The Dolby Theatre was alive with the sound of music on Thursday, as the American Film Institute presented the two-year-delayed Life Achievement Award Gala in honor of Julie Andrews‘ career, from “Mary Poppins” to “The Princess Diaries”
Speaking to Variety on the red carpet, Andrews called the honor “a culmination, in a way, of wonderful events and great fortune.”
“My early years were in in Music Hall in London and vaudeville, and I was just a bit of a child brat, I suppose, that had a big voice,” Andrews said. “But the wonder was that I then was asked to go to Broadway and then to Hollywood.”
Andrews made her Hollywood debut playing the flying nanny Mary Poppins in 1964, and has spoken in the past of the learning curve she faced when she first made the transition from stage to screen, clearly to fruitful results. When asked if she had any advice for theater performers aspiring to make a career in film, Andrews said, “I’m asked that a great deal. And I always say to them that something wonderful, if you’re really dedicated and want it, is going to pass under your nose when you least expect it. So do your homework and be ready.”
Andrews was joined on the carpet by many of the faces that have joined her throughout her career, from Hector Elizondo — who played the bodyguard and love interest to her Queen of Genovia in “The Princess Diaries” — to some of the original Von Trapp children she nannied as Maria in “The Sound of Music” in 1965.
Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich and has since sung on tour with Andrews, said the longevity she’s seen in her career is “not only because she is so brilliantly talented, but because everybody loves working with her. I don’t think you’ll ever get a studio person who will ever say a negative thing about her. And, you know, she’s the hardest working person on the set always.”
Andrews has demonstrated a versatility in recent years, opting for voice roles like that of Gru’s mother in the “Despicable Me” franchise and the imaginary voice of Lady Whistledown as she narrates Seasons 1 and 2 of “Bridgerton.” When asked if fans can expect her to appear in person on the series, Andrews didn’t seem to think it could ever happen.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see me do that, because it’s not the way it’s written,” Andrews said. “I mean, you know, who Lady Whistledown really is and I’m just representing the voice they think she is. But I’m loving doing it.”
Fran Drescher, who in her ’90s series “The Nanny” also cemented herself as a caretaker in the hearts of a generation, told Variety she was inspired by “The Sound of Music” when she first pitched that series.
“The pitch was ‘The Sound of Music,’ only instead of Julie Andrews, I come to the door,” Drescher said. “So Julie Andrews has been an inspiration for me really throughout my life and certainly in my career. I feel very, very blessed to be able to be here for her honoring tonight because it’s so well deserved.”
Sian Heder, who was at the Dolby only a few months ago winning an Oscar for her film “CODA,” was also honored Thursday with the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal. She joined Drescher in gushing about Andrews’ impact on her life, except her favorite movie pick was “Mary Poppins.”
“There are a few movies which capture your imagination as a kid and really make you feel like you want to be part of the world and you want to be with those characters,” Heder said. “She has always felt that way on screen to me, that she’s just a magical presence on screen that is incredibly charming and compelling and lovable. And you feel that as a kid, you know, so to have that person spark a love of storytelling and love of movies and then to be honored in a night that’s for her, is just a very special journey.”
The AFI Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to Julie Andrews special will air on TNT June 16.