InDepth InterView: Julie Andrews Talks Despicable Me, Obama, GLEE, Hollywood & More!
The Sound of Julie
Yesterday, I had the exceptional privilege of conducting an InDepth InterView with legendary Oscar-winning Hollywood and Broadway legend Julie Andrews, star of films like MARY POPPINS, THE SOUND OF MUSIC; original TV musicals like Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA; and stage shows like the original productions of MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT and VICTOR/VICTORIA. In our exclusive conversation we discussed everything from her favorite cast albums and theatre scores to working with Robert Wise on THE SOUND OF MUSIC and STAR! to ENCHANTED, THE PRINCESS DIARIES, SHREK and this summer's smash-hit Pharrell Williams/Neptunes-composed animated musical DESPICABLE ME. We also discuss plans for a US tour and the resounding success of her children's book series - even after all these years she still was at the top of the book charts and featured in the top movie of the week last week! Additionally, We also discuss her opinions on co-stars Russell Brand and Steve Carell, rock music in the theatre, GLEE, the Obamas, Sondheim, the Tony Awards and much more. Here is much more than a mere spoonful of the endless vat of sweetness - as well as generosity, beauty, elegance and class - that defines Ms. Julie Andrews.
Mary Poppins. Cinderella. Maria. Need I say more? Probably not, but an introduction of some sort is requisite when discussing a star of this magnitude, yet she is all of them and so much more. She is Julie Andrews. Perhaps no one in the great pantheon of film and theatre exudes more warmth, gentility and believability - as well as range of ability; excelling at comedy and tragedy, family fare and adult dramas - with more conviction as a performer and innate likeability and star power than Julie Andrews. Her formidable talents as an actress, a vocalist, an activist, an author and a raconteur are merely more good gravy on top of the sheer, blinding star wattage and genial presence Ms. Andrews commands on stage or on screens, large or small, wherever she deigns to perform. In a class by herself, a true Hollywood Legend and Broadway Star of the very first order, Ms. Andrews was kind enough to discuss her starry career working with everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to her husband Blake Edwards, Noel Coward to Lloyd Webber, Hollywood to Broadway and far beyond, as well as sharing some anecdotes - her favorite cast albums, favorite scores, location shoot stories, backstage brawls and bawdiness - and touching upon any number of topics with her warm wit, vivacious charm and sly sense of humor. The very definition of a Dame - and royalty, British or Broadway.
In this InDepth InterView: Julie Andrews we discuss her hit animated film DESPICABLE ME co-starring the voices of Russell Brand and Steve Carell and her feelings on those two comedic cut-ups, as well as working on animated films like the four SHREK films, to talk of the state of Broadway today and the rock opera aesthetic of the recent past, her new children's book THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS published by the children's book label she runs with her daughter, working in the theatre with Alan Jay Lerner, Moss Hart, Frederick Loewe and Rodgers & Hammerstein, as well as starring in the original Broadway productions of CAMELOT, MY FAIR LADY and VICTOR/VICTORIA and the most-watched television special of all-time Rodgers & Hammerstein'S CINDERELLA, in addition to revealing new details about what lies ahead for her (clue: USA is on the radar!) and, of course, comments on GLEE, the Obamas, Sondheim, the Tony Awards and which role is her favorite of these three icons: Maria, Cinderella or Mary Poppins? That and much, much more! Enjoy!
PC: I have to tell you that I am a Broadway baby but I love film just as much so many of my questions will come from that. I love both nearly equally.
JA: May I say, that's the way I feel, also!
PC: Congratulations on DESPICABLE ME being such a big hit. Did you get a chance to work directly with The Neptunes and Pharrell Williams on any material?
JA: I did not, alas! You know, making an animated movie is such a lonesome thing. You mostly don't see your fellow actors or anything. You go into your booth, you record all your dialogue. It's very much an issue of trust. You leave it all up to the director. Once you've offered all you can, and given him as many variations as you can, he chooses what he needs. So, actually, I was as thrilled to hear the reception that it received last week as anybody.
PC: And Russell Brand and Steve Carell and your other co-stars, what up-and-comers and stars!
JA: I know! Carell is, I think, absolutely brilliant in it. His voice and readings are just superb.
PC: Any opinions on Russell Brand, perhaps as a fellow Brit? He's quite controversial...
JA: (Laughs.) Well, I think he's lovely. He's just lovely. He's funny, and he's very much up-and-coming, as you said. He's going to make it no matter what, you know.
