What happens when a certain angel at Columbia Pictures tells you that she’s secured 25 minutes for you with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron in Beverly Hills before the grand opening of Julie & Julia? Well, you do a small happy dance, check for batteries in your interview recorder, iron a shirt and join the select few who are lucky enough to meet these beautiful and insanely talented women. And then you begin to think about the questions you want to ask and hope that you’re not distracted by Meryl’s big laugh or Amy’s giant dreamy eyeballs. That’s exactly what you do.
The rules were simple: ask anything and everything and take no pictures. Ok, I can do that! I must admit that it’s hard not to think you might be a bit starstruck by meeting all three but once Meryl Streep walks into a room you cannot help but relax and smile. It’s a side I’ve never seen of her and she completely puts everyone at ease. And if you thought Amy Adams was beautiful on the big screen then you ain’t seen nothing. They are really quite special. And the icing on the cake was meeting writer and director Nora Ephron. So let’s get to the questions.
Q: So what drew each of you to the story and the film?
Meryl: I read Nora’s script which was extremely beautiful and interesting and I thought it was probably not commercial whatsoever and I was very worried about her sanity and with financing! They were willing to give us the money and I think it’s turned out really well!
I just really love the story of these two women looking for their calling. I just thought it was extremely touching and also delicately written, not hammered on the head. That’s so hard to find. It’s hard to find beautiful subtly written stories. It’s a hopeful story.
Amy: It was gentle.
Q: What was the last thing that each of you cooked at home?
Meryl: Nora just gave me an Ina Garten Cookbook and Saturday I made Tuscan Lemon Chicken which is highly recommended, it was a big hit. And I have a shortcut for zesting 4 lemons that I might share with you!
Q: Amy, when we met with Susan Spungen, food stylist on Julie & Julia, she told us about the food styling side of the movie and working with you. She said she spent a couple of sessions with you at ICE. How comfortable were you in the kitchen before and after your training?
Amy: I’m not really intimidated by the kitchen. I think I’m a little bit tidier now that I’ve learned the correct way of doing stuff so it doesn’t look as messy. My chopped salad is more consistent now. She gave me a lot of great tips and a lot of shortcuts that I never would have thought of so I don’t mind preparation as much. That’s opened up a world of cooking to me because I have much more enjoyment of prep work.
Meryl interjects: I just wonder if Julia Child had four children if she would have cooked the way she did!
But I learned patience. I realized that in my life so often I get home and I had planned something and then there’d be some disaster with somebody that would keep me from one element of the meal and then someone would scream “WHEN IS THAT GOING TO BE READY?!”
Q: Prior to the movie did any of you read food blogs?
Nora: I do, I read Chowhound and I use it for new restaurants. I read Ed Levine’s blog Serious Eats and then my sister Amy has a food blog, One For The Table, so I do, I love them! You could ruin a day reading them, there are so many good food blogs, it’s amazing. But I hadn’t read Julie Powell’s blog until I read about it in the New York Times.
Meryl: That was the first time I heard about it. There was something about that article that jumped up. It was an unusual challenge that she had set for herself.
Q: Julie Powell told us that you printed out a lot of her entries and went through them with her. Why was that important for you to do?
Nora: If I had found a section that I wanted to amplify beyond what was in the blog then I interviewed her. There were a couple of chronological things that I was confused by and I wanted to figure all of that out. And basically I just wanted to hear her talk a little bit more about some of the events I chose to do in the movie because it was about 2000 pages printed out of the blog with all the comments. I had 8 huge binders of material and I had winnowed it down and then I had figured out what I was going to do of it, what scenes had to be done. I had to do the meltdown scene, I had to do the lobster scene and I became really interested in her mother. Her mother really got into her blog and wrote slightly inappropriate things and I was so amused that she had sort of become a character in the blog. That was really mostly what it was, just to amplify.
Q: When we screened the movie a few weeks ago we got to speak with Chris Messina (Julie Powell’s on-screen husband) afterwards and he talked about the food discipline when you’re shooting a scene all day and how you might have to eat 35 bruschetta. Do you have any experiences like that?
Meryl: I didn’t! Surprisingly I didn’t have a problem with it! No, we didn’t have to eat as much and with such gusto. You have to realize how many times he did it: in the master, in the midshot, in the closeup, the over shoulder, he ate a lot of bruschetta! And he did it everytime! He did a great job.
