In Julie & Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep plays aspiring chef Julia Child, who moves to Paris in 1948 with her husband, Paul, played by Stanley Tucci. She discovers her passion for food and cooking, and decides to hone her cooking skills by attending classes at the predominantly male school, Cordon Bleu. She struggles publish a cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which she co-writes with Louise Bertholle and Simone Beck. Over 50 years later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a young woman approaching the age of 30, lives with her husband, Eric (Chris Mesina), in a Queens apartment. She tries to escape the mundanity of her job as a government secretary by following her passion for food and cooking. She starts a blog where she writes about her attempts to prepare Julia Child's 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days. The film is based on the book Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell, and My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme. Meryl Streep has previously starred in a wide range of films, namely, Doubt, Mamma Mia!, Lions for Lambs, The Devil Wears Prada, The Hours, Music of the Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, The River Wild, Postcards from the Edge, Heartburn, Out of Africa, Silkwood, Kramer vs. Kramer and Julia, among many others. Stanley Tucci has previously starred in such films as The Devil Wears Prada, The Terminal, America's Sweethearts, Sidewalks of New York, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Impostors and Big Night. It was a real privilege to interview Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci together at the Julie & Julia press conference.
Columbia Pictures releases Julie & Julia nationwide on August 7th, 2009.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Meryl, did you find it challenging to avoid doing an impersonation of Julia Child that might veer into parody?
MERYL STREEP: To everybody, that voice was so familiar. How do we know whether we're doing her or Dan Aykroyd's version of her? Everyone can, sort of, pull that “bon appétit” out of there. When Nora [Ephron] gave me the script, I just thought that it was so, so beautifully written. I thought that it was an opportunity to not impersonate Julia Child, but to do a couple of things. One, for me embodying her or Julie Powell's idea of her which is really what I'm doing---I'm doing an idealized version, but I was also doing an idealized version of my mother who had a similar joie de vivre, an undeniable sense of how to enjoy her life. Every room she walked into she made brighter. She was really something. I have a good deal of my father in me which is another kind of sensibility, but I, really, all my life, wanted to be more like my mother. So, this is my little homage to that spirit. That's more what I was doing than actually Julia Child.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What helped you and Stanley Tucci to acheive such wonderful chemistry together onscreen? MS: Stanley and I are often on opposite sides in a very famous charades game every Christmas. We've been at each other's throats, like married people, for a really long time, many years. We knew each other in that way. I just, sort of, am in love with him from afar, anyway, and with the totality of the man, from Big Night to his acting and directing work and in every way. So does everyone who knows him. It just a real treat to work with him. It wasn't a tough job to imagine being in love with him.
STANLEY TUCCI: For me it was easy, too. Probably most people in the world I, too, have been in love with Meryl Streep for many, many years. We had done The Devil Wears Prada together, which was really fun and we knew each other a bit socially before that. So, for me, it was awesome. It was incredibly easy. She also makes it easy because she’s so comfortable. I'm always a little nervous when I start shooting and I was very nervous to play around with that.
MS: Were you nervous when we started?
ST: I was so nervous. I was. You made me feel so comfortable. You did. It was nice. MS: You know what Nora did, she did what she called a costume test, but it was really sort of introducing us to our world. She took us up to the rooms which they built in the Paris apartment that she built in Queens, or wherever we were, and let us walk around in our clothes. In isolation in your Winnebago, or whatever it is, you, kind of, have a hard time convincing yourself that you are who you say you are. But when you walk into this world and the light comes in a certain way and the landscape of Paris – a photograph, but still – and here's the man of your dreams, it all came together before we had to actually [do it]. That was a big day.
ST: Yes, I remember. Those elements, those actual physical elements really helped a great deal.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which chefs would you want to cook for you?
MS: Dan Barber.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What meal would you like him to prepare for you?
MS: Anything that was fresh up there in Blue Hill [Restaurant].
NYC MOVIE GURU: What about you, Stanley?
ST: My grandmother. She was an extraordinary cook. Mario Batali, I think, [too], in a lot of ways.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging do you find it to stay focused as an actress with all the success you've had in recent years?
MS: I really didn't think about either sustaining my career or my voice. I haven't really thought about it. I'm like every other actor. I've been unemployed more than I've been working because of the nature of what we do. We just have a lot of downtime even though it seems like you're working, working, working. So I've never gotten used to either being working or being out of work. So, it's a very uncertain life and there are only a few people that would sign up to be married to someone else doing that. My husband, [Don Gummer] is an artist and he understands the vagaries of the job. I just take it as, “Everyday is a miracle and I'm really glad that I'm still working and that people are not sick of me, but even I'm sick of me a little bit.”
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you deal with all of the accolades?
MS: Well, fortunately, the blogosphere supplies you with the other side of all the accolades. [laughs] Just sign on and get humble.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What were some of the challenges that you and Stanley went through as you started out in your acting career?
MS: My challenge was committing to acting, thinking that it was a serious enough thing to do with my life. What are you going to do with your one wild life? I thought it was, sort of, silly and vain, acting even though it was the most fun that I had ever done. And it remains being that, ergo it can't be good for me. I remember thinking the first time that someone said, “Well, what do you do?” and I said, “I'm a…I'm an actor.” And then I had committed, I realized [it], but it took a long time.
