emily. Throughout her career, Andrews worked with a truly dizzying array of leading men, including Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, and Christopher Plummer.
But she had a particularly special connection with James Garner, with whom she made three films. On The Americanization of Emily, she recounts filming a particularly romantic scene that had a strong effect on her. "I do remember getting up off the bed after doing a love scene with Jimmy Garner," she says. "We spent most of the afternoon shooting it. It was very early in my career. And I thought, 'Oh, I must be sure to handle this properly.' And I was fine. Except when I got up, my legs buckled underneath me, because it had really gotten through to me in some way. Because it was deliciously sweet."
"I thought I was being so casual and professional," she adds. "Then I tried to stand up, and my legs just gave out."
Over the course of her career, Andrews worked with some of cinema's most iconic directors, including Alfred Hitchcock on Torn Curtain. She plays Paul Newman's fiancée (his eyes really were that blue in person she says), as they are caught up in a Cold War espionage thriller.
Though Hitchcock had a reputation for being difficult or indifferent to his actors, Andrews says he was patient and generous with her. "I said, 'Hitch, I don't know very much about lenses, I'm ashamed to say,'" she recounts. "And he said, 'You don't? You should. You're a lady, and when you get into close-up you should know what lens is on you. Come with me.' And he sat me down and gave me about a half an hour lesson on lenses and what they do and why they work."
But it wasn't only her work in the 1960s that enshrined Andrews in film history. She's made her mark in every decade since, endearing herself to a new generation with her role as Queen Clarisse in The Princess Diaries films (though if you're holding out for a third film, Andrews says she wouldn't make one without the late director Garry Marshall).
And of late, Andrews has been racking up voiceover credits, portraying the Queen in two Shrek films, Gru's terrible mother in the Despicable Me franchise, and most recently spreading gossip through the ton as the voice of Bridgerton's Lady Whistledown.
With her sterling soprano, Andrews built a career on her voice — but a 1997 throat operation permanently damaged her vocal cords, robbing her of the distinctive singing voice audiences had come to love.
Finding a new way to use her voice on screen has been particularly meaningful to her, even if it wasn't intentional. "You can imagine," she says when asked about how resonant the work has been. "It's been a growing and learning experience. Every character one does, it's something different. That is fascinating to find your way to it and through it. [But] it was pure chance. Certain offers came along, and I was available and it felt interesting. It is a wholly different technique to do a voiceover — it allows a lot of freedom, a lot of throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks."
With that world opened up to her, Andrews shows no sign of slowing down.
For more from the screen icon, listen to our full very special Awardist episode below.
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