Julie Andrews :: still filmdom’s fair lady
In coming face-to-face with Julie Andrews, the actress/singer/author lives up to any expectations that one might have about meeting her. She’s strikingly poised, friendly and seems generally happy to be in your company. Even before sitting down in front of a roomful of reporters at a recent press conference for the new family-oriented film Tooth Fairy, she first asks how everybody is doing before answering a single question. She’s also embarrassed when she verbalizes her concern that she’s hogging the chat time talking about her various film and literary projects. What maybe she doesn’t realize is that nobody cares about anyone else when Julie Andrews is in the room.
Thankfully to the legion of fans that have followed her career since she started performing at a young age, Andrews is not about to disappear from screen (or bookshelves) anytime soon. However, having been in the entertainment business since before her teen years, does she see herself as the cultural icon that most people do? "I’m flattered but I don’t believe it for a second. I’m flattered. People have been very, very kind. I don’t and neither do my kids."
While Andrews isn’t singing anymore, she’s still a strong presence in the film community and has kept very busy in the last decade with prominent roles in such films as the two Princess Diaries films and the animated Shrek films. While she admits she’s particular about the roles she chooses nowadays, she shared a certain criteria that helps her decide which is saying and it really depends on the script as much as anything else. This one really resonated and that’s what I’m trying to say. I think if one is fortunate enough to have a script slide across one’s desk these days, it’s about ’does it resonate?’ and ’can I help them do something with it?’
Hold onto your dreams
With her current project, The Tooth Fairy (in theaters), where she plays Lily, the head of the tooth fairies, Andrews was struck by the message of the script that resonated with her as both an actor and writer.
"The charm of the script the moment I read it was I immediately identified with some of the books I do attempt to write and I was thrilled because it has such an important message, it really is, that we should hold our dreams and always hold over them."
How did she like bossing around Dwayne Johnson’s Derek Johnson, who is enlisted to perform the duties of a Tooth Fairy for two weeks as a punishment for crushing the dreams of others? "I loved it! It’s very hard to tell this big guy off and the wings were a problem, too. I needed to brush up on that a bit and it took a bit of effort."
The message of the film is not only about sustaining children’s dreams but also to inspire them to go after what they want in life. Andrews shared a story about some of the people in her adolescence that helped inspire her when she was younger. "I had a wonderful tutor that traveled with me because I was very busy working as a child," she explained. "I loved to read and she introduced me to all the classics but my father was a teacher and he, at about age 9 or 10, took me into a bookstore and said, ’I’m going to buy you a book and here is what seems like a good one.’"
In fact, Andrews is responsible for keeping that same classic book that her father bought for her alive on the market so later generations can still enjoy it. "It’s a book that I have had the great fortune to republish and bring back to the public in America because it hasn’t been published in many, many years. If you think Watership Down but maybe even better, it’s a nature study and it’s called The Little Grey Men and it’s by an author who literally only signed his initials BB. That book has probably influenced my writing and set a standard for me probably because my Dad gave it to me, probably because it’s beautifully written. It’s a little classic."
Watch Julie Andrews recent appearance on The View.
Besides her foray into writing children’s books, her autobiography Home was a best seller when it was released in 2008. Since the book only took readers up to the time she appeared in the big screen version of Mary Poppins for Disney, will there be another autobiography of the post-Mary Poppins career and life coming down the pike?
"I’m not sure about part two. A lot of people have very nicely and kindly been asking but I’m not sure about that; I have to think about it. It was cathartic and I’ve had a number of years to think about it and to dwell on what it is I might say but I did want to be truthful because it seemed silly to write something and not just say it as it was. It was cathartic but it was also something and none of it bothers me in any way. I just said that was my beginning, that was my existence."
One person Andrews credits with getting her to write Home in the first place is someone very close to her. "I never would have finished it if it hadn’t been for my lovely daughter [Emma Walton Hamilton], who I do write books with sometime," she said. "She encouraged and pushed and interviewed me and helped transcribe and really did an enormous amount of work."
Andrews also said that writing Home was difficult for her mostly due to one important thing that one must do when offering details of a public life and career for readers.
"Oddly enough, you have to understand, that I had dealt with [the events] before, thought about it for a very long time and actually what was really painful was getting all my dates right! I’ve been around for quite awhile now and just remembering if it was 1952? Was it 1954? Was it 48? Just making sure all the facts were right but thank God for the Internet! A lot of people know more about me than I do!"
It is primarily because she’s had so many fans since her stage and film career took off that she isn’t sure writing a follow-up book is necessary. "I think everybody knows what happens after Poppins in a way," she said. "I took it up to Mary Poppins and I didn’t think many people knew about my early history and vaudeville."
But, then again, she questioned writing a biography in the first place, but was inspired by someone she worked with early in her career. "Moss Hart, the [Tony-winning] director of My Fair Lady, wrote a wonderful book called Act One and it was one of the great, great autobiographies and when I read it I realized that I had learned something from it which is about a piece of theater history that I never knew anything about and thanks to Moss I did it. It was the incentive. I had thought for years "Why publish a biography?" I could always give it to my kids but "Why come out with it?" and then I thought not many people know about the last dying days of British vaudeville and if I can give them a picture of what that was like that was a reason to do this book."
The good news for her fans is that there is more Julie Andrews coming to the big screen this year. She has a new Shrek movie coming out this year and also is one of the voices in the upcoming Despicable Me, which will be released this summer. As for a follow-up autobiography, fans can take a cue from none other than Andrews by keeping their hopes and dreams alive in hopes that dreams will come true.
Watch this one-on-one interview with Julie Andrews on The Tooth Fairy and her career.