In February, I met with Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.
Yes, I was in a room with Julie Andrews. And I did not 1) cry, 2) laugh inappropriately or 3) pee myself, so all in all, it was a rousing success.
I promise I’m going to talk about why we were meeting, but if I’m going to write about being in a room with Julie Andrews, I feel the need to confess how exciting this was for me. I grew up watching Julie Andrews. She was the beautiful and loving if stern mother/governess of my dreams. I was a little worried that I might have the urge to sit in her lap.
(“Don’t sit in her lap,” my coworker Reshma advised. She and my other coworker Elizabeth, by the way, accompanied me to the interview. Did they need to? Of course not. But it was Julie Andrews. My entire office would have crammed themselves into the room if I had let them.)
Was she charming? My God, yes. She was just as lovely and poised as you’d expect. And funny. The obvious affection she and her daughter have for each other was really something to behold. They love each other, of course, but more than that, they like each other. And they must, having written more than 30 children’s’ books together.
But on to business: Andrews and her daughter were in New York to promote Julie’s Greenroom, their new children’s show produced by the Henson Company. (The show is available on Netflix starting March 17.) On the show — which the pair helped create, write and produce — Andrews plays “Ms. Julie,” who runs a regional theater company and teaches a performing arts class to a group of scrappy puppet children. Over the course of the 13 episodes, she is joined by celebrity guests such as Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin and Josh Groban.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the longest time,” said Andrews, “but I’d never been approached to do a show about the arts in this way. And then all of a sudden Lisa Henson, the daughter of the great Jim Henson, said, ‘I wish there was something we could do together, maybe something about the arts,” and my heart leapt.”
“And it was our great good fortune that Netflix came on board. I mean, how lucky are we?” added Hamilton.
The show’s “children” are, in true Henson fashion, adorable big-eyed puppets — and it was very much the pair’s intention that they represent as diverse a group of children as possible. Said Hamilton, “That’s the great thing about the arts; it’s the one thing that really levels the playing field across cultural boundaries and across socio-economic boundaries. And so we wanted to reflect that as much as possible.”
“And a duck,” said Andrews. “Every theater should have a duck.”
Hugo the Duck was Julie Andrews’ idea, and his love of theater (and behaving theatrically) is just one of many aspects of the show that will delight children and their parents alike. My favorite joke in the show is that Gus, Ms. Julie’s assistant, is the only person who can understand Hugo — because he “learned a little duck at Wesleyan.”
“Well, that’s where you’d learn duck,” Andrews deadpanned.
Part of the pair’s mission behind the show is to encourage children to get involved in the arts. “There’s been so much cut back at school now, and it’s getting so expensive to go to the theater. And the arts are so important. Hopefully this will fill a little gap.”
What advice, I asked, would they give to parents whose kids might be interested in the arts?
“Just watch,” said Andrews. Watch what turns them on. Don’t be so ambitious. See what they love and begin to supply it.”
“Expose them to as much as possible — theater, dance, opera, classical music,” agreed her daughter. “And watch for the moment the spark ignites.”