In what may or may not be a sign that life is almost, sort of, back to normal, the American Film Institute is finally giving Julie Andrews the Life Achievement Award it promised her in 2019.
She should be officially honored in 2020, and then again in 2021; In both years, the AFI was thwarted by COVID-19. However, on June 9th the gala tribute will finally take place at the Dolby Theater (TNT will televise the ceremony a week later) and Dame Andrews will be on hand to remind everyone what cinematic achievement looks like.
First, an 86-year-old star who didn’t let a global pandemic get in the way of a still-vibrant career — who managed to write three books, start a podcast, and voice the narrator of Shonda Rhimes’ smash hit.” Bridgerton” left her home in Sag Harbor, NY without much
“I’m very honored that AFI selected me,” she told me during a phone interview. “It’s a bit stunning. It makes me very aware that there was a great volume of work. When you’re in, you’re so busy with work that you don’t take stock of what you’ve done. And when someone else does it, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’”
Andrews is such a stalwart and beloved figure in the entertainment industry that it’s easy to forget just how remarkable and prolific her work is. The 29-year-old British stage star not only burst into Hollywood in the early 1960s, she swept in and conquered it, starring in two of the industry’s most enduring films: Mary Poppins, which won five Academy Awards including for leading actress; and then, a year later, The Sound of Music, which also won five awards, including Best Picture.
The career that followed spanned drama, comedy, musicals and more than a few franchises including Victor/Victoria, which took Andrews to Broadway and television, The Princess Diaries movies, Shrek, I – Despicable Me” and Marvel (via “Aquaman”). Not to mention the countless television films and series up to “Bridgerton”, which she tells as the haughty, funny and enigmatic Lady Whistledown.
The AFI honor was overdue even before the pandemic. Andrews is certainly relieved that the time has finally come. “It’s a big fundraiser and nice to be a part of,” she said. “I have no idea what they have planned, but I know a few people who will be there. My great friend Carol Burnett is going to do something, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m a little concerned because COVID is picking up again, but I know AFI is taking every precaution.”
Like her. Although she was in Los Angeles at the time of our conversation, visiting family and preparing for the gala, she wasn’t doing much personal press work. “I’m still quite isolated, dear,” she said. “My age, my preference.”
That doesn’t mean she’s spent the past two years binge-watching or indulging in banana bread. Over the years, she and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, have built an impressive literary career that includes many children’s books and two memoirs. “Home Work”, the second of these, debuted in the fall of 2019.
A third paper is in the works, but Andrews admits she’s fallen behind on this project, largely because so many others have signed up in the meantime.
At the beginning of the pandemic, she and Hamilton started a podcast called Julie’s Library. Well, not so much “began” as “rushed to produce.” Concerned about the millions of families living in lockdown, the two decided to accelerate a long-planned podcast where they would read and discuss a variety of children’s books – despite the lack of anything resembling a studio. Andrews’ grandson Sam stocked a closet with blankets and pillows and set up a recording room.
So yes, Julie Andrews, stage, film and television star, winner of the AFI Life Achievement Award, spent much of the pandemic in a home improvement workspace, just like the rest of us.
“It’s really amazing how much work we can do from home now,” she said. She was even able to play “Bridgerton” from home. “Who knew it would be such a big hit? I just knew I found the script fascinating and it really has been such a comfort during the pandemic.”
As the narrator of a pamphlet devoted to gossip about Britain’s upper class during the Regency period, Andrews was privy to the big mystery of the first season: which of the series’ characters wrote under the name Lady Whistledown.
But Andrews had to help invent the character of the pseudonym. Deliciously funny, often deadly and occasionally kind, Lady Whistledown frames each episode and helps set the tone of the show. “At first I was like, ‘What would Maggie do [Smith] do?’ because she’s a great buddy and the best of the best. I chose upper class, grown up and a little bit caustic.”
As the voice of Bridgerton, Andrews will be part of the upcoming Queen Charlotte spin-off and subsequent seasons of the original series. “I also want to see what happens to everyone.”
She and Hamilton have also worked hard on three other children’s books. The first, arriving in September, tells the story of Guido of Arezzo, the 11th-century Benedictine monk who invented musical notation, which made it possible for the first time to write down music.
He also developed the Do-Re-Mi mnemonics, which provided a basis for teaching scales and led to one of Andrews’ most famous film scenes centuries later. “It’s a historical book, but for children,” Andrews said. “He really was a sweet guy. He loved to sing but was frustrated because there was no way to write the music down. People just passed it on loudly, but that wasn’t always right. What he did was really important.”
The mother and daughter are also working on The Great American Mousical, a musical adaptation of their book of the same name, which debuted locally before the pandemic. The story follows a group of mice who live in a New York theater and put on their own show; it is based on Andrew’s own experience when he starred in Victor/Victoria on Broadway. “There was a mouse in my dressing room and they set traps. I asked them for humane traps so the mouse could be released. ‘He probably just wants to see the stars,’ I said, and a light bulb went on.”
With any luck, she said, the show could get an off-Broadway gig for Christmas 2023.
Earlier this year, Andrews and Hamilton also suffered a huge loss: Oscar-winning set designer Tony Walton, Andrews’ ex-husband and Hamilton’s father, died in March. Walton and Andrews married in 1959, had Emma in 1962, and worked together on Mary Poppins before divorcing in 1968. “He was a dear friend,” Andrews said, “and we’ve remained good friends throughout my life. It was a big blow, especially for Emma.”
Andrews says she’s not quite ready to get back on set or in the studio, but there are “murmurs.” And she is always available for language work. However, at the time of our conversation, she was more worried about her dress — “It was hard to find something that looks good while I go with a neckline that would work in close-ups” — and her speech. “I really want to focus on the cinematic art and the importance of collaboration,” she said. “It’s hard to say thank you for such a great evening because it’s so overwhelming.”
As for the state of the industry honoring her, Andrews is very happy that Top Gun: Maverick is reviving the box office, and while she hasn’t seen it yet, she will. “I haven’t been in too many films. We have a nice theater in Sag Harbor with good, spacious seating and I’ve seen “Belfast” and “West Side Story” which I loved. I’ll catch up with ‘Maverick’ eventually.”
But not on this trip. Almost immediately after the AFI Gala, Andrews will fly home to celebrate another family honor: her granddaughter’s high school graduation. “She goes to college to study drama, film and writing,” Andrews said. “In the great family tradition.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-09/column-julie-andrews-star-of-stage-screen-and-the-pandemic-finally-gets-her-afi-life-achievement-award Column: Julie Andrews taks about AFI Life Achievement Award