By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle ™
Among the world’s most favorite things is the singer, dancer, actress, movie and stage star, as well as director and best-selling writer, Dame Julie Andrews – and among her most favorite things, she proudly lists all the children in her expanding family.
It was our good fortune to be scheduled to have a private interview with the smart, humorous, down-to-earth Julie at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theater in Chester, Connecticut.
She is currently directing “The Great American Mousical,” a musical based on the book written by her – Julie Andrews Edwards (her married name) and Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie’s accomplished daughter.
Climbing onto the stage at the Norma Terris Theater, we were greeted by the energetic and ever-pretty-as-a-picture Julie. The gracious lady immediately extended her hand to give us a truly warm welcome. She thoughtfully asked which of the three chairs we’d like to sit in. We suggested that she sit in the cozy chair next to a table, which had a glass of water, and we took the two card-table chairs and launched into the business at hand.
Q. You’ve retained your youth, beauty and energy. Can you share your secrets: diet, exercise?
Julie: “It’s all in my genes. I come from good British peasant stock. Yes, I eat sensibly – no sweets to speak of, lots of veggies and protein. I do stretching and yoga, but I like to think that I exercise as little as possible for the best possible gain. From the time I was a little girl, my mother always told me to wash my face twice a day. And I think my skin has benefited from the fact that England gets a lot of rain. I think it was Hermione Gingold who first said ‘It’s a lovely country but badly in need of a roof.’ I use that line now. And yes, another thing is that it’s all about loving what I do, and I enjoy working and life.
Q. When you’re directing, do the actors ever ask for career advice?
Julie: Not really. Although if they do, I tell them that it’s always about understanding the craft. I had phenomenal mentors, and it’s important to always be learning and working on your skills. My advice is that good fortune will float past you when you least expect it, so do your homework and always be ready.”
Q. With your busy schedule of so many projects, how do you find time to spend with your family?
Julie: Yes, I have five children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren, with one on the way. When I’m in California, Sunday is always family day. Emma can’t always be there because she’s here on the east coast. But we do a roast and Yorkshire pudding and all the hearty English fare. When they were little I always got them off to school with a good hot breakfast. And we always find time for a real British tea together.”
Julie continues: “Emma and I have written 22 books together in the past 15 years, and we have five more in the pipeline. We get involved in outreach programs to the schools, and its fun working together.”
Q. Now that your “The Great American Mousical” is about to open [on November 8] at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theater, do you come to the project with a vision as to how you want to direct it?
Julie: “Oh yes, I know what I want to achieve, but my vision is enhanced and changed by the people around you – the cast, the musicians, the composer and lyricist: you know where you want to go, and you have an overarching vision, which can change and emerge as you go along.”
Q. With all of your achievements: Acting, singing, dancing, writing, directing and all the rest, what’s your favorite talent?
Julie: “That’s a good question. Singing is it. But for me, singing was always about the lyrics. I’m hopeless at singing songs that don’t have a core. Words are what make the song. I get a personal vision about what the lyrics are about. I’ve sung a song like ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ and for me, it’s about the theater. Think about it [and here Julie softly speaks/sings to us. Our newest favorite thing, as you can well imagine] ‘I’m gonna love you like nobody loves you, come rain or come shine. Happy together, unhappy together and won’t it be fine. Days may be cloudy or sunny, we’re in or we’re out of the money……’ You see, it’s about the theater. And once in a concert I sang ‘Cockeyed Optimist’ very slowly. The lyric says important things about the heart when it’s sung that way.
Q. We know that Paul Newman, your co-star in Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain,” once called you “One of the last of the really great broads.” What do you think of that?
Julie: (Laughs) “I’ll accept that gladly, yes he did say that.”
At this point, our scheduled time with the charismatic Dame Julie had come to an end. The next writers were itching to have their fifteen minutes in the glow of such starlight. We shook hands again and said our goodbyes, looking into the beautiful eyes of Eliza Doolittle, Maria Von Trapp, Mary Poppins, Queen Guinevere, Darling Lili, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Emily in Julie’s favorite of her films, “The Americanization of Emily.”
This gifted winner of the Oscar, Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes, British BAFTAs, Kennedy Center Honors, and many others, is as easy to chat with because she’s absolutely charming, funny and straight forward proving that there is nothing like a Dame or a really great broad.
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