Julie and Julia is two parallel stories about blogger-turned-memoirist Julie Powell and her hero Julia Child. Powell, an NYC writer fed up with her day job and yearning for a way to get back to her creative writing roots, starts The Julie/Julia Project, a blog chronicling her adventures cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic cook book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Streep transmogrifies into Julia Child for her half of the story, which follows her transformation from a French foodie in Paris to chef and author as detailed in her bio My Life in France, which she co-wrote with Alex Prud'homme.
The event I attended included cooking demos by chefs from Le Cordon Bleu and Julie Powell, juicy details from food stylist Susan Bode, and a roundtable with Ephron and Powell. And food. Let's not forget the food. Questions and answers from Nora and Julie, plus an exclusive photo from the movie, after the jump.
How and why did you decide to do a separate story about Julia Child blended together with Julie's story?
That was not my idea. I didn't know whose idea it was, but it turned out to be the idea of Amy Robinson, one of the producers of the movie, and as I understand it, the first producer on it -- all movies have many producers, this movie's no exception -- and the first producer had optioned Julie's story. And then Amy Robinson read about Julie in the New York Times, in the thing you saw in the movie, and found out that it had already been sold to another producer and went to Eric [Steel, one of the producers] and said to him, "I have an idea for how to do this movie, and if you like my idea, I want to become your partner." And her idea was to combine the two stories. So when I first heard about it, I didn't know that; I just knew that that was the idea, to do sort of, you know, something that went back and forth between the two stories, like my favorite movie Godfather 2, and so that's how I came into it.
But you know, when I first read about her, which was in the New York Times, I always think, "Is this a movie?" And I thought, "No, this isn't a movie." It seemed too... I didn't see how it could be two hours long and just be that story. And when Amy Pascal, the head of Sony, [talked to me about] the two different stories, I went, "Oh my God, that is, that's brilliant!" And unfortunately at the time, another writer was on the project, and I was stricken by this news and very much hoped that something terrible would happen so that she wouldn't be able to write it. And it did! She got a big hit television show, and I got to write it.
Why did you go with Amy Adams to play Julie Powell?
Well, you know, Amy is so... I saw Sunshine Cleaning. Did you see it? She is so real. It's just unbelievable... I have friends who saw her in the one where she was pregnant and got nominated... Junebug, and they all thought she was some pregnant Southern person that they had found while casting the movie. She's so able to become all sorts of things, and one of the things she has no trouble becoming is somebody who's smart, and I really needed that for this person.
It's one of the things I loved [about] working with Meg Ryan, was that she was always some sort of writer and you always believed that Meg could do that, and that's what I thought was true of Amy too. And I also thought Amy was a kind of perfect example of someone living in New York but not quite of New York, which is what Julie... you know, Julie had so much Texas, I thought, to her. So you know, it was sort of that. But basically I was lucky to get her. That's how I look at it.
One of the interesting things this movie shows is two relationships that are stable and loving. You don't get many movies, especially movies about women, that do that. What was the challenge in writing that and making sure you could have an interesting story without having messed-up relationships?
You know, one of the things I loved... as I was doing the script, was I thought, Oh, nobody gets to write movies about marriage, or if you do, if you try to, or if you ever see them, they're always about marriages that really break up. And then they come back together in the end. But they've got that sort of inevitable construction thing that you know from the beginning. And I got so excited that one could write about how sweet it can be if you have a husband who thinks it's great that something good is happening to you...
When Meryl read the script, one of the things she said about it, she said, "One of the things I love about it," she says, "is that it's like life, in that not a whole lot happens in it." And you know, you're lucky if you can, if that works in a movie, because movies often demand... But you know, I think Julia's life and Julie's life, I mean, there are no car chases but there's some suspense -- not about whether that book will ever be published, but most people don't know the endless saga that Julia went through to get that book finally published. It's an amazing story. That scene at Houghton Mifflin where she goes for this meeting and they've written, what, six hundred pages about poultry and sauces. And that's just amazing. And that happened. And out of that came this thing, this thing that lives on. So for me, it had a certain amount of suspense and excitement even though it didn't have any in a conventional way.
Could you talk a bit about how you approached portraying the food in the movie? Because you got food porn down pretty well.
Thank you... Well, one of the things I said at the beginning to the actors was everybody had to eat in the scenes, because I don't know whether you've noticed this in movies but a lot of times you're shooting a scene with food in it and nobody really wants to eat because they know that at 4 o'clock in the afternoon they're still going to be putting stuff in their mouth so they just start out by saying, "I think I'm just gonna drink water in this scene, you know, and never quite put my fork into anything." So that was a given, and thank God for Chris Messina, who really threw himself into it, and when you know, he has those Tums that he keeps having to take, and the first day we shot the Tums, he actually swallowed 32 Tums and he was really sick at the end of the day. I was just horrified that they hadn't given him something like Sweet Tarts or something that crunches like a Tum but isn't one. But that was one of the things I wanted.
