Julie Andrews, whose career spans 50 years, takes center stage again this week as she is honored with the Screen Actors Guild's 43rd Life Achievement Award (8 p.m., Sunday, TBS and TNT), given for acting excellence and humanitarian accomplishment. Since 1995, SAG has also presented annual awards for outstanding performers in theatrical movies and prime-time television.
Andrews, 71, was a teenager when she first appeared on Broadway, where she later brought “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot” to life. She has starred in a multitude of stage, TV and movie roles, including the Oscar-winning “Mary Poppins.”
“It's all gone so quickly and wonderfully, and it's been so fascinating,” Andrews said. “I've learned so much about survival and acting. Every single role has been enjoyable for one reason or another, whether (it's) the director or the screenplay or the people.”
Andrews has starred in theatrical films such as “The Sound of Music,” “Victor/Victoria,” “10,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The Princess Diaries,” and she provided the voice of Queen Lillian in “Shrek 2.” She's also co-written children's books with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton.
“I used to make up stories as a kid, but I am only just beginning to consider it my day job,” she said.
Her most recent book, “The Great American Mousical,” was a bestseller. “Literally, there was a mouse in my theater and some witty fellow said, 'He probably came up to gawk at the stars,'” said Andrews, who saw the book as a way to give children a behind-the-scenes look at the world of theater.
When she's not writing or performing, Andrews also serves as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women. With her filmmaker husband, Blake Edwards, she is a founding board member of Operation USA, which provides disaster relief and development assistance to needy communities around the world.
Andrews, whose elegant singing voice was silenced after 1998 surgery on her vocal cords went wrong, said she was surprised by the SAG honor, given annually to the actor who best embodies the profession's ideals.
Doing work on the stage is an entirely different experience than acting in films or on TV, Andrews said.
“One is a phenomenal communication with an audience, and the other is in a much quieter setting with your fellow actors,” she said. “One is that full sweep every evening and afternoon, and the other is tiny little jigsaw puzzles you will have made into something bigger.”
Although she no longer has her soprano voice, Andrews said she's still “able to get out a few low notes.” She said she misses singing with an orchestra and “conveying the beauty of music.”
“I miss the giving, the sheer ecstasy,” Andrews said. “I'm glad it happened later in my career (rather) than sooner.”