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May 2004
Shrek 2: An Interview with Julie Andrews

By Todd Gilchrist

Shrek 2: An Interview with Julie Andrews

It's hard to imagine an actress with as impressive and memorable a resume as Julie Andrews. After beginning her career in the fifties, she established herself as one of Hollywood's most versatile and most appealing performers in such movies as "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins", and went on to marry one of the industry's most esteemed directors, Blake Edwards. In her most recent effort, the forthcoming sequel "Shrek 2", Andrews plays Queen Lillian, Princess Fiona's mother and wife to King Harold (John Cleese). Andrews talked to Blackfilm.com about her work on the animated movie, and about continuing more than a fifty-year career in the moviemaking industry.


As a children's author and as somebody who worked with kids a lot, do you this for them, more than - as much as for yourself?

Julie: That's a good question, I haven't had that one this morning. Yes I think you obviously hope that what you can bring to it, is something that will please them. That 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. You literally are 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 friendlier? Could you say it more lovingly? Could you say it worriedly now? Could you say it angrily? And then they pick which take they need when they discover what it is they need.


Are you a fan of the original show?

Julie: Yes I'll say. It's got a wonderful edge and this one, I think, is even better than the first.


Have you met Cleese before?

Julie: I've met Cleese in connection with the second one. I had never met him before. We spent a day together and it was a joy. We bonded like that.


That's pretty rare for them to put you together, isn't it?

Julie: Very rare and I don't know how we got so lucky or why they thought it would be a good idea. Maybe because I asked or maybe someone suggested it, I honestly don't remember. I just know that it made a big difference.


Did you adlib a lot because he comes from that world of zany comedy?

Julie: Yeah. We had a great day and I liked him immediately. He's funny and quick and we talked non-stop on and off camera.


Two sequels for you in one year?

Julie: I know. I know.


That's rather odd isn't it?

Julie: It is, yeah. I don't know where I'm headed. To hell and back probably.


Did they ever talk about referencing any or your movies in the character because I think you're one of the few characters that is kind of straight?

Julie: Yes I think the only thing they mostly talked about was how that I'm the peace maker, the leveler, the one that - I think this queen knew that her husband was once a frog.


They didn't try to throw in a Mary Poppins umbrella or anything?

Julie: No.


What fairy stories influenced you when you were growing up?

Julie: Oh, um, a couple of slightly unknown ones, which I'm very happy to announce that I have subsequently republished because they were out of print over here. There was a beautiful children's story called The Little Gray Men and it was like Watership Down and it was a pastoral piece and I loved it as a child and it influenced me a great deal. By an author called B.B. Just simply the initials B.B.


When you first started singing in the studio, when you first started out, was it easy for you to learn microphone technique as opposed to the live experience?

Julie: Fascinating. I started singing when I was 7 but my first recordings were about when I was 12 years old and in those days you literally had to back off the microphone if you sang too high or too loud and you had to sort of learn a little bit not to come at them too hard. These days they're so much better able to deal with it.


How is your voice doing now?

Julie: It's not, sadly. To my great sadness, it's not. But having said that, I've never been busier.


Because rumor has it you're supposed to be singing in Princess Diaries?

Julie: I know and I've been putting that right in every room down the hall. I am part of a song. I do start the song by speaking it, I then do a kind of Rex Harrison sing speak for about 8 bars and then I back out of it and a whole wave of other people take it over so the idea that I'm back again and I'm singing again is not true.


Is there any research and development going on that could help you?

Julie: Yes there is and I would imagine by the time it has gotten to the place where it requires FDA approval and it's been tested, I might even be too old or even not here but I'm very glad that it's going on because I am their spokes-person and if it helps future young Broadway people - because Broadway is a tough, tough arena for singing.


How do you feel about still being this icon? Every time we talk to Julie Andrew it's still quite a treat for so many people.

Julie: Just grateful. 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.


Was there ever a genuine intention on your part to go away from the Poppins and Maria Von Trapp image, to try and make yourself edgier at the time for moment?

Julie: I think I did from day one and the truth is that success is usually short. You're best remembered for that which is most successful and although - 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.


I remember when I was a kid and Star! Magazine came out and they were saying "Oh my God, Julie Andrews gets drunk!"

Julie: Yeah or Julie Andrews plays a bit of a bitch and it didn't quite work for a lot of people but the body of work today I think, speaks for itself.


Have you gone to do any extra features for the Mary Poppins DVD yet?

Julie: Yes I did it about 2 weeks ago and it's the 40th Anniversary Edition. It's a wonderful DVD; I think it's going to be. They've added wonderful new material to it. Not any newer material to the film but they've found out-takes, they've found original wardrobes stills, personal stills, rehearsal tapes, interviews with Dick and myself now and they've also added a new small cartoon which I narrate. Another animated, little tiny piece to the new DVD. Nothing about Poppins.


When is that coming out?

Julie: I guess it's coming out later this year, they're working on it now.


What is it like for you to look back on that material that resurfaces?