ST: I took it too seriously, at first. It took me a long time to understand that you have to be serious about what you do, but you mustn't take yourself seriously. That way you'll be happier and ultimately you'll be more successful. You'll be better at what you do. I think the challenges, for me, at the beginning were…well, it was much easier after I lost my hair, if you want to know the truth. I started to work constantly once I started to lose it. So, I'm thinking about losing the hair on my whole body.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What were some of the other issues you were taking seriously at the beginning of your acting career?
MS: When I was in drama school, I was obsessed with Jonathan Schell's book, Fate of the Earth. I've always been interested in environmental issues, and I still am. That seems to me be worthwhile work, but, over time, I understood, just what I take from other people's work, [is that] we need art as much as we need good works. You need it like food. You need it for inspiration to keep going on the days that you’re low. We need each other in that way. I've reconciled myself to the fact that you can make a contribution. I've even reconciled myself to the fact that even my children might choose this profession. They seem to be, and now that's okay. Really, I was pushing the sciences, but it's just not going to happen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important was it to you that this film includes McCarthyism at that time and the impact of that on Julia and Paul Child?
MS: I think it's really hard for us now to imagine the kind of terror that a lot of people lived under where your entire livelihood could be taken away. I just saw a documentary that's going to be aired next year for “American Masters” about Joe Papp. It's about the early days [when] he actually went to Los Angeles and worked in a school there. He was in the same class with Marilyn Monroe and these other really, really wonderful actors. And he was a socialist. I actually think he was a member of the Communist Party at some time, but people lives were ruined within a year. Within one year that blacklist was a done deal and it was over. It was over. Betsy Rice, Carroll Rice's wife, had to move to England and never worked in this country again. I don't think that we have any sense of it now, how an association in a so-called free country could prevent you from making a living ever. That happened then.
ST: Particularly, in a business where it was also very hard to make a living, a lot of the time. So, you had everything going against you, in a way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What were some of the best bonding experiences you had over food either on this movie or elsewhere?
MS: Well, we bonded. I mean, I knew Stanley, but I thought, “Well, I might as well invite him over for dinner.” So he [and his wife], Kate, came and I decided I'd make blanquette de veau (veal stew) and it was not quite done when he arrived. So, he came in and completely took over in the kitchen.
ST: It's untrue.
MS: It's totally true.
ST: We tried to do it together, but we had too much wine. “Why are you doing that way?”
MS: “Is that what you're going to do? No, seriously, I'm just asking.” [laughs] “Why do you hold it that way?” “Can I just…it's okay. I can show you an easier way.” And then, boom, it was out of my hands. He's just a great chef, and I'm a cook.
ST: You're very kind. It was a fun night, but we didn't eat until about eleven or so. My wife Kate came and said, “What time are we eating?” I said, “I think we'll be done cooking about eight.” She goes, “We're not going to make that.”
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which of the characters that you've played in previous films would you like to hang out with?
MS: I’d hang out with Isak Dinesen [from Out of Africa]. I think she would have been a really interesting person to have a meal with.
ST: I would've been very curious to spend some time with Walter Winchell [from the HBO film “Winchill.”] Not because he was the nicest guy in the world, but because he was so fascinating.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What are some of your favorite food memories?
MS: Great, great tomatoes, but my mother was, [so-to-speak], the I Hate To Cook cookbook [by] Peg Bracken. I remember, when I was ten-years-old, going up to a little girl's house up the street and she and her mother were sitting at the table and they were doing something to tennis balls, and I said, “What are you doing?” They said, “Making mash potatoes.” I said, “What do you mean? Mash potatoes come in a box.” They were potatoes. They were peeling potatoes and I had never seen a real potato. So my mother's motto was, “If it's not done in twenty minutes, it's not dinner.”' She had a lot that she wanted to do and cooking wasn't one of those things. [laughs] I think Julia Child really did change the whole thing. I recently found my knitting book at the bottom of knitting bag from 1967. It wasn't a [really] knitting book; it was a magazine that had some knitting patterns in it and it was called “Women's Day” from 1967. It's filled with recipes and food ads and it's all Delmonte canned peas, Delmonte canned corn, Delmonte peas and corn, canned green bean. All the recipes are, like, “Take ground meat and put artificial mashed potatoes, layer it, top it off with tomato sauce out of a jar, put it in the oven and, presto, it's dinner.” This is how we ate. People forget. Julia changed the way that people thought about cooking. It was great.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What would you like to ask Julia Child if she were alive today?
ST: I'd like to ask them how they lived so long eating what they ate. I'm convinced that they both had two livers. I'd just be curious. I can't say that I know what I would've asked them, but what I would've liked to have done is watch the interaction between the two of them in that little kitchen, either in Paris or in Boston, because, to me, that was the most interesting thing. When you see that kitchen, [which] we recreated it in the film, it was so casual and really very intimate. I would've just liked to have watched that [and] to watch them put together a meal. That would've been a great thing.
MS: I think I would agree. I would've loved to have heard Paul's voice. Julia's is so vivid and she left behind such an articulate trail of her journey in the book that she wrote with Alex [Prud'Homme], in My Life In France and in her cook books. Her voice really comes through. I would've loved to have heard him because he was a great storyteller and his interests ranged across a wide variety of topics. I'm sure that he was a really interesting person to hear. [Also], there are so many mysteries in Julia and Paul Child's story, really, now that we know what we know about the OSS and their involvement in some kind of espionage or the CIA, or the early precursor to the CIA, to know really what it was. That's what I'd like to know. What did they do? And how did [Julia Child] write this seven-hundred-page cookbook in between smuggling secrets from the soviets?