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You might find yourself tempted to hate Julie Powell. As one of the first people to ever build a successful blog, and therefore one of the first to get a book deal out of it, Powell has become a publishing phenom simply because, back in 2002, she decided to cook all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it. Her memoir about that experience, Julie & Julia, was a bestseller, and has now been turned into a huge, Nora Ephron-directed comedy, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
Yup, it would definitely be easy to hate her. But seeing her at two separate press events, one in which she baked us a pie ,I saw in Powell someone who is effectively just like me, bewildered by fame and still a little clumsy in the kitchen, riding the wave she started when she changed her life by cooking boeuf bourginon. And the best part about Powell might be that, even though she's been doing press tours for years now, and can bring up the same polished anecdotes like a pro, there's still something unvarnished and accessible about her. If I were on a press tour, I'd probably also complain about not being able to drop the f-bomb.
Below are the selected best bits from two roundtable interviews I did with Powell, where she talks about the most important change in her life since the end of the cooking project, her husband's reaction to the movie, and a moment late in the film, when a reporter tells the then-living Julia Child about Powell's project, and Child's reaction is less than flattering. Julie & Julia comes out this Friday.
Did you ever actually get in touch with Julia Child to find out why she didn't like your blog?
After the project was over, I wrote this letter--this extraordinarily grateful letter, because shortly after the project was over, my life was already changing. i got a very formal, cordial letter back from her. That's the only contact I ever had with her. I don't think she said anything really awful. She said, I know about the blog, I'm not terribly interested in finding out more. And people have posited all sorts of reasons as to why that reaction was. She was, after all, 90 years old, and was frail, and not what she has been in terms of her energy or maybe investment in the world. I've had a lot of people who have known her, who are passionate on the subject [tell me]-- "She would have loved you, I promise you she would have loved you!" They're more upset about it than I am. How faithful is this movie to you and what you did?
I think it's very faithful to the basic course of events, [but] it's a romantic comedy. Everything was not quite so twinkly. In the movie, you only get one F-word, and Stanley got it. And I was a little resentulf that I didn't get it. That kind of drives me crazy.
What did your husband say about the movie? Did he have any input? Neither of us did. Nora met us, and she asked me very scary questions, and she went and wrote the script, and it became a different thing. Eric and I didn't really directly contribute to the movie. When you watch the movie, it's like his office, it's very, very creepy. yes, we're still together. He's freaking out a little bit about the movie. he kind of wants to run away until it's all over. Aside from the book deal, what was the biggest thing you got out of the project in the end?
I think the reason that I came to Mastering the Art to begin with, is that there's something in that book besides the recipes and the authentic cooking course that you go through. There's a sense of confidence and bravery in the book, and I was just inspired by it. [At the end of the project] I had managed to do something so much bigger than I thought I was capable of. Not just the recipes. I had turned into a writer, I had a tone. I think really what Julia Child does, it's not just about teaching us to cook. It's about teaching us to be brave, to jump into things. Julia Child is a feminist icon as much as a culinary one. She's inspired so many thousands of women to be more than they thought they could be. Do you have anything to say directly to the people who are inspired by you, about how you changed your own life?
I hope that the fact that I am honest about how hard change is, that there are setbacks and there's hopelessness and there's doubt, will make it easier for people to understand that it's not just icons like Julia Child. She did go through a period of doubt, and she made herself into a strong woman. But ordinary people, people like me-- it really is possible. It's hard, and it's scary, and you've got to make a leap. I hope that people will read my books and realize that anything that's worth doing is going to be tough. It's the bravest thing you can do, to see a life you're dissatisfied with and make a dramatic change. I hear that, and i understand it. Who in your life has seen the movie?
One friend, who's basically the Mary Lynn Rajskub character, has seen it. And Eric has seen it, and kind of freaked out. He's getting used to it now. For me, my life has gotten more surreal in stair-steps. So now I'm at this sort of surreal is the new normal phase. For Eric, it's been sort of like jumping into a pond of cold water.