Interview: Julie Andrews on the 50th anniversary of 'The Sound of Music'
"The Sound of Music" is not just a wonderful film; it's perhaps the single most timeless Hollywood musical with the most uniformly beloved songlist in film history. Julie Andrews' performance as the nurturing, free-spirited Maria Von Trapp was an instant sensation, a legendary portrayal that helped "The Sound of Music" unseat "Gone with the Wind" as the highest grossing film to date. If the charming hooks of "Do-Re-Mi" and "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" aren't sumptuous enough, the movie's sonic splendor deepens with the classic anthem "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the adorable, yet incredibly moving "So Long, Farewell." At every turn in Robert Wise's classic there is another tune, performance, or charismatic bit of Von Trapp choreography to renew our faith in the power of the Hollywood musical.
In honor of the movie's 50th anniversary and new re-release on Blu-ray and Digital HD, we had the unspeakable honor of interviewing Julie Andrews via phone to discuss her relationship with the movie nowadays, her incredible career, and the talents she admires todays.
Are there still people in your life who somehow have not seen "The Sound of Music"? Do you get to introduce it to them?
Mostly no. Because although I've got many grandkids, and they still have yet to be introduced to it -- some of them do! -- usually the moms and dads do that. The surprise is meeting them after they've seen something like "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" and suddenly there's a world of difference in them. They think, "Oh, that's what granny does."
When I watch "The Sound of Music," I'm kind of confounded by how you were such a huge Broadway star and yet so comfortable on the big screen, like it was your preferred medium all along. Do you see any nervousness or insecurity when you watch the film back?
Yes, to a certain extent. You always see something you wish you could change or do. But we had a phenomenal director on that film and we were so caught up in managing it and making it work. There were a lot of rehearsals before on the soundstage with the musical numbers. Lots of "This is the number of steps you'll be coming down" and "This is where you'll be going" and "This is what you'll be doing." I think that being kept that busy didn't allow for much reflection on how nervous I was about it. What helped was the kindness of Robert Wise, who made me feel like I was in such safe, sure hands at the time.
"The Sound of Music" is such a technical marvel. I can only guess how difficult so much of it was to film. Was any part of production easy to film?
Oh, gosh! The interiors were a lot easier than the exteriors because anything that was shot in Salzburg was subject to weather and cold and just a lot of wind. In general we spent a lot of time on those glorious Alps waiting for the rain to stop. It got very chilly and we were sitting around waiting around for a little bit of sunlight so we could run out and get a shot. A lot of patience was needed. It was a lot of hanging around. But I think interiors were a lot easier. Not all of them, but some.
In "Mary Poppins," "The Sound of Music," "Victor/Victoria," and even "The Princess Diaries," you have such a natural mentor energy. I have a vision of costars seeking wisdom from you. Were you as much of a mentor in real life as you were on the big screen?
[Laughs.] No! You have to remember that when I made those movies, I was raw. "Mary Poppins" was the first movie I made and "The Sound of Music" was the third. I was as raw as I could be. God knows I did not have the right or the ability in those days to say anything like a mentor. The only thing I did feel was that I could contribute to helping the kids feel natural, making them laugh off the set so that they were easy with me on the set. We had some good times. I did feel that obligation to bond with them and make it look as easy as it was meant to look onscreen. I was very aware of that. But I was not in any way, shape, or form a mentor. Maybe these days I am a little more. The past two days doing so many wonderful interviews with the re-release of the DVD, it's amazing how deferential and kind people have been. Meanwhile I'm still sort of learning on my feet.
Your friendship with Carol Burnett is absolutely one of my favorite celebrity connections. You guys seem so fun.
She's such a great chum. She's a godmother to my daughter Emma. We bonded from day one and stayed such good friends.
Do you tend to form deep friendships when you work on movies?
Yes. You do form those friendships. The sad thing is you have to say goodbye and wonder if you'll keep bumping into each other. In the case of "The Sound of Music," I have stayed very close to all the kids who are now grown up with children of their own. I have a lovely relationship with Chris Plummer. We've been friends for years and have subsequently worked together. He was so generous on that film. We both had a pretty good time. In the early days I think he was inclined to put the movie down; it might not have been his cup of tea. These days he's darling about it and says, "Oh my God. How lucky we both were to be in it."
Have you had that experience with a movie in your filmography, one you've taken a few years to fully appreciate?
One movie that I made very early on in my career was "The Americanization of Emily," which I appreciate more and more as the years go by. It's a pretty timeless subject -- about the lead-up to D-Day. Very appropriate right now, with a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky. I was thrilled to have been a part of that too. I think the hardest thing in a career even as lovely as I've had is not to go on being typecast, to keep trying new things. As much as possible, I do try to do that.
What's been the most terrifying but necessary example of an occasion where you took a role to break typecasting?
There was a movie I made called "Duet for One" which came and went rather quickly for some reason that baffles me. It was based on a play and a true story, and it was a very hard movie for me. I'm glad I embraced it, but I honestly didn't know if I could do it when I began.
Who impresses you as a performer nowadays? Who do you admire?
So many! I mean, there is so much talent around not only in films, but on Broadway. It's just a question of finding a vehicle for all that talent. Musicals cost so much these days, and there are not as many of them as there used to be. But the talent is no doubt there, including the people who create the musicals. There's tons of talent, wonderful singers and dancers. But as an answer to whom I admire? Oh, god. Just about anyone who does it brilliantly. Go watch something like "Downton Abbey" and you're gobsmacked by all those wonderful stars who do those scenes so brilliantly. That young girl who's now playing in "Cinderella" (Lily James), I've loved watching her on "Downton." Now she's in a huge Disney movie which I hear is wonderful.
Lastly, can you pinpoint any particular X-factor -- aside from the songs and general splendor -- that makes "The Sound of Music" such a lasting and beloved classic?
It is a collaborative medium. If you're lucky, everyone wants to do just that. You never set out to make a failure; you want a success. In the case of "The Sound of Music," everyone was willing to bond and make it work. That is the best kind of working conditions. You don't want to go in feeling that something's wrong or that you're not connecting. Thus far I've been really blessed.