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How Julie Andrews Made Herself At 'Home' In Hollywood

Oct 15, 2019
Originally published on October 15, 2019 10:57 am

Julie Andrews knows she's been lucky.

She's worked hard, yes, but she's also lived long enough to realize that her success was not just the result of that work. It was also borne out of opportunity — and the opportunities that came early in her career changed everything.

Julie Andrews' first film performance was her role in Mary Poppins; her next, The Sound of Music. As it turns out, even a Hollywood icon can feel insecure about her early performances.

"I do happen upon [my past work] once in a while," she says in an interview. "And I will stop and think: 'God, I wish I'd done that better.'"

It might be hard to believe that someone as beloved and accomplished as Andrews winces at her past work. But it's in part because of how quickly her Hollywood career was born. In her new memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of my Hollywood Years, Andrews chronicles that ascent to stardom and the many highs and lows that followed it.


Interview Highlights

On moving from theater to film

Well, you know, onstage you start at the beginning and go straight through to the end. But in film, you could be shooting out of sequence. You could start in the middle and then shoot the end sequence. So you have to hold the whole film in your head while shooting each individual scene. It [Mary Poppins] really was the best film to begin to learn the craft of making a movie, because everything about it was an education.

On her fear of being typecast for The Sound of Music

I did worry that I might get typecast [as another nanny], and I was for a while, but I couldn't not do it. The one worry that I think all of us had was not allowing that story — which features children, and beautiful countryside, and the music — to get too saccharine. And so I think everybody felt that. But how could I say no to such a lovely author?

On her favorite song from The Sound of Music

Well it doesn't feature me, I do sing a tiny moment of it, but of course it's "Edelweiss." Sorry to be so corny, but of course it speaks of everyone's home. It's not just "bless my homeland" (being Austria in the movie), but it's anyone's homeland. And home meant a great deal to me. And wherever I was — theater, film — I had to make a home and embrace, well, a yearning for love, and finding one's place in life, and figuring out who I was, so to speak.

On the challenge of taking credit for talent and hard work

I had a big problem to begin with, funnily enough, with audiences. I attributed to the audience the way I viewed myself. In other words, I was convinced that they might find me boring. But over the years, I decided that was a stupid thing to be doing and that I needed to work on that. And I did.

On feeling like she had "arrived"

There was a moment in the middle of My Fair Lady, when I went to London with the show, I suddenly realized: I wasn't just performing, I was giving them a great evening, hopefully. And you know, probably back home, one of their children had a cold, and they had the tax man around the corner, and so on. But for three hours, I might be able to make them feel great — that I could make a difference.

On the power of voice

It is like opening your chest and baring your soul. My singing teacher used to say to me: "Singing with a great orchestra is like being carried along in the most comfortable armchair." It can engulf you, when you feel that incredible, intense joy coming over you.

On losing her singing voice after an operation

That was very heartbreaking. But my lovely daughter Emma said to me once: "Mom, you shouldn't feel bad about it. You've just found a new way of using your voice." Which was writing those books and incorporating music into those books. So suddenly, the weight fell off my shoulders and I thought, "Well, I haven't lost the music. I just have to find a different way of using it and enjoying it."

Barry Gordemer and Simone Popperl produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Vincent Acovino adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Julie Andrews knows she's been lucky. No doubt, there was endless hard work, but she has lived long enough to know that success is hard work plus opportunity. And the opportunities that came early in her career changed everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR")

JULIE ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

ANDREWS: (As Maria, singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music.

MARTIN: Do you happen upon them ever on TV, those movies?

ANDREWS: I do happen upon them once in a while. And I will stop and think, God, I wish I'd done that better.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Which is hard to believe, right? Hollywood icon Julie Andrews still feels a little bit insecure. It's in part because of how her stardom happened. Believe it or not, "Mary Poppins" was the very first film she ever made. I got to talk to Julie Andrews about her memoir titled "Home Work: A Memoir Of My Hollywood Years."

What was the most difficult part of taking the experience that you had had on stage in theater and moving it to the screen?

ANDREWS: Well, you know, on stage, you start at the beginning and go straight through to the end. But in film, you could be shooting out of sequence. You could start in the middle and then shoot the end sequence. And so you have to hold the whole film in your head while shooting each individual scene. And it really was the best film to begin to learn the craft of making a movie because everything about it was an education.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS")

ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) The biggest word you ever heard and this is how it goes. Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.

