Let me start out by admitting that I am not a big fan of kids' movies, especially when they're animated. That said, I am a mother and it goes with the job. I find that a steady stream of snacks helps. Plus, I made my husband see Eclipse with me this weekend, so we all have our crosses to bear, don't we?
So, when I was invited to an advance screening of Despicable Me I tried to muster some enthusiasm. Fortunately, my 8-year-old was excited enough for both of us. She's pretty handy that way.
Despicable Me, a Pixar film, is fun and clever with rich animation. We follow Gru, the evil supervillian with mommy issues, as he attempts to out-villian his nemesis, Vector. Along the way, Gru adopts three orphaned girls, hoping to use them to break into Vector's compound and steal some dilly-bob that will allow Gru to shrink and steal the moon. A battle of the wills ensues between the strong-willed little girls and Gru. Gru soon realizes he has met his match in the little girls and, despite himself, becomes what ultimately fulfills him more than world domination: a dad.
Fun and clever, albeit a bit predictable, I would rank Despicable Me somewhere between Cars and Up. It was, as my daughter said, "Awesome ... but, not the best ever".
HOWEVER, it was after the movie when I was offered the opportunity to interview Julie Andrews that the real fun began. Mostly for me. Not so much for Julie.
I had a few days to prepare questions for my phone interview with the legendary and accomplished Ms. Andrews. Unfortunately, up until an hour before the interview I was still staring at a very, very short list of The World's Most Boring and Expected Questions. Plus my family was growing increasingly tired of my repeated joke "Why don't I ask her about a few of her favorite things? Aha ha ha ha ha haaa!"
Ms. Andrews' manager called me directly. He was quite polite and explained that I would have 15 minutes to speak with Ms. Andrews. Then just before connecting me with her, he rattled me by asking if I was familiar with her new book, The Very Very Princess. I admitted I was not (Amazon.com, you failed me in my research!), and he suggested that I may want to include that in my interview. Um ... okay ... wait ... Oh, hi Julie Andrews!
Lena (blurting awkwardly): "I've never interviewed anyone before! This is such an honor!"
Julie Andrews (mercifully warm): "Oh, you haven't? Well, I'll be sure to make it easy for you."
Lena: "I have just a few questions for you here. In your new movie, Despicable Me, you play the supervillian main character Gru's mother. Did you have any reservations about playing such a diabolical mother?"
Julie Andrews: "Well, the interesting thing is that she was unaware how dreadful she was, how self-involved. I thought 'what can I contribute to this character?' It was a lovely chance to indulge."
Lena (hyperventilating slightly less): "Oh, 'indulge' is the perfect word. What was your inspiration for the character's voice?"
Julie Andrews: "Steve Carell, who is so brilliant and talented, had created such an amazing voice for his character, Gru, that his voice influenced my choice of voice. Since they're mother and son, it was only logical that they be similar."
Lena: "Yes, the voices and accents were definitely one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie. Now, how does your preparation for an animated character differ from your normal preparation for a movie role?"
Julie Andrews: "Oh, it is very different. You're in a recording booth alone, and you gradually work into the voice. I had just a picture of the character, and she was no Mary Poppins, so I contributed the voice and they were very open to suggestions and contributions. I had only a story board of scenes, so there was a lot of laughing as it evolved."
Lena: "So, the final product is as much of a surprise to you as it is to the audience ... "
Julie Andrews: "Yes, absolutely, because they need to work the character around what I had done with her."
Lena: "What message do you hope audiences will take away from the movie?"
Julie Andrews: "That even a villain can be persuaded by the power of love to have a heart. Everyone in the movie is a villain, really, and these three girls work their way into everyone's hearts."
Lena: "Oh, that's true. How does this role compare to other roles you've done?"
Julie Andrews: "It can't compare. It's not like anything I've ever done before. I'm just so grateful to have had the opportunity."
Lena: "Do you have a favorite role?"
Julie Andrews: "No. Each has been loved for a different reason whether the script, the location, the co-stars, the director. I've been blessed to have this role offered to me since it was so different from the others."
Lena (not asking a question): "Now, you have a long and distinguished career in film and stage. Additionally, you're also a writer."
Julie Andrews (very enthusiastically): "Oh yes! My daughter and I have had a publishing company for many years."
Lena (right before I DIED FROM EMBARRASSMENT): "And your new book is called ... um ... The Little Little Princess?"
Julie Andrews: "Hm, no. Our most recent children's book is called The Very Fairy Princess. And you can underline "very." It's about a little girl who -- despite her scabs and dirty fingernails -- knows she's a princess. It is a story that celebrates the individual."
(Sidebar: Who would name a book The Little Little Princess? Who, Lena, whoooooo?)
Lena (barely recovering): "Sounds so cute! I know you also released a book last year of your favorite poetry and lullabies that you compiled with your daughter, Emma, Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies."
Julie Andrews: "Yes, it was very well received."
Lena: "It was. I've read it's a must-have for every mother's library. Are you involved in any reading advocacy programs?"
Julie Andrews: "Oh my God, yes! My daughter and I are as passionate about literacy as you possibly can be. I've been very much influenced by my father's love of poetry growing up. I also adore the poetry of song; the lyrics of a song influence my choice of music. Without poetic lyrics, you just have a nice melody."
Lena: "In your book, Julie Andrew's Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, you also share personal stories about your family. What do you think your best advice would be to working mothers who struggle to make both family and career a success?"
Julie Andrews: "I never felt I had it together. I think that hanging onto convictions that quality time is as important as the quantity of time is key. You know, recently my daughter said "Had you not worked, years later we would have said, "You were silly to miss out, to miss out on life!"
Lena (getting a little swept up in emotion): "What a gift to have your daughter tell you that!"
Julie Andrews: "I loved to work. I think it's important to set the example, to let them see you're passionate about something. But it isn't easy. As mothers, you need to have roving antennae. If your kids are in a good and safe place, then it's okay to venture out. If not, then ...
Lena (INTERRUPTING JULIE ANDREWS OMG): "You need to prioritize."
Julie Andrews: "Exactly."
Lena: "Can you tell that I've completely broken out in hives and stopped myself from throwing up twice since we started? Thank you so much for your time. This has been an amazing opportunity and experience for me and I thank you."
Julie Andrews (being, well, Julie Andrews): "Well, I have to say for this being your first interview, you did very well."
In closing, I have to tell you that Julie Andrews is a class act. As hard as I tried to make things uncomfortable, she was as warm and lovely as you can imagine. Like, say, warm woolen mittens.
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