OC Register - 17 May 07
By Barry Koltnow
Julie Andrews: The real deal
A chat with Julie Andrews, who stars as Shrek's mother-in-law in "Shrek the Third"
PUBLICIST: "You're not going to write that you watched the Kentucky Derby in Julie Andrews' bedroom, are you?"
JOURNALIST: "I wouldn't do that."
OK, I lied.
But I'm trying to make a point here – that the divine Dame Julie Andrews is more than the sum of her parts in iconic films such as "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music." She is much more than the kind and patient queen she played in "The Princess Diaries" and its sequel. And she is not just Fiona's wise and understanding mom in "Shrek the Third," which opens today.
The real Julie Andrews is a funny, ballsy, salt-of-the-earth woman and I'm not afraid to say so out loud. In fact, I said so out loud after we watched the derby in the bedroom of her Westwood hotel suite.
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me," the actress said.
The Oscar-winner ("Mary Poppins"), Emmy-winner ("The Julie Andrews Hour"), best-selling children's author ("Thanks to You") and stage legend (she originated the roles of Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" and Queen Guinevere in "Camelot") may be a woman of the people, but she definitely gives off an intimidating regal vibe.
"Shrek the Third's" director Chris Miller confessed that he was in awe.
"She's standing there doing her lines, and all I could think is: "That's Julie Andrews."
"Did I do a lot of directing when she was around?" he added. "No, she doesn't need a whole lot from me."
Cameron Diaz, who plays her daughter in the new animated film, called Andrews "graceful, elegant, funny and grounded."
"She is everything you would hope she'd be."
And comic actress Amy Poehler, who plays Snow White, said she was tongue-tied when she met Andrews at a cast screening of the film.
"She was so nice to me that I assumed that she mistook me for someone else."
This is the second time the English-born Andrews, 71, has played Shrek's mother-in-law, but we discover a new, tough side of her in the latest installment of the animated franchise, which collected a total of $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office in its first two outings.
In this wide-ranging interview, Andrews explains why she got involved in animation, how the loss of her singing voice (following a botched surgery 10 years ago to remove noncancerous nodules from her throat) has affected her life and why she refers to her gift as a "freak."
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: I'm old enough to remember when only voice-over specialists did animated films. How does an acting legend get involved in this work?
JULIE ANDREWS: I loved "Shrek" and I didn't hesitate when (DreamWorks head) Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me to do it.
OCR: But why?
ANDREWS: Why not? It's fun. The message is wonderful. And the animation seems to have taken a quantum leap on this one.
OCR: I know that everyone works individually on an animated film but when you got together with the rest of the cast at the premiere, did you sense that they were in awe of you?
ANDREWS: Not at all. All you have to do is sit among Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake and I'm the one in awe.
OCR: That's very generous of you. By the way, are you singing at all these days?
ANDREWS: I haven't sung now for 10 years.
OCR: Are you upset about that?
ANDREWS: I have to say that I'm missing it very much. There is no greater thrill than to sing with a beautiful orchestra. On the other hand, I must say that I've never been so busy with my other work and I don't really have time to sing.
Her manager informs us that the derby is about to start and we adjourn to her bedroom. A few minutes later, the interview continues.
OCR: We were discussing the loss of your singing voice.
ANDREWS: Yes, my daughter, who is my partner in writing these children's books, said that I have found a different way to use my voice. That made me feel very, very good.
OCR: There's something I always wanted to ask you. When you didn't get the film role of Eliza Doolittle (it went to Audrey Hepburn), were you terribly upset?
ANDREWS: Not at all. I was a very little fish in those days. Truthfully, I had hoped that I might get it but I didn't think I stood a chance in the world. In those days, star power was everything, and Audrey made perfect sense to me. Subsequently, she and I became very good friends. She told me years later that she believed that I should have gotten the part, but that she didn't have the guts to turn it down. That was a very sweet thing to say.
OCR: But it seemed to have worked out for you?
ANDREWS: There's no sense in fretting because a few months later, Walt Disney came to me and asked me to do "Mary Poppins." And look what happened.
OCR: Reflecting back, was it a good thing or bad thing to win an Oscar for your first film?
ANDREWS: I wouldn't know. I just got terribly lucky. I didn't think I deserved it. I thought it was a "Welcome to Hollywood" Oscar.
OCR: Do you really attribute a lot of your success to luck?
ANDREWS: I don't know. I've been blessed to be at the right place at the right time.
OCR: How old were you when you realized you had the gift of that singing voice?
ANDREWS: I suppose I was about 9 when I realized I had this freak voice.
ANDREWS: Oh, it was. It had a four-octave range and was terribly high. I always knew I had this voice, but it wasn't until I was in my 20s that I realized I had the power to do something with it.
OCR: Your family was in show business. Was there any chance you wouldn't follow them?
ANDREW: I don't suppose there was any chance of not doing it, particularly with the freak voice. But the funny thing is that I didn't inherit it. I don't know where it came from.
OCR: Obviously, with your freak voice, you were headed in the direction of musicals. But you seemed to branch out later in different kinds of roles, and then you seemed to hit your stride in movies directed by your husband Blake Edwards, such as "Victor/Victoria," "S.O.B" and "10." I always suspected that the Julie Andrews of those films was the real you.
ANDREWS: They were the real me. My husband knows me better than anyone.
OCR: I always thought you were a tougher, grittier woman than people gave you credit for.
ANDREWS: That's the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me.
OCR: Was it ever frustrating that people didn't see the real you?
ANDREWS: You know, people always thought those films were an attempt to change my image, but they weren't. They were the real me.
OCR: Now you're back to playing super-nice screen characters.
ANDREWS: It's a cyclical business. Even musicals are coming back.
OCR: When you were starting out, could you ever have imagined that your career would span five decades?
ANDREWS: When I started out, I assumed that I was a flash in the pan.
ANDREWS: Yes, even at 12, I thought it would all end any day soon and I would be a normal girl again.
OCR: At what point did you realize that you might make it in show business?
ANDREWS: When I got to America. That was the first time that I realized that I wouldn't be heading back to vaudeville.