PC: I can't wait to see him in Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST with Helen Mirren and Alfred Molina.
JA: Yes! It's been a long time in the making, I've read.
PC: What do you think about the rock aesthetic and sound in musical theatre? Scores like CHESS and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR...
JA: The one feeling that I do have is that, certainly, the rock musicals - particularly, of Lloyd Webber, he pioneered that new sound and it was very valid - but, I'm not as fond of it as I am of the great, more romantic musicals, I have to say.
PC: Yes, with you it always seems that acting comes first and that you're living the words. Do you find that words are what you connect with first, before the music?
JA: Yes, you couldn't be more right. You know, my daughter and I run a small childrens' publishing collection of childrens' books...
PC: It's not quite that small anymore, it's so successful!
JA: No, we have done quite a lot of books at this point. I do have to boast: it was a banner week for me last week because not only did DESPICABLE ME do so wonderfully well, but our newest little book for children, which is called THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS, also made number one on the New York Times Picture Book Bestseller List.
PC: Oh, congratulations! What a coup!
JA: I'll say! We're over the moon about it! But, what I was going to say is that the book before THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS was an anthology of my favorite poems and I included a great many lyrics to some of the songs that I love because, for me - you are right - it is all about the words. I mean, of course, the music. But, put really great words first and then put a marvelous melody behind it and I'm in heaven.
PC: And, of course, one of the very best wordsmiths wrote for you, Alan Jay Lerner. What was that experience like, on both MY FAIR LADY and CAMELOT?
JA: Well, I've always said that I think I've walked with giants. He and Fritz Loewe and, particularly, Moss Hart - our beloved Moss Hart - were incredibly kind to me. As was Richard Rodgers. I've just been incredibly blessed.
PC: What was the biggest challenge any of them gave you? Cinderella is a far cry from Maria or Guinevere.
JA: I think the challenges were MY FAIR LADY - I mean, for me, I was a rank beginner and just up-and-coming in my career and it was probably one of the greatest challenges I've ever had to face - but, what a learning experience! I've been incredibly fortunate and just happened to be the lucky lady that was asked to play those roles.
PC: What's your favorite cast album?
JA: My favorite cast album? Oh, my goodness me! (Theatrical Sigh.) Of all the great musicals?
JA: Oh, my! Can I have six?
PC: Whatever you want!
JA: Well, I guess - obviously, this goes for musicals, too - I guess GYPSY. I guess, in terms of cast albums, CANDIDE. I guess WEST SIDE STORY. I guess GUYS & DOLLS. I guess, I have to include MY FAIR LADY in there, too. And one that I absolutely adore - of course - SWEENEY TODD, as well as A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. (Laughs.) Which just has a special place in my heart.
PC: Nathan Lane did such a great job last night doing "Free" with Brian d'Arcy James on the White House salute to Broadway.
JA: Oh, did he?
JA: How wonderful!
PC: Yes. It will be on PBS in October, it was just online last night.
JA: I love that President and Mrs. Obama are embracing the arts. I am so delighted.
PC: It is wonderful to see that. What do you think of GLEE?
JA: (Laughs.) I think it's wonderful. I think it is so terrific that we are getting a chance to, you know, air some of these Broadway songs and help children to learn about them. You know, the scary thing is, Pat...
JA: I asked one of my daughter's friends in high school, she said that she was studying musical theatre. So, I said to her, "What are you doing?" and she said, "I'm singing and I'm singing some ballads." She mentioned a couple, and I said, "Are you doing any Rodgers & Hammerstein?" and she said, "Who?" and my heart sank!
JA: I made a vow then and there that it was my mission in life to keep promoting all the greats because, if one isn't careful they will - I don't think they'll go away, but I do feel a distinct need to help push them forward - but I think GLEE is doing just that.
PC: Exactly. And you are doing that by participating in my InDepth InterView column and gracing all of us here at Broadway World!
JA: Yes, and thank you so much.
PC: Define collaboration.
JA: I think it's the essence of any film and any stage production - any work where you do work with other people - of course collaboration is hugely important. One does for awhile become family. I think ninety-nine and a half percent of the people who work in the theatre want it to be good and want it to work. Just very, very briefly: I have a story...
PC: Please tell me!
JA: I made a movie with my husband [Blake Edwards] called THAT'S LIFE!
PC: Oh, I've seen it! It's so experimental, I love it!