Julie: 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. I haven't seen it in almost that many years. I mean you might catch a moment of it on television or something at Easter or whatever, but the technology is so advanced today, but if you look at Mary Poppins, what they managed to do then 40 years ago, it's not at all creaky, it's not at all dated, it holds up brilliantly and I was just so staggered at how they achieved it because they didn't have the equipment they do today.


What's the cartoon if it's not a Mary Poppins?

Julie: It's another P.L. Travers. It's a very short P.L. Travers story called The Cat Who Smoked To A King or something like that.


How similar is it to doing voice-over as singing is just bringing out emotion in your voice?

Julie: Oh voice-over is the most different thing. I mean singing is everything to do but with acting it's really acting to song and making those lyrics convey to your audience in music but in an animated film, you just place yourself in the directors hands and hope that you've given them something that they can use. Because it's just vocal, you say 'Have I gone over the top?' :Could I be more so, should I be more animated and character like or should I be more genuine?'. I really didn't know any of it. It was like learning a whole new craft.


It must be hard doing one line at a time.

Julie: Yes.


How's your writing going?

Julie: 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, a novel for young adults and it's called Dragon. It's not about a dragon but it's called Dragon.


Because you were at the LA book fair a couple of weeks ago?

Julie: Yeah and we'll be doing the book fair in Chicago this year. I love it.


What do you love about writing that is different in terms of artistic self-expression?

Julie: I think a very obvious answer is that when I am performing, I am creating something that someone else has written and in this particular case I have my own arena to work with. Whatever I'm writing is what I- it's my creation and I love that.


Is this something you do when you're like stuck in the trailer during a movie set or do you have a certain time you write every day?

Julie: It depends on what the deadlines are and things like that. Dragon was - I was up against a deadline and I had to finish it and Princess Diaries was getting closer and closer and during Princess Diaries I was doing a lot of editing.


How reticent were you to do the sequel to Princess Diaries?

Julie: I really wasn't reticent because if you - you probably do know Garry Marshall but if you know him as well as I do, you know that the set is a joy. He is. 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've had the best time of your life.


How different is the sequel?

Julie: Better is the only way I can put it, like Shrek is better, you know. They know the characters more. There is more adventure. It's a lot of good storyline in the second Diaries.


Have you any films or theatre that you have worked recently and that you really loved?

Julie: Tons!


Is there any new film director that you were impressed with?

Julie: I haven't seen enough of the new things to give you an answer on that. I mean there are so many wonderful directors around these days and performers. Wonderful movies. I was terribly impressed with Chicago when it came out as a musical. I'm happy to see, I think, that musicals are coming back. Yes - The Cat That Looked At The King is the name of that.


What are some of the challenges of writing for kids these days? Are they more cynical? Are they less magical?

Julie: Well I have a sort of mandate for myself in my collection which is our mission statement really is to hopefully inspire a sense of wonder at some of the very real things like the nature around us and the world and so on and 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 and I just try to write what I feel genuinely because to out-guess you'd be dead in the water, I think.


The old fairy tales are very violent.

Julie: The old fairy tales are very, very violent and these days I think we could do with a little less of it.


In Princess Diaries 2 what is it for your character to you now that presumably Anne's character has completed her Princess training?

Julie: 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 that 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


Mentor to Anne on something like that?

Julie: In terms of the movie itself?


In your interaction with her as colleagues?

Julie: I don't think there is much I can tell her that she doesn't know already. She's a very smart young lady. Very bright. She's well educated. She's extremely talented. I think maybe simple things like, this is the way it's been done for years or something very simple like that is all I can do but she's very knowledgeable.


How long have you been married now?

Julie: 34 years


What is the secret of a successful marriage?

Julie: Very simple. Take it one day at a time. That's all Blake and I ever promised each other. It was 'One day at a time'.


You must have been very proud at the Oscars this year?

Julie: Hugely proud.


You're no stranger to doing animated films and you did The Singing Princess a long time ago?

Julie: Yes you're right that's when I was like 13 I think.


How is the process now?

Julie: Different.


Is it more involved? Does it take longer?

Julie: To be truthful in those days that particular little movie was a Czechoslovakian movie that I redubbed in English and it had been made in Czechoslovakia and they were very, very good the Czechoslovakians in terms of doing animated things but it was just singing and in this case it was a real character that I was creating. It's unlike anything that I've ever done before. It's very new for me and I mean I had a small role but it's very stimulating to try and see if you can nail it when you don't know what it is that you're being asked to nail.


Why has your work stood the test of time so beautifully?

Julie: I don't know. I think was lucky enough to be the lady that was asked to be Maria in the Sound Of Music and that film was fortunate enough to be huge hit. The same with Mary Poppins. I'm the one that was asked and I'm an actress that got terribly lucky in that respect and I know that.


Is it amazing to still have now another new young generation of fans from Princess Diaries?

Julie: I was telling a story back in the other room which was that a little kid and her mother came up to me the other day " I swear this is the truth - 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!' So that's the answer to that. I loved it.

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