Interview: Julie & Julia Writer/Director Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron loves food. And she loves stories about women, and she loves romantic comedies. So when the movie pitch for Julie & Julia came her way, as a story about two women in two different eras changing their lives by cooking, she wondered if she'd ever find another movie so well-suited to her tastes.
Over the course of two interviews with Ephron, she told me and other journalists about her love of food-- "I feel really bad for people who aren't insane over food"-- as well as her process in making the movie, watching Meryl Streep nail the Julia Child voice and writing a screenplay about two happy marriages in which there are no car crashes, or even breakups. Read below for more from the queen of romantic comedy, who introduced Harry and Sally and kept Tom Hanks sleepless in Seattle, and has now given the world the combination of romantic comedy and food porn that we've been waiting for.
The movie shows these two stable, loving relationships, and you don't see that in very many movies. What was the challenge in writing that?
One of the things I loved as I was writing the movie, was I thought, oh, nobody gets to write movies about marriage, or if you do, they're always about marriages that really break up. And then they come together in the end, but they've got that inevitable construction thing that you know from the beginning. I got so excited that one could write about how sweet it can be if you have a husband who thinks it's great that something good is happening to you. When Meryl read the script, she said one of the things she loved about it was that it's like life, in that not a whole lot happens in it. You're lucky if that works in a movie. But I think Julia's life, and Julie's, there are no car chases, but there's some suspense. Most people don't know the endless saga that Julia went through to get that book finally published. It's an amazing story. So for me, it had a certain amount of suspense and excitement, even though it didn't have any in the conventional way.
How did you approach portraying the food? You got the food porn down.
One of the things I said at the beginning to the actors was that everybody had to eat in the scenes. And thank God for Chris Messina, who really threw himself into it. He has those Tums that he keeps having to take. The first day we shot the Tums, he actually swallowed 32 Tums. He was really sick at the end of the day. I was just horrified that they hadn't given him something like Sweet Tarts.
We wanted the food to look good, but we didn't want it to look as if you couldn't make it yourself. We didn't want it to look styled, we didn't want it to look as if a home cook would never have done it. If you're married to somebody, and you both like food, it's a major player in your marriage. I said this to the actors-- nothing you ever talk about in this movie should be so important that you couldn't be eating something simultaneously.
How hard was it for Meryl Streep to sustain that Julia Child voice?
She does so much work. She had Julia's show on a tape in her dressing room, and she played on the DVD. But she had very clear ideas about the Julia she wanted to do, which wasn't the Julia after Julia had really become Julia Child. Because the truth is, if you look at Julia's show, she became more and more Julia Child as she became famous for it, and as she became better at being on television.
[Meryl] would arrive on the set, and you never had any sense at all that she was working or having a difficult time or anything. The only thing you knew was that every day she would get there and think, how am I going to be 6'1 in this scene? That was where she got a huge amount of what she was doing. She was completely convinced that the secret was to be tall.
This seems like the ideal Nora Ephron movie.
I felt from the very beginning that this was so my meat. As many of you know I'm just obsessed with food. I am the kind of person who really will drive hours for a bowl of chili. I'm not a three-star restaurant kind of a person, I'm just a food person. So the combination of that, and the fact that ti was about writing, and the fact that it was about marriage.
I did think, what will the next one after this have to be to get me to feel as excited as I do about this. It was a great time for me. Can you imagine, we got to go to Paris. Not only did we get to got to Paris, but we had to scout many times before we went to Paris. What did we get to scout? All of the things that I would have done anyway, go to streets where there were huge amounts of food.
What was it that inspired you about Julia's and Julie's story that inspired you to write this movie?
Julia did something that no one had done. That cookbook did not exist. There was no cookbook that explained French cooking in the amazing way that she did. If you go and cook 10 things in Julia's cookbook, you learn so much beyond those recipes. Besides that, everyone fell in love with the book and fell in love with her, because there was no one like her in the world, before or since, there's never been a person like her.
With Julie's story, it's a Cinderella story.She went from being a temp in a cubicle to being a writer and making money. it's amazing that you can write your way to something like that, and in a way that you couldn't when I came into the business.
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