JA: It was a complete collaboration. It was an experiment that my husband did. A very, you know, non-union movie. Very, very, you know: the whole family was in it, all our friends were in it. And Blake wrote a quick outline. He defined our characters for us, but then said, "All right, now it's up to you. Go with it." And you would imagine that with a lot of very good actors there would be egos run rampant. But, in fact, it was completely the opposite!
PC: No way!
JA: We would sit around and say, "What is best for the character? What works here?" And it was quite wonderful to see the collaboration on that. It was a lovely learning experience because - far from the egos taking over - the collaboration won out.
PC: You were almost like Gena Rowlands to his John Cassavetes.
JA: (Big Laugh.)
PC: No, I'm serious! You were creating art on the spot.
JA: That's exactly right. Lovely Jack Lemmon. And, just so many good friends participating. But, really, if you don't have collaboration I think you are very lost, indeed.
PC: Oh, what a great answer! I've asked that of everyone I've ever interviewed and that's the best answer so far!
JA: Oh, you are kind, Pat. I feel a little tongue-tied! (Laughs.)
PC: You should never feel that way. Please tell me: Mary Poppins, Maria or Cinderella, if you had to choose?
JA: Oh, God. I don't want to have to choose! (Laughs.)
PC: But, you have to!
JA: When children ask me what's my favorite, I say to them, "Imagine having ten beautiful new puppies in a basket and you had to say which one is your favorite, and you simply couldn't because you love them all for different reasons." POPPINS was such a learning experience, as was THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I tell you, every one of them just helped me grow in what I do and did and each one was such a phenomenal working experience. Just as I said, the collaboration is what it's all about.
PC: And your career has been a complete basketful of puppies to every Broadway fan, I can tell you that much!
JA: (Big Laugh.) Thank you, Pat. That's so kind of you!
PC: A lot of my past interviewees have spoken so favorably about you, first and foremost a man who previously directed you in PUTTING IT TOGETHER, Bob Avian.
JA: Yes he did [direct me], didn't he! I love him!
PC: Did you ever have any interactions with his partner Michael Bennett?
JA: No. If only, I wish! Only admiration. I think I had probably left Broadway for a spell and, sadly, just never met him. But, Bob spoke about him a little bit and I was a great admirer.
PC: Did you enjoy working on PUTTING IT TOGETHER? Are you a fan of Stephen Sondheim?
JA: Are you kidding? (Laughs.) It goes without saying. I am simply adoring of the man and his work and so filled with admiration with what it is he does.
PC: I love your "Send In the Clowns" on the Tony Awards from the 80s.
JA: Oh, my God! That was years ago! I loved doing it. Thank you.
PC: You and Angela Lansbury are like the queens of the Tony Awards.
PC: You were the best hosts ever! What was it like working on those Alexander Cohen broadcasts?
JA: You feel so honored. It's also a little daunting because you don't want to let anyone down and you want to look great. But, I loved doing it. You know, needless to say, I think Angela is superb in whatever she does and she is a huge Sondheim aficionado, so...
PC: Could you tell me about working on STAR!? It's my favorite musical movie of the 60s.
JA: Oh, yes! Thank you so much for that! I love it, too. It was a lot of hard work at the time. It had so much detail... the sets were period-specific, the wigs for each period, different make-up for each period. It was quite an exhaustive film to do. And I loved working with Michael Kidd who, of course, became a great, great friend of mine.
PC: You never got to meet Gertrude Lawrence herself, did you?
JA: No, I did not. I think, if memory serves, I met her daughter once. I honestly don't recall too much. I actually don't think I did Gertie any favors, the way the script was written and so on. I think it was not as flattering to Gertie as it could have been but it certainly was a wonderful film to make. It gave me so much, you know; there was so much meat in there to work on.
PC: In the commentary for CHICAGO, director Rob Marshall cites STAR! as one of his biggest influences on his film.
JA: Oh, really? I never knew he said that! How lovely!
PC: Putting them side-by-side, it's clear to see. STAR! reinvented the bio-movie-musical in a lot of ways.
JA: I didn't realize that. (Pause.) Wow, you've really done your homework!
PC: No, really, you shepherding STAR! is partially responsible for the comeback of the musical now. It's all there. It's like the biopic musicals of today like RAY, DREAMGIRLS and CADDILAC RECORDS. That's STAR! Thirty years ahead of its time.
JA: It came out at a time when really big budget movies - at that point - were on the decline, on the wane. So, it wasn't that successful. But, over the years, it's become sort of a cult, a collector's item. There have been several re-releases of it. I have hugely fond memories of it. Our directory Bob Wise was, of course, a darling and I loved working with him.
