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From 'Mary Poppins' to 'Queen Clarisse'

Julie Andrews sits down to talk with Deborah Norville about her roles in "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" and "Shrek 2" as well as the upcoming 40th anniversary edition of "Mary Poppins." 

Julie Andrews stepped into the hearts of movie watchers, everywhere when she "flew" onto the big screen as Walt Disney’s “Mary Poppins” nearly forty years ago.  The children’s film jump started Andrews’s career and allowed her to become one of the world’s most talented and beloved actresses both on the big screen and on stage.

Andrews was introduced to acting and singing at a young age, when she made her TV debut in a BBC program entitled “Radiolympia Showtime.”  Yet it wasn’t until 1954, after moving to New York that the Broadway musical, “The Boy Friend” allowed Andrews to reach American acclaim

Following the success of “The Boyfriend,” Andrews continued to perform in Broadway productions of such hits as “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.” 

In 1962, Walt Disney offered her a chance to use her talent on the big screen by giving her the starring role in “Mary Poppins.”  Andrews was rewarded for her talent performance opposite Dick Van Dyke in this Disney classic with an Academy Award for Best Actress. 

Andrews’ star continued to rise when she was chosen to play the lead role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” showing audiences that her voice was just as enjoyable as her acting. The film received five Oscars and earned Andrews a Golden Globe for Best Actress. 

As the years went on, Andrews stared in various other classics such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Victor/Victoria” (which earned her a fourth Golden Globe.)

Younger audiences know her for playing the the voice of “Queen,” Princess Fiona’s beloved mother, in Dreamworks’ “Shrek 2” and the role of “Nanny” in Disney’s “Eloise” series. 

She is currently reprising her role as "Queen Clarisse Renaldi" in Disney’s “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” which opens in theaters this Thursday. 

Andrews is also awaiting the re-release of the 40th anniversary edition of “Mary Poppins” this December. 

Under the pen name of "Julie Edwards," Andrews wrote a series of children’s books entitled “Mandy.” She is also involved in several charities such as Operation USA, UNICEF and Save the Children.  In May 2000, Andrews was crowned Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. 

Deborah Norville sat down with Julie Andrews to talk about her career and recent endeavors:

On the Princess Diaries
NORVILLE:  Do you think that “The Princess Diaries II” is so neat because it introduces you to a new generation of people.

ANDREWS:  It’s simply wonderful also because, for instance, a little girl came up to me with her mother the other day.  She must have been all of 6. 
And her mother said, Do you know who this lady is?  And if I said “Mary Poppins,” would you know now?  And, she said no.  When asked about the “Sound of Music” she said yes.  When “Princess Diaries” was mentioned she went, Oh, cool!

NORVILLE:  How did “Princess Diaries” come into your life?

ANDREWS: I got a call from a wonderful director, Garry Marshall, and he asked if I‘d like to come over and chat about it and talk with him.  He was actually the hook, in a way.  I love what he does.  He‘s a very lovely human being and a wonderful director, and I‘ve always wanted to work with him.

NORVILLE:  The story is a modern-day Cinderella tale.  Anne Hathaway  plays your granddaughter who in the first one, finds out that she's got this great royal connection.  And it moves along at this time.  Now she‘s graduated, and she‘s got to take her responsibilities. What's the message that you‘d like little kids to take from that, that whole thing about responsibility?

ANDREWS:  Yes, and things like, as you do grow a little older, that you‘re going to have to take on and realize certain things, that there are responsibilities, that manners matter, that being decent and considerate and compassionate to people are good qualities and will get you far. 

On working in an animated film
NORVILLE:  “Princess Diaries” is but one of several films that you‘ve got in the theaters right now.  I mean, if you look around, “Shrek 2,” where you play Princess Fiona’s mom is still out there.

ANDREWS:  “Shrek 2” is still out there and doing phenomenally well. It was a remarkable cast.  We toured together to promote the film, and, boy, did we have a fun time.  It was great.

NORVILLE:  How different is it working on something like that, where you‘re behind the scenes?

ANDREWS:  I‘ve done an animated film, obviously.  There was animation in “Mary Poppins.”  But I had never had a character in an animated film, and it‘s totally different.  You don‘t work with anybody else.  You go into a booth and just say your lines, and the director will kind of occasionally feed you the answers.  And you hope that you‘re pulling a character together, but you give them every kind of reading. 

NORVILLE:  How different is making movies today from when you made your first film 40 years ago?

ANDREWS:  Well, it‘s complicated to answer to that, Deborah, because like “Shrek,” there‘s so much more technology today than there used to be.  So in some ways, it‘s easier.  On the other hand, there‘s less time.  Budgets are so much higher.  You don‘t have the luxury of not doing any close-ups after 5:00 o‘clock, which is this is the way it used to be for all the great stars in the old days. 

On the 40th anniversary of “Mary Poppins”
NORVILLE:  Does it knock your socks off that it‘s now been 40 years since “Mary Poppins?”

