Julie Andrews: The Sound of Her Music a Distant Memory
by Paul Fischer
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While it has been quite the road well travelled for Oscar-winning legend Julie Andrews, the sweet sound of her music is a distant memory, Andrews confirmed while promoting Shrek 2, in which she plays Princess Fiona’s grounded royal mother. Still recovering from a botched operation that has affected her vocal chords, rumours that the singer is back, performing in the upcoming Princess Diaries 2, are false, states a somewhat philosophical Andrews. “To my great sadness, my voice is not doing well, and in Princess Diaries, I am part of a song,” Andrews wistfully confirms. “I do start the song by speaking it, then do a kind of Rex Harrison sing-speak for about 8 bars before backing out of it while a whole wave of other people takes it over. So the idea that I’m back and singing again is not true.” Andrews, who is a spokesperson for much of the research and development that is ongoing, adds that it’s likely that such research would ever be completed in time to be of benefit to her. “I would imagine by the time it has gotten to the place where it requires FDA approval and has been tested, I might be too old or even not here, but I’m very glad that it’s going on because it helps future young Broadway people, because Broadway is a tough, tough arena for singing.”
While singing is not a realistic facet of Andrews’ future, the perennially youthful 68-year old remains busy as actress and author. This year alone, Dame Julie Andrews is having quite the royal engagements on screen: as an animated Queen in Shrek 2 and then reprising her role as the Dowager Queen in Princess Diaries 2. It seems fitting that for an actress who has captured the hearts of a few generations of movie lovers, that Andrews would eagerly embrace participation in the satiric fable that is Shrek 2. Asked if she does a film like that in part for the children who have embraced her as an author, as much as for her herself, the actress pauses. “Yes I think you obviously hope that what you can bring to it is something that will please them, which is the biggest criteria. Am I right for it? Can I give them what they think they’re going to get from me? So that’s always the big question on the roll at any time is what can I bring to the movie. But in terms of animation it’s very, very hard because you don’t have anything to cling on to as you are literally flying by the seat of your pants. You don’ t see, it’s just vocal and they ask you for endless changes on a single line. ’ Could you say it more friendly? Could you say it more lovingly? Could you say it worriedly now? Could you say it angrily?’ Then they pick which take they need when they discover what it is they need.”
But in taking on the sequel to the original hit, Andrews was also a fan of the original. “It’s got a wonderful edge and I think this one is even better than the first,” she enthuses.
Shrek and its sequel were influenced by some classic fairytales, and Andrews herself takes time to recall those stories that influenced her own childhood. “There was a beautiful children’s story called The Little Grey Men, the closest thing to which would be something like Watership Down. It was a pastoral piece, I loved it as a child and it influenced me a great deal.”
Julie Andrews remains an icon in the annals of theatre and film. It is hard to believe that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of that most enduring of Andrews films, Mary Poppins. And yes, Disney will be releasing a special 40th anniversary 2-disc edition of the classic musical this Christmas, on which Andrews herself contributed. “They’ve added wonderful new material to it, such as newly found out-takes, original wardrobes, stills, personal stills, rehearsal tapes, as well as interviews with Dick and myself.” In preparation, Andrews had to re-look at the film, which she hasn’t seen in its entirety since. “In light of having just done Shrek, I happen to have to sit in front of Mary Poppins and narrate feelings and thoughts because that’s what they love and I was staggered by it. Having not seen it in almost that many years. Even though the technology is so advanced today, if you look at Mary Poppins, what they managed to do then 40 years ago is not at all creaky, or at all dated, but it holds up brilliantly. I was just so staggered at how they achieved it because they didn’t have the equipment they do today.”
After a successful career on Broadway, having originated Guinevere in Camelot and Eliza in My Fair Lady, Andrews’ star shone brighter than ever with the 1964 release of Poppins and then burst with the release of 1965’s Sound of Music, still one of the most commercially successful films of all time. Through these two landmark characters, it would be fair to define Andrews as an icon, a description she feels happy to bear. “I’m very grateful to be in that position. I’m the one that was lucky enough to be asked to do those movies and lucky enough to be in movies that keep coming back every 7 years or so. That’s a pretty awesome combination for me.” Andrews denies that she went of her way to try and escape those roles by agreeing to do other films simply so as to avoid being labelled. “I think I did that from day one and the truth is that you’re best remembered for that which is most successful. I mean the Americanization of Emily was the second film I ever did and it couldn’t be more different but then suddenly along came the Sound Of Music and then it was Hawaii.” Yet it was Sound of Music that made money, while Hawaii flopped.
Andrews continues to keep her millions of fans happy by reaching new audiences of children and teenagers, with not one, but two family-oriented sequels, coming out a little over a month apart. It’s an unusual position to be in, even for the legendary Dame. “I don’t know where I’m headed. To hell and back probably,” she says, laughingly. As for Princess Diaries 2, Andrews had no hesitation in doing that sequel. “I really wasn’t reticent because if you know Gary Marshall as well as I do, then you know that the set is a joy. I feel so utterly, utterly safe in his hands and it’s the most horrendously long hours and you think ‘I’ll never survive’ and you have the best time of your life.” Andrews says the sequel is better “like Shrek is better. They know the characters more, there is more adventure and a lot of good storyline in the second Diaries.” Andrews says that this time, “it is discovered in Princess Diaries 2 that in order to be Queen she has to first be married because she is a woman not a guy. It’s a clause that I thought as queen had been taken care of by my husband who promised that he would and my ministers sadly tell me that unfortunately he died before he signed the bill. So all of a sudden it’s well: Good God, I had never realized that that was a problem and now we have to scramble, really scramble.”
If her acting isn’t keeping her busy enough, Andrews is continuing her writing, with a new novel just about to be released, and her writing is as important a role than in any film. “I am proud to say that I have a children’s publishing imprint called the Julie Andrews collection, which has been running for 3 years now and I have a new book coming out as of Tuesday, for young adults called Dragon.” Andrews says that writing for today’s cynical youth has its own challenges. “I have a sort of mandate for myself in my collection which is our mission statement which is to hopefully inspire a sense of wonder at some of the very real things like the nature around us, the world and so on. I tried very hard not to get into cruelty or violence of any kind but that’s very important to me but children are so hip these days so I just try to write what I genuinely feel, because to out-guess I think you’d be dead in the water.”
Generations of fans have grown up with Julie Andrews, one of the true survivors of classic Hollywood. Andrews insists that the reason why her work has stood the test of time, is more to do with luck than genius, yet ironically, it is now The Princess Diaries which has reacquainted her with a new legion of young fans. “Recently, a little kid and her mother came up to me the other day and the kid looked at me and her mother said ‘Do you know who this lady is?’ She must have been 7 or 8 and she said ;Yeah.’ And she said, ‘If I said, Mary Poppins to you, does that ring a bell?’ ‘Yeah Big deal.’ ‘If I said, Sound Of Music, does that ring a bell?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Princess Diaries?’ And she said ‘Oh, cool!” I loved it.” Andrews couldn’t be happier, she says, within herself, not to mention her still blissful marriage to her 34-year marriage to Blake Edwards. Her recipe for a successful marriage is simple, she says: “Take it one day at a time. That’s all Blake and I ever promised each other. It was ‘One day at a time’.”
Shrek 2 opens on Wednesday.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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