MARTIN: I love the detail you write about the scene where you're filming "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." And your husband at the time, Tony Walton, who was in charge of set and costume design, actually, for "Mary Poppins," he was there on set. And in the filming of that scene, he made a suggestion that you should ad-lib. Can you tell us that story?

ANDREWS: Yes, he said, you know, it would be great if in the middle of the song you sort of threw in an aside that said, you know, you can say it backwards, but that's really going too far, don't you think? And he worked out the phonetics of saying it backwards, which I still can do.

MARTIN: Oh, you know I'm going to ask you. Can you, please?

ANDREWS: (Laughter) Yes, I can. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious backwards is dociousaliexpilisticfragilcalirupus (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS")

ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

MARTIN: "Mary Poppins" wasn't even out in theaters when you were cast as the lead in "The Sound Of Music." But you write that you were hesitant to play another nanny.

ANDREWS: Well, only that I did worry that I might get typecast. And I was for a while, but I couldn't not do it. And the one worry I think that all of us had was not allowing that story which features children and beautiful countryside and the music (laughter) to get too saccharin. I think everybody felt that. But how could I say no to such a lovely offer?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO-RE-MI")

ANDREWS: (As Maria, singing) Tea, a drink with jam and bread. That will bring us back to Do.

MARTIN: I was surprised to learn that in "The Sound Of Music," of all the beautiful songs, that your favorite is one that doesn't even feature you.

ANDREWS: (Laughter) Well, it doesn't feature me. I do sing a tiny moment of it. But, of course, it's "Edelweiss." Sorry to be so corny, but, of course, it speaks of everyone's home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDELWEISS")

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: (As Captain Von Trapp, singing) Edelweiss, edelweiss, bless my homeland forever.

ANDREWS: It's not just bless my homeland being Austria in the movie, but it's anyone's homeland. And home meant a great deal to me. And wherever I was - theater, film - I had to make a home and embrace, well, a yearning for love and finding one's place in life and figuring out who I was, so to speak.

MARTIN: May I ask about that? You've talked about your effort to become more self-assured. You did start so young and were thrust into such big roles so early. Did it continue to be difficult for you over a career to take credit for your talent and hard work?

ANDREWS: Yes, I had a big problem to begin with, funnily enough, with audiences. I attributed to the audience the way I viewed myself. In other words, I was convinced that they might find me boring. But over the years, I decided that was a stupid thing to be doing and that I needed to work on that, and I did.

MARTIN: Is there a moment in your career - I know it's difficult to pinpoint moments, but do you remember feeling like, I have arrived; I do not have to prove myself in this world anymore?

ANDREWS: There was a moment in the middle of "My Fair Lady," when I went to London with the show, I suddenly realized I wasn't just performing. I was giving them a great evening, hopefully. And, you know, probably back home, one of their children had a cold, and they had the tax man around the corner and so on. But for three hours, I might be able to make them feel great - that I could make a difference.

MARTIN: There is a part in the book that I loved where you are describing to your husband Blake Edwards about the power of voice.

ANDREWS: Yes.

MARTIN: There is something uniquely intimate about the experience of singing, isn't there?

ANDREWS: Very much so. I mean, it is like opening your chest and baring your soul. My singing teacher used to say to me, singing with a great orchestra is like being carried along in the most comfortable armchair. It can engulf you when you feel that incredible, intense joy coming over you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEED THE BIRDS")

ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Although you can't see it, you know they are smiling each time someone shows that he cares.

I don't sing anymore. You know, I was - unfortunately had an operation that took away my ability to sing. And that was very heartbreaking. But my lovely daughter Emma said to me once, Mom, you shouldn't feel bad about it. You've just found a new way of using your voice, which was the writing of books and incorporating music into those books. Suddenly, the weight fell off my shoulders and I thought, well, I haven't lost the music. I just have to find a different way of using it and enjoying it.

MARTIN: The book is called "Home Work: A Memoir Of My Hollywood Years." Julie Andrews, what a pleasure. Thank you so much.

ANDREWS: Well, it was lovely, Rachel. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.