Amy: I did mostly this (she pretends to eat while talking). I was like “I’m talking so I can take a bite here”. It was important to know that we really enjoyed the food. But I hadn’t figured out and I still haven’t figured out how Chris Messina did it. How he was able to eat and talk and nothing falls out! It must be a structural thing! With me I would talk and it’d be a full show! No way. I had a different relationship with the food on set but we all really enjoyed it. Like the chocolate cake moment, that was so much fun. But we also negotiated what we ate the night before by asking “what are we shooting tomorrow?” Ok, then I’ll have a small dinner and a small breakfast and then I’ll be hungry. It definitely helped.
Meryl: I never ate off set. Never never never. There was no need.
Q: So were your meals off camera the foods you were preparing during the scenes?
Meryl: That was the reward at the end of the day, after we had the shots. Like the sole, oh the sole! You could smell it. You could smell it!
Q: Where you familiar with Julia Child beforehand?
Amy: I was familiar with her but more as a characterization. But not the real intimate details of her life.
Q: Nora, you’ve written about Julia Child previously. Was there a sense of fate in this film?
Nora: Totally and completely. I don’t mean to be ridiculous but I really did think “I should write this!” When they first told me about this movie as a director they already put a writer on it and I was not happy about it. I was hoping something would happen so that I would get to write it and she would not (we all laugh!) and my prayers were answered because she got a big television series on the air and that was the end of her! Then I got to step in and I got to do it! I was thrilled.
Q: Nora, did you see any parts of yourself in the characters?
Nora: Yes, I see parts of myself in both women. I see many of my worst qualities in the occasional moments of Julie Powell. There’s no question that I don’t have Julia Child’s fantastic sunny disposition. And there are definite pieces of my marriage in the Julia Child story because I am married to an extremely nice guy, so was Julia Child. I didn’t make up Paul Child, he was exactly like that. The moment in the movie when Julia is rejected by Houghton Mifflin and he cheers her up is a scene that we played into our house on many occasions, right down to the last two words of it (I will leave this out, go see the movie!)
Q: A friend wanted me to ask if working on this film made you more appreciative of the men in your life, but it sounds like you already are! I mean you guys were working with characters that loved you so thoroughly and that was so special to see.
Meryl: What’s unusual is that you never see that. All the sustaining things, all the supporting things, just the fact that someone loves you even when you’re a brat. Even when you’re completely boring!
It’s such a valuable part of many women’s lives, and men’s lives, too. It’s kind of like a bath of pleasure to have that! I would look at Stanley Tucci (as Julia’s husband Paul) and just the way he looked at me made me feel beautiful! Then I’d go back to my dressing room, look in the mirror and think “Wow, I really believed him”. It was really wonderful.
Q: How did you prepare for the role as Julia?
Meryl: I didn’t really prepare too well. I kept preparing as we went on. I cooked out of the book which I had never done and I actually had my arguments with her about how she would do certain things! But I looked at the video tapes and the American Masters series that they did on Julia Child and for me the most valuable parts were the early tapes, before she got hyperbolic about what she was doing, the curly cues of Julia Child, the flourishes. But the earliest stuff mostly.
Q: How has this role changed your perspective on food?
Amy: It hasn’t necessarily changed my perspective on food but how I’m cooking and the reasons I’m cooking. I take my time now, I enjoy it. I’m starting to cook with my friends a lot more in tandem and I’m realizing how wonderful it is.
Q: Do you cook from Julia’s book as well?
Amy: Yes, that was one of the assignments Nora gave me. We had to cook a dish from the book and blog about it and my dish was Brussels Sprouts with Cheese and I can’t even say it in French because I’ll sound really foolish. But they were beautiful and I wrote about it, much to my chagrin. I have so much respect for writers. If I was envious of anything, aside from height, it’s writing!
Q: in some capacity you’ve all worked together in some form. Any plans on working together again?
Nora: Well I’ve never worked with Amy before.
Meryl: But I’ve worked with you Amy before, separately.
Amy: Yes, it’s like 6 degrees of separation.
Nora: Oh god I hope so!
Amy: We’re going to play Siamese twins in our next film.
Matt says: I know I’d like that!
Julie & Julia opens August 7th. Thanks to Columbia Pictures for setting this all up and a huge thanks to Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and my fellow blog pals!