And you know, that great sort of Proustian moment of Meryl's when she eats the filet of sole at the beginning of the movie, to me, when I saw the dailies from that and the light that [director of photography] Stephen Goldblatt had put on that bone, I just thought I was gonna call up Martin Scorsese and say, "Move over! You have never shot a bone of a fish that looks anything as good as this!"
Did you intend any sort of commentary on women's relationships -- there's one scene with Julie talking about how she hates her friends or how women aren't really friends with each other, and there was some dynamic with Julia and her writing partners. Was it a commentary on women working in the creative arts, or NYC, or ...?
Not at all. I was totally trying to say that it doesn't matter what era you live in, women have problems with each other. That the thing that Julie says, I can't remember the exact thing, but it's something like, "What do you think it means if you don't like your friends?" I think that's something we all understand, and I loved that Julia and Simca and Louisette had had this giant arguments over how much [money] Louisette was going to get. Louisette drove Julia nuts from a very short time after they started working together, and I loved that I had both those things. I loved the parallels between the two stories, even if I had to create some of them.
We know that Meryl Streep can do pretty much anything, but doing the entire Julia Child voice for the entire movie all day -- how hard was that for her?
You'd have to ask her this. It seemed to all of us that, she works so hard, she does so much work, she had Julia's show on a DVD in her dressing room... She had very clear ideas about the Julia she wanted to do, which wasn't the Julia after Julia had really become "Julia Child" but because the truth is, if you look at Julia's show, she became more and more Julia Child-like as she became famous for it, and as she became better at being on television, because the first couple of years are, you know. And she read everything, she knew everything, and then she would arrive on the set and you would never have any sense at all that she was working or having a difficult time or anything. The only thing you knew was that every day she would get there and think, "How am I going to be 6"1' in this scene?" And that was where she got a huge amount of what she was doing. She was completely convinced that the secret was to be tall. But you know she's so brilliant, and there was no sense for any of us that anything she did was hard for her because she is so prepared and ready to do it and ready to play.
Did you ever get in touch with Julia Child about why she said the things she did about your blog or if you ever had any sort of conflict with her at all? (In the movie, a reporter contacts Powell's character to say Julia Child's didn't like her blog.)
The only contact I had with her was that after the project was over, I wrote this letter. At this point, it was after the thing with the reporter had happened, and I wrote her this very extraordinarily grateful letter because shortly after the project was over, my life was already changing, so I was really crediting her for helping me change my life. And I got a very sort of formal, very cordial letter back from her. That's the only contact I ever had with her. I think, what really happened is that I don't think she said anything really awful. I think she said, I know about the blog, I'm not terribly interested in finding out more, and you know, people have posited all sorts of reasons as to why that reaction was. I mean, everything from the fact that after all, she was 90 years old and was perhaps frail and not what she had once been in terms of her energy and her maybe investment in the world. I've had a lot of people who've known her and knew her and worked with her or just met her who are passionate on the subject. "She would have loved you! I promise you she would have loved you!" They are more upset about it than I am, and I think... something the movie does really well, I think, is this idea of there being a "my Julia Child," the one in my head, the one in my brain, and I think Julia did that with a lot of people. I think that people all over the country feel like they know her, that she's inside them and they know exactly what she is like and how she would react to anything. It's a little hokey but I just kind of learned to believe in mine and go with that.
Was the kitchen in the movie to scale?
The kitchen in the movie is actually smaller than my real kitchen was. Actually, the original title of my book that I wanted to use, the subtitle of the project was 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 crappy outer-borough kitchen, but they didn't want the word crappy on the cover of the book, so we settled for tiny. And I was like, "It's not tiny! It's just really shitty! It's just really really bad, is all." Nora... and Mark Ricker who did production design did an amazing job of making that tiny space work. And it's very authentic to the feeling of the entire apartment, actually. I love how the apartment is this sort of great character and it feels like home. Like, to a really kind of surreal extent, I watch the movie, I'm like, "I have that lamp. How did you know I have that lamp?" And it's sort of off the subject, but I'm so impressed with the production design. Eric's office... they came to my husband's office and lifted all of his stuff and put it on a set, and so when I watch the scene, I'm like, "I know that poster, and that book over there, and he has the same screensaver..." It's really strange.
Did you and Eric really eat all the food you made?
We ate it. There were leftovers! But we ate everything we made. I say in the book, and this is true, I would take in leftovers to my office, and the thing that didn't make it into the movie, you know, there's this scene where she drops the [dessert] onto the pavement, and that did happen. But what I did afterwards with [it] was scoop it up and take it and leave it in the office and went around and told all the Democrats, of which there weren't many, "Don't..." I mean, I was pretty sure it was good, but you know, maybe my best friends and family shouldn't eat that.