We sat down with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron in a sweet suite at a swanky hotel to talk about our very favorite subject: food. The Julie & Julia costars and writer/director dished on cooking, acting and the fine art of lemon-zesting.
Ladies, what drew you to the story?
Meryl Streep: I read Nora’s script, which was extremely beautiful and interesting, and I thought probably not commercial whatsoever, and I was very worried about her sanity and her financing and everything else. But they were willing to give us the money, and I think it’s turned out really, really well. [Laughs] I just loved the story of these two women looking for their calling, and I just thought it was extremely touching and also sort of elliptically written — not hammered on the head. It’s so hard to find beautifully, subtly written things.
Amy Adams: It was gentle.
MS: Yeah. It had its own energy that was unique.
It seems to be a love story on so many levels, no?
MS: Yeah, a hopeful story.
What was the last thing that each of you cooked at home?
MS: Nora just gave me a cookbook, Ina Garten’s cookbook, and just last weekend — where are we, Monday? — Saturday, I made Tuscan lemon chicken. I highly recommend it. It was a big hit. And I have a shortcut for zesting lemons!
How comfortable were you before [your cooking lessons with Julia & Julia‘s culinary consultant Susan Spungen] and after in the kitchen?
AA: I’m not really intimidated in the kitchen; I think I’m a little bit tidier now because I’ve learned the correct way to do stuff. My chopped salad is more consistent. She gave me a lot of great tips and a lot of shortcuts I never would have thought of. So I don’t mind preparation as much. That’s opened up the world of cooking to me because I have more enjoyment of prep work and cutting.
MS: I just wonder if Julia Child had had four children, if she would have cooked the way she did. I’m just saying, because it’s just not that easy. But I learned patience, because I realize in my life so often I’d get home and I had planned to a certain extent, and there’d be some disaster with somebody that would keep me from one element of the meal, and everybody’s standing around like, “When is it gonna be reeeeady?”
Prior to the movie, did you read food blogs at all?
Nora Ephron: I read food blogs, yes I do. I read Chowhound. I always use them for new restaurants. I always go online to find out whether they’re good or not from the food blogs. I read Ed Levine’s food blog which I love. It’s great for New York. It’s called SeriousEats.com. There are so many good food blogs, it’s amazing to me. But I hadn’t read Julie Powell’s blog until I read about it in the New York Times.
MS: That’s the first time I heard about it. There was something about that article that jumped up … It was an unusual challenge that she’d set herself.
Nora, author Julie Powell told us that you printed out her blog. Why was that important for you?
NE: If I had found a section that I wanted to amplify beyond what was in the blog … there were a couple of chronological things I was confused by, and I wanted to figure all of that out. Basically, I just wanted to hear her talk a little bit more about some of the events that I chose to do in the movie, because it was about 2,000 pages printed out — that blog — of one year, with all the comments that were printed.
So I had eight huge binders of material, and I had winnowed it down and then I had figured out what I was gonna do of it. What scenes had to be done. I had to do the meltdowns, and I had to do the lobster thing. And I had become very interested in her mother who wrote … her mother really got into her blog and wrote slightly inappropriate things, and I was so amused that she had sort of become a character in the blog. So that was really, mostly what it was, just to amplify.
Costar Chris Messina talked about what food discipline you have to have when you’re shooting a scene. Did you guys have experience with day-long shoots where you had to keep eating?
MS: I surprisingly didn’t have a problem with it! [Laughs] We didn’t have to eat as much as Chris — and with such gusto. Chris really sells the bruschetta moment beyond anything you could ever imagine. You have to realize how many times he did it — in the master, in the midshot, in the closeup, the over-shoulder. I mean, he ate a lot of bruschetta. And he did it every time as if that first bite where it crunches in … he did a great job.
AA: It was important to Nora that we really enjoy the food. She said, “I want to see you eat.” But I hadn’t figured out, and I still haven’t figured out, how Messina did it. Where he’s able to eat and talk and nothing falls out. It might be a structural thing, because for me, I would talk and it’s a full show.
MS: He stays cute while he’s doing it.
AA: I was not cute. So I had a different relationship with the eating on set, but we really enjoyed it — like the chocolate cake moment. That was so much fun. Also we negotiated what we ate the night before. Like, “what are we shooting tomorrow? OK, well then, I’ll have a small dinner and a small breakfast and be hungry.”
MS: I never ate off-set. Never, never, never. No need!
So, were your meals the food you’d actually prepared during the scene?
MS: That was the reward at the end of the day, generally. When they were sure they had the shot.
Were you very familiar with Julia Child beforehand, other than just her name?
AA: I was familiar with her, but more as a characterization, not with intimate details of her life. I hadn’t read the book before. It’s been a real joy getting to know more about her life.
Nora, you wrote the essay “Serial Monogamy” in 2006 in which you discussed cooking and Julia Child. Was there a sense of fate at all in doing this film?
NE: Totally, totally and completely. I don’t mean to be ridiculous, but I really did think, “I SHOULD write this.”
MS: They had another writer on it at first.
NE: Yes, when they first told me about it, it was just as a director because they had already put a writer on it, and I was not happy about this and just hoped that something would happen so that I would get to write it and she would not. And my prayers were answered because she got a bit television series on the air and that was the end of her, and I got to step in and do it. And so I was completely thrilled.
Did any part of your experience make it into the film? Do you see any part of yourself?
NE: Yes, I see parts of myself in both women. I see many of my worst qualities in occasional moments of Julie Powell’s. There’s no question that I don’t have Julia Child’s fantastic sunny disposition.
MS: Which of us does?!
NE: Well, exactly. But still, I don’t.
AA: I fake it really well.
NE: There are definite pieces of my marriage in the Julia Child thing, because I am married to an extremely nice guy and so was Child. I didn’t make up Paul Child. He was exactly like that, but in the moment she is rejected by Houghton Mifflin, and he cheers her up, is a scene that we have played in my house on many occasions, right down to the last two words of, which are — you know, “F–k them.” And that was by the way an improv of Stanley’s, and it was so exactly right.
Has working on this film made you more appreciative of the men in your life?
MS: Oh, I’m already on my knees. Well, what’s unusual is that you never see that in a movie. You never see a happy marriage in a movie. All the sustaining things. All the supporting things. Just the fact of someone loving you even when you’re a brat. Even when you’re completely boring. That’s the true test.
Does that provide a different sort of satisfaction from acting the scenes?
MS: It’s just a valuable part of many women’s lives. And many men’s lives that it’s kind of like a bath of pleasure to have that. I mean I would look at Stanley and just the way he looked at me. It made me feel beautiful, even though I’d go back to my dressing room and I’d look in the mirror [laughs]. And I really believed him! And that was wonderful.
Amy, what dish have you tried cooking out of Child’s book?
AA: The dish was brussel sprouts with cheese and butter, which I cannot say in French because I’d look really foolish, but they were beautiful! And I wrote about it [Nora asked Adams to “blog”], much to my chagrin, because writing terrifies me. I have so much respect for writers, it’s my one great envy in life, if I was envious of anything aside from height. I have a lot, but really writing, to be able to sit down and express yourself confidently, I can’t do it; it just doesn’t make any sense when it’s done. But anyhow, I did cook from the book.
In some capacity, you have all worked together before. Any plans for that in the future?
NE: God, I hope so! I hope so. God, yes.