ANDREWS:  It does.  It‘s mind-boggling because it feels like about 15 years in total and it‘s unbelievable to me that it‘s gone so quickly.

NORVILLE:  When you look at the impact that movie had on your career, can you possibly sum up what it did for you?

ANDREWS:  Well, it was the first movie I ever made.  I‘d never made a film before, so I learned a heck of a lot.  And I would say that life changed enormously because I had done a lot of Broadway but never been to Hollywood.

NORVILLE:  And you won a little thing called an Oscar, as a result of it.

ANDREWS:  Well, that was very generous of everybody, yes.

NORVILLE:  When you did “Mary Poppins,” how did that even come to you? 

ANDREWS:  I didn‘t do “My Fair Lady”, and I was appearing on Broadway in “Camelot,” and Walt Disney came backstage. He came into my dressing room and asked if I would like to come to Hollywood to see the beautiful storyboarding and designs and things like that for “Mary Poppins” and to hear the music.  So I said, Oh, Mr. Disney, I‘m pregnant.  And he said, it‘s OK.  We‘ll wait.

NORVILLE:  Did you really think he would?

ANDREWS:  Well, he was very genuine about it.  And certainly, you know, a couple months later, when my contract was up in “Camelot,” there I was, winging out to Hollywood to see for myself.  Everything had such a wonderful flavor about it.

On not quite singing again
NORVILLE:  In this movie, there was such a big twitter when production was going on because “Julie Andrews singing again”  and everyone knows your voice was damaged when you had surgery about seven or eight years ago.

ANDREWS:  I‘m not making a huge comeback or anything like that.  This was something that Garry and I talked about.  And I said, I don‘t think I can do it.  I‘m not singing these days.  And he said, Well, we‘ll both have the right to veto it, OK?  And let‘s see.

And I said, Well, if you write something that‘s low enough and simple enough that I can sing-speak, much like Rex Harrison used to do it in “My Fair Lady—and that‘s exactly what they did. 

They crafted it very well, and so I kind of talk my way into the song and hand it over to the children at the end.  I probably do all of 16 bars that‘s any kind of soft singing.

Music on a movie set is delicious.  I mean, everybody perks up.  There‘s a huge playback that‘s going on.  And it happens you play it over and over, and everybody kind of gets energy from it.

NORVILLE:  You know, you talked about what you do in “Princess Diaries” is you sort of sing-speak the role.  And you mentioned that Rex Harrison did that in “My Fair Lady." That was such an important moment for you on Broadway.  I mean, you had you already opened on Broadway in 1954, but you were young; under 20. But then you come on with Rex Harrison, and he was not known for singing.

ANDREWS:  He was very nervous about singing with an orchestra for the first time.  That’s at least something I did know how to do, but to do it dramatic role like Eliza Doolittle in “Fair Lady” was something I had never done before.  So he had problems, and I had terrible fears.

He and I think Richard Burton probably taught me so much because every night—those two shows happened to be long runs.  I could watch and learn and listen, and they were so good at what they did.

NORVILLE:  Do you ever kind of go back in your mind and think of those moments in your career, those delicious moments, like the nervousness of the press and you‘re the darling?

ANDREWS:  Yes.  I mean, I don‘t think one ever stops being nervous. 

People always say, What, now you‘re really nervous?  And in the old days, when I was just young, I had nothing to lose and it was all just fun and I was playing, but I guess the more you do, the more you become self-critical.

I think I tell youngsters, if they come up to me and say, What‘s your advice, and I say, Well, there are going to be probably some wonderful opportunities coming your way at the oddest moment, when you least expect it.  So do your homework and be ready.  And that‘s about the best one can ask for.

On being a children’s book author
NORVILLE:  Another interesting factor about your life is that you‘re a children‘s book author with great success behind you. I think it‘s a chapter that people don‘t focus on as much because they know you so much from other things. 

ANDREWS:  Well, the book collection, which is called the Julie Andrews Collection, is a new thing.  It‘s been going for about three two to three years now.  But I‘ve actually been writing for about, oh, 30 years, I think.  And I absolutely love it. 

This collection is run by my daughter Emma.  She‘s absolutely a whiz at the business side of it and helping me also write some of the books.

NORVILLE:  The first book was “Mandy,” was it not? 

ANDREWS:  The very first book I wrote in the ‘70s was called “Mandy.”

I lost a bet with my eldest daughter.  We were playing a game and we had to pay a forfeit.  I was the first to lose.  She said you have to pay a forfeit.  And I said, "Well, what should my forfeit be?"  And she said; "Write me a story, and an absolutely true story."

I said "Well, OK," and I thought I‘d write her maybe a couple pages, like a little fable.  And out of that came a book that I did for her as a gift. 

I got so lonely at the end of it when I had finished writing it, I thought, "I really enjoyed that." I‘d like to go on doing it and now we’ve got a number of them out there.