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“The Princess Diaries”: Julie Andrews Interview

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 3, 2001 — Dame Julie Andrews has been feeling royal all day. She has been receiving guests in her hotel suite, one reporter after another, chatting graciously for four minutes and watching them leave giddy as von Trapp children traipsing in curtain playclothes.

Because, after all, they have just met Mary Poppins, Maria von Trapp and Eliza Doolittle. The woman with the four-octave voice who, after creating the lead on My Fair Lady on Broadway, was bumped for the film version in favor of a more bankable Audrey Hepburn (who had to lip-sync her songs). Whose revenge was winning the Oscar for Mary Poppins the same year, leaving Hepburn without a nomination.

Nowadays recognized by the grandchildren of her fans, Andrews is about to gain a new audience with her role in The Princess Diaries. She plays, appropriately, the queen of a fictional European country called Genovia (Andrews herself was made a dame of the British Empire in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth) who prepares her estranged, klutzy granddaughter (newcomer Anne Hathaway) for the throne via “princess lessons.” Directed by Garry Marshall, it marks the British actress’ return to the big screen after an eight-year absence during which she triumphed on Broadway in Victor / Victoria and reunited with The Sound of Music co-star Christopher Plummer in a live television broadcast of On Golden Pond.

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“I just think I’m very lucky to be allowed to do all of it,” says Andrews, who at 65 still possesses the lilting voice and fresh face that she had at 25. “To get away with it. [The Princess Diaries is] a Cinderella story again. My Fair Lady was a Cinderella story … and this time I get to play Professor Higgins!”

In addition, Andrews worked with Marshall on the background and mannerisms a queen would have.

“He asked what things did I like to do, what particular things turned me on, what made me laugh,” Andrews recalls. “He asked me wonderful questions like, ‘What would Genovia be famous for?’ So we decided that being a small country in Europe they would probably make cheese, particularly goat cheese. They would grow beautiful, special pears.”

The film may tap into young girls’ fantasies about becoming royalty, but Andrews, who began performing with her mother and stepfather’s vaudeville act at age 12, says her own grand dreams were centered on the stage.

“I grew up in a performing family so it was a very natural thing,” she says. “The fact that they discovered that I could sing was a miracle, because I didn’t inherit my voice from my stepfather and my real father didn’t sing, so we wondered where it came from. But I’m very grateful to have had a talent I could develop.”

Tragically, Andrews’ famous voice was damaged in 1997 when a surgery to remove non-cancerous throat nodules from her vocal cords left her unable to sing. She filed a malpractice lawsuit in 1999, which was settled in September 2000. Though she sang quietly around the set of The Princess Diaries with her younger co-stars (all of whom were big fans), Andrews’ voice is still not strong enough to sing in public.

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But with two children’s books due in the fall (married to director Blake Edwards since 1969, she writes under the name Julie Edwards) and another film in the works, Andrews isn’t letting anything slow her down.

The secret to staying young? “Doing, probably…keeping the brain alive,” Andrews says. “The rest of you, you don’t have to keep alive as long as your brain is alive. I don’t honor it enough, but I try.”

The Princess Diaries opens Aug. 3.

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