Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia.
The movie Julie & Julia is not just a story about cooking. It’s a story about love, marriage, passions, and living. From director Nora Ephron comes a film that seamlessly melds the true life stories of Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and Julia Child (Meryl Streep).
The film takes the remarkable approach of adapting and interweaving two celebrated memoirs—Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, and My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.
Powell’s book was inspired by an urge to change her life and abandon her emotionally depleting day job. In 2002, Powell set sail on a yearlong cooking and blogging journey. Her mission: cook all 524 recipes found in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and document her experience in her “Julie/Julia Project” blog.
My Life in France is Child’s own story of her years in post-World War II Paris as the wife of American foreign-service employee Paul Child. The book gives audiences a glimpse of Julia’s personal struggles and triumphs. Once Child completed Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book’s popularity led to a cooking show and career that made her a household name in the United States. More than anyone else, Child steered American eaters away from the canned, the frozen and the processed and into food that was fresh, flavorful and made with unbridled joy, a wonderful metaphor for approaching life.
Recently, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron sat down to discuss their journey in the making of Julie & Julia.
What motivated you to be a part of this project?
Streep: I read Nora’s script, which is extremely beautiful and, I thought, not so commercial whatsoever. I just love the story of these two women, who are looking for their calling. It was realistically written and not so hard on the head. I think it turned out very well.
What was the last thing you cooked at home?
Streep: Nora just gave me a cookbook by Ina Garten. I made Tuscan lemon chicken—I highly recommend it. It was a big hit.
How comfortable were you with in the kitchen before preparing for the role and after?
Adams: I’m not really intimidated by the kitchen. I think I’m a little [neater] now. I learned the correct way of doing things. My chopped salad is more consistent [laughs]. But [food stylist Susan Spungen] gave me a lot of great tips and short cuts, so I don’t mind preparation as much anymore. This [experience] has opened up the world of cooking for me and there is more enjoyment in it. I started to cook with my friends a lot more. I did try cooking from Julia’s cookbook; it was one of the assignments Nora gave us.
Streep: I just wonder if Julia child had four kids if she would have cooked the way she did, because it is not so easy. I learned patience. In my life, so often, I get home, and have planned to a certain extent [the meal] and then some disaster with somebody [would happen] that would keep me from one element of the meal, and the next thing you know, everyone is standing around asking me when the meal will be ready.
Prior to the movie, did any one of you read blogs?
Ephron: Oh, I read blogs. I always use them for new restaurants to find out whether they are good or not. I read seriouseats.com and my sister Amy has a food blog for the table.com. So I do [read them]. I love them. But I had not read Julie Powell’s blog until I read about it in the New York Times.
Streep: That’s the first time I had heard about it. It was something about that article that jumped up and you read about the unusual challenge that [Powell] set herself on.
We heard from Powell how you dissected her blogs—tell us about the process and how you narrowed it down to the key elements that would be showcased in the film.
Ephron: If I found a section that I wanted to amplify beyond what was in the blog, then I would interview her. There were a couple of chronological issues that I was concerned about…I had to figure that all out and hear her talk about certain events.
It was about 2,000 [blog] pages that were printed with all the comments. So I had eight huge binders of material. I had to [cover] the meltdowns, I had to do the lobster [dish], and I had become very interested in her mother—who wrote slightly inappropriate things. I was so amused [at how] she had become a character in the blog, so that was important.
When we spoke with Chris Messina (Eric Powell in the film), he told us about the food discipline that was required while filming. Can you tell us about your food eating experiences?
Streep: I had no problem with it. [laughs] No, we didn’t have to eat as much as Chris. He ate with such gusto and the bruschetta moment, you have to realize how many times he did it. He did a great job.
Adams: I did mostly this (gestures an open mouth with her hand). We negotiated what we ate the night before [depending on the scene]. It was important for Nora that we enjoy the food. But I still have not figured out how Messina did it, he is able to eat and talk without any food coming out of his mouth. I would talk and it was a full show and I thought, ‘no, I am not cute while I chew,’ so I had a different relationship with the eating on set. The chocolate cake scene was so much fun.
Were your meals the meals you were eating on set?
Streep: That was the reward at the end of the day.
Were you familiar with Julia Child before the film?
Adams: I was familiar with her, but more as a characterization and not with the intimate details of her life. I enjoyed getting to know more about her life.
Nora, you wrote Serial Monogamy in 2006 and then embarked on Julie & Julia—do you think fate played a role in you being part of this project?
Ephron: Totally and completely. I mean, I don’t mean to be ridiculous but I really did think, ‘I SHOULD WRITE THIS.’
Streep: They had another writer on it.
Ephron: Yes, when they first told me about it, it was just as a director because they had already put a writer on it and I was not happy about that. I hoped that something would happen so that I would get to write and she would not. And my prayers were answered because she got a big television series on the air and that was the end of her. I got to step in and do it, so I was completely thrilled.
Is there a part of you in the film?
Ephron: Yes, I see parts of myself in both women. I see many of my worse qualities in occasional moments of Julie Powell. I mean there is no question that I don’t have Julia Child’s fantastic sunny disposition. There are definitely pieces of my marriage in the Julia Child story, because I am married to an extremely nice guy and so was Julia Child. I mean, I didn’t make up Paul Child. He was exactly like that.
Does the film make you more appreciative of the men in your life—since the film showcases two extraordinary supportive husbands?
Streep: Well, what’s unusual is that you never see a happy marriage, all the sustaining things, all the supporting things, just the whole package of someone loving you, even when you are completely boring.
Having Paul Child as your husband in the film, did that bring any sort of acting satisfaction?
Streep: It was kind of a bath in pleasure. I would look at Stanley [Tucci] and just the way he looked at me made me feel beautiful. Even though I would go back to my dresser, and looking in the mirror [laughs], but I really believed him and that was wonderful.
Can you tell us how you prepared for the role?
Streep: Well I didn’t really prepare too much but I kept preparing as we went on. I cooked out of her book, which I had never done…and argued with her (Julia Child). I had my own arguments with her about how she did things. But I looked at videotapes and looked at The American Masters series they had done about her. For me the most valuable stuff was the earlier stuff before she got more hyperbolic in what she was doing.
Do you three have any plans to work together again?
Ephron: Oh, I hope so.
Adams: We are going to play (points to Streep) Siamese twins together [laughs].
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