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Rachel Portman on Cooking Up a Souffle of a Score for Julia Child Documentary

Julia Rachel Portman Music Preview
Courtesy of Jim Scherer/Sony Pictures Classics

Oscar winner Rachel Portman (“Emma”) served up a delightful score for “Julia,” the documentary about cooking personality Julia Child from “RBG” filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen.

Curiously, the English composer had never seen Child’s public TV series “The French Chef” and, although she loves to cook, does not own Child’s classic book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Portman, who recently received a lifetime achievement award from Germany’s SoundTrack Cologne, spoke with Variety about “Julia.”

How did “Julia” come to you?

It helped that I had written the music for “Chocolat” [Lasse Hallstrom’s 2000 film about a chocolatiere in 1959 France] – the whole thing about food, and music, and France. This film gave me an opportunity to convey the idea of cooking for others as a way of showing love.

What did the film need, musically?

Julia’s character and personality, the main theme, is fun and upbeat. But there’s also a more wistful side to her growing up, wanting to leave. There’s a love theme, which was incredibly important, for her and her husband Paul. Then there was her determination to get her cookbook done, her edginess, pushing and trying. And then there’s France. There needed to be French flavors, an accordion here and there.

Tell us about your orchestra.

I think we had about 16 players. Double string quartet, harp, accordion, flute, bass clarinet and vibes. It’s an eclectic little group of players that could have real energy and bite when it needed to, and I could really have fun with — to  point up all those different styles in the themes. It needed to be lush and string-like and emotional, and it also needed to have bite at other times.

Several passages are in waltz time. Why?

There’s a scene of making a souffle, and it’s all so delightful and wonderful that it feels just too tempting not to write a French waltz. But Julia’s main theme is also in waltz time – it’s both nostalgic and happy-sad. There is a lightness of touch to it.

Is it true that you are singing those scat-style vocals at a couple of moments?

That idea just spilled out. I thought, “I think I want to sing on this.” So I did little vocals. I don’t know why. It just seemed like it fit into that space in the film.