ACTOR & DIRECTOR
My Fair Lady’s Julie Andrews reveals why she kept her Oscar in the attic.
The stage version of My Fair Lady you directed has toured Australia for a year, and is now back in Sydney where it opened. Musicals come and go – why has this one endured? Well, for several reasons.at base, it’s a Cinderella story and a love story that emerged at the height of the great golden era of Broadway musicals. And it has everything it needs to have: gorgeous songs and lyrics, phenomenal books, great costumes, incredible choreography and a big, sweeping story of importance about society. Last year, cast member Robyn Nevin told a journalist you “smell delicious”. Did you know this? [Laughs.] Oh, no! I wasn’t aware of that, but I’m glad she thought so. I do love perfume – I don’t lather it on, believe me. But if she smelled it on me and liked it, I’m thrilled. People consider you a legend, and can become flummoxed in your presence. Do you find that a little ridiculous? Why do you think that is? I mean, it’s not ridiculous to me, but it’s sad. Because I think of all people – well, I hope I’m very approachable. I love talking to people. It’s hard to shut me up, as you’ll probably find within the next several minutes. You have said two of your most famous roles – Mary Poppins and Maria in The Sound of Music – served as feminist icons for generations. Growing up, who played that role for you? Really early, it was a singing teacher who was a wonderful mentor and a very kind lady – who taught me a great deal about not just singing but also life. I loved the great sopranos, and admired some great movie stars. I’ll never forget when I did My Fair Lady on Broadway, [actor] Ingrid Bergman came to see our show, as did [opera singer] Maria Callas. And the ladies asked if they could borrow my bathroom after such a long show – which it is – and I hardly dared sit on the toilet seat for weeks after that, I was so impressed. Speaking of The Sound of Music, will it upset you if I admit I always had a soft spot for Maria’s nemesis, the Baroness? [Laughs loudly.] I see! Oh, goodness me, you’re asking me to be your therapist as well. [Groans.] Well, she is a very beautiful, very unreachable sort of woman, and a rather sad one. She’s got a lot of spirit and she’s very witty. That’s about the best I can come up with. You have 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And five children. Do you keep a chart with birth dates, ages, names and interests to ensure you don’t forget to send gifts? Well, yes, actually – I do. Because they do come along with alarming rapidity. And thank God their mothers never fail to remind me. You turn 82 next month, yet you radiate good health. Care to share your secrets? I don’t know quite how I got to be so fortunate in that way. I’ve
“For years I kept my Oscar in the attic because I felt I did not deserve it, or that it was given to me out of kindness”
worked since I was about eight. I don’t think I know how to sit still. I’d still either be writing or pruning my garden or doing something with my grandkids. I wish I had more time to read or travel for pleasure. You won an Oscar in 1965 for your performance in Mary Poppins. Where do you keep the statuette? For years, I kept it in my attic because I felt I did not deserve it, or that it was given to me out of kindness because I didn’t receive the role [in] My Fair Lady on film. These days, it’s front and centre in my office. Your husband of 41 years, Blake Edwards, passed away in 2010. What did his death teach you? Well, one is so busy doing in a busy and loving marriage. You say, “I wish I’d spent more time on that or enjoyed it even more than I did.” But the memories are strong and lovely. It is a rite of passage, we all have to go through it. I’m sorry that I did; I wish he were here. I think about him just about every day. In fact, I’m looking at a photograph of him right now. You turned to writing after your singing voice was damaged in a 1997 surgery. How is your voice now, and has it affected your ability to direct a song-filled show like My Fair Lady? It’s a given you’re not going to be able to sing the way you once used to as you get older. So regardless, I probably wouldn’t be able to sing the same way I did. Voices change, shift gears, and so on. Your CV is full of memorable projects. Looking back, is there one you wish had been received more positively? I made a film called Star! [in 1968] which was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wore something like 99 costumes, the sets were lovely, the music was gorgeous. And yet it didn’t work because, at the time, smaller films were all the rage. People thought it was obscene to spend so much money on a film! Now look at things. We’ve come back. Everything is cyclical. [Pause.] Is it sick- lical or psychlical? I can never work that one out. My Fair Lady is now playing at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney; myfairladymusical.com.au.