Avoiding the usual suspects, Julie Andrews talks about some of her films that she holds dear.
“The Americanization of Emily” (1964)
I instantly recognized it as a fine piece of writing (by Paddy Chayevsky) — the way the lines had a certain kind of flow that came with great ease that only comes with good writing. One almost couldn’t say the lines badly. And it was such an important theme (the government and the military’s attempt to sell war as valorous), I was just young enough and just heady enough to believe in it. … And it’s very timely today; things have come full circle.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” (1967)
It was such a delicious piece of work to do — wonderfully conceived by (director George Roy Hill), and I don’t think many people noticed that there’s one particular color for every major scene in the film. For example, every scene outdoors had an extra color of red, everything indoors had either yellow or mauve or whatever. So to build that into a seamless whole was extremely difficult. And George pulled it off. And not only that, but some of the sweetness of it and the silliness of it — it was just great fun to make.
“There was an enormous amount of musical numbers, I think 17 for me, and about 96 costume changes, and that meant at least three fittings for each costume. And then wigs and nails and shoes and stockings, everything. And it was a very, very big movie to make. But boy, what a learning curve. I was lucky to work with Michael Kidd the choreographer, whom I adore and who’s been a lifelong friend. Just everything about it: the playing of a role (real-life musical thesp Gertrude Lawrence) that had such gumption and character. She wasn’t particularly likable, and I don’t think people accepted me at that time for that reason also. But it was a great role to tackle.
It really broke the mold, to a certain extent. Since I’m not Mary Poppins or Maria (Von Trapp) — contrary to some people’s beliefs — I am an actress, and it was a lovely challenge to take on something fresh. The film took 10 years to get made, because every studio wanted to do it, and then, truthfully, got a little bit nervous in case it actually was about them. So I had a great deal of time to think about that scene (in which Andrews bares her bosom). And by the time we got to it it was actually a closed set, very private. And we had gotten over it, if you know what I mean. And the truth of it is, it was also character-appropriate. It wasn’t gratuitous in any way. … Listening to Blake’s stories and from witnessing some of what happened to him and with him, an awful lot of it was part autobiographical. And crazy things like the wake and the burial at sea, the more you see it, the more you realize it has so much to say about the industry… It was an ensemble piece that was delicious. People like William Holden, Robert Preston, Bob Loggia, Shelley Winters — all of them would show up on days where they weren’t meant to be filming just for the sheer camaraderie of it.
“That’s Life” (1986)
Another one I did with Blake with Jack Lemmon. It was made on a shoestring budget, and non-union, which made a lot of people unhappy, but I always felt he should be allowed just one in his career since he’d made so many big union pictures. … It was an experimental film with very little screenplay, just an outline, and (Edwards) entrusted all of us as actors to supply thoughts and ideas and lines, which he then edited as we went along. He would say “keep that, delete that, now flesh that out,” so he was almost cutting and doing it as he went. And you would think that it would have encouraged egos to run rampant, but the surprising thing was that it was far from it. Every single person on that movie wanted the best for the movie. So they’d stand back and try to make a character that was real and cohesive.
“Duet for One” (1986)
A movie that completely died, literally the day it opened. But that was the most dramatic role I’d ever done. It’s based very loosely on the cellist Jacqueline du Pre’s life story — a lady who got MS in the prime of her career and has to deal with it. Now, it isn’t her story, but it was very loosely based on that idea. I played a violinist, not a cellist. But that was a very difficult role for me, and one where I learned a lot. I had six weeks to look like I could pretend to play (the violin) and that ended with me feeling rather like a pretzel and admiring anyone who could do it, more than I can possibly tell you. When there’s like an eighth of an inch difference between each string and you have to somehow find it and make it pure. But thank God for a good director and a good cameraman.