PC: Of course, you had previously worked together on THE SOUND OF MUSIC. What was the difference since the two properties are so vastly different? Was it totally different?
JA: I think, oh gosh, well, no. Yes and no. Very different projects. Very different... sensibilities. I mean, STAR! was mostly shot on the soundstages, though we did make a small trip to France. Actually, my Blakie proposed to me while I was away in France making STAR!
PC: What a wonderful story.
JA: Oh, it was wonderful. Believe me! (Laughs.)
PC: And THE SOUND OF MUSIC?
JA: Actually, as you probably know, most of THE SOUND OF MUSIC was filmed in and around Salzburg. But, STAR! was mostly a home-shot movie. And much, much more detailed. Oh, gosh, how can I tell you! They were just totally different projects. But, Bob's craft shone throughout both of them. He was very much in charge. Very much at the helm.
JA: I have to also say, there was a man named Sol Chaplin who was in charge of all the music on both of those movies. Sol and Lenny Hayden did STAR! together. I have to tell you, the quality of the sound on those movies is phenomenal.
PC: Yes, besides Chaplin and Hayden, who are some of your other favorite music men - arrangers and such - you've worked with?
JA: Oh, so many. Really. Larry Grossman. Len Roven. Ian Fraser, who, of course, has been my maestro for so many, many years. Also, Ian, of course, is a lovely composer in his own right. He's written a beautiful score for one of my children's books which we now do when I go on tour, in concert. It's narration with symphonic orchestration behind it. Much like PETER & THE WOLF.
PC: Are you going to bring that tour to the US?
JA: Well, I have done it in the US. I did about five concerts in the US about - almost - two years ago now. I just loved doing it. You can imagine, this tiny little children's book suddenly blossomed and became this big project for me. But, also, obviously, so many of the Broadway conductors are amazing, too. Jack Elliot. And also Scott Frankel and Joel Thalkin.
PC: Another past interviewee, Jerry Mitchell, says "Hello" and expressed how much he loved your collaboration and friendship on PUTTING IT TOGETHER.
JA: He's such a lovely guy. He was Bob [Avian]'s assistant on PUTTING IT TOGETHER. I remember so well working with him. We used to take classes together and do work-outs in the mornings or the afternoons before the matinees or evening performances and he was terrific!
PC: And you participate with the Broadway Bears - as opposed to Broadway Bares, with the 'e' and 'a' switched!
JA: (Laughs.) Yes, I do them every year, I sign the new ones they come out with and so on.
PC: And past InDepth InterView participant Elaine Paige has also said she has worshipped you throughout your career.
JA: Awww. How lovely of her! That's so kind of her! It's mutual.
PC: Scarlett Johansson is a big fan, too, especially of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. She nearly played Maria this time around in the West End.
JA: Isn't that wonderful! It's lovely that the Hollywood stars are crossing over to Broadway. It used to be the other way around. Now, it's just so lovely; that. There used to be such a dividing line in the country between Hollywood and the theatre and that's just melting away. It's just wonderful right now!
PC: A lot of that is due to you and your career. No one crossed over from a big Broadway success to an even bigger Hollywood success quite like you.
JA: No, it has nothing to do with me, Pat! (Laughs.)
PC: I think it does! So, are ENCHANTED 2 and DESPICABLE US still happening relatively soon?
JA: (Big Laugh). I have no idea, I have no idea!
PC: On IMDB it says both are in-development!
JA: Wait, by ENCHANTED 2 do you mean THE PRINCESS DIARIES sequel?
PC: No, I mean ENCHANTED 2. You provided the narration for ENCHANTED!
JA: Oh, yes, only the very, very beginning of it, really. And the ending. You're right. I did. Yes, they probably are doing that. But, I didn't know about it. So, you're the first to tell me.
PC: So, I broke the news, I broke the story to Dame Andrews herself!
JA: Yes. Yes, you did! (Laughs.)
PC: They aren't scheduled until 2013 anyway. You have time!
JA: That's if I'm asked. Mind you, as a narrator I'm not sure if they'll need me this time. So, from your lips to someone's ears, Pat!
PC: And you need to do a duet with Idina Menzel this time in ENCHANTED 2! Or on GLEE!
JA: (Laughs.) Yes! Oh, my goodness me! (Laughs.)
PC: This has been one of the great privileges of my journalistic career. Thank you so much for talking to me today!
JA: Thank you, that's very kind of you, my dear!
From This Author Pat Cerasaro