Q&A with Julie & Julia Author Julie Powell
Julie decided to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and chronicle the ups and downs of her attempt in a blog. The blog was a hit, and soon Julie got a book deal to write about the experience.
Her book Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously became part of a screenplay for a new movie written and directed by the famed Nora Ephron. Oprah.com's Erin White talks with Julie about her journey through food blogging, cooking and writing and about what it's like to see her story come to life on the big screen.
Julie Powell: It has been a gradual ramping up of surreality for quite some time. I mean, just having a book was somewhat surreal and then a movie and then Nora [Ephron] wanted to be involved and Meryl [Steep] was cast, so by the time they started filming it in the streets of my town, it becomes this bigger and bigger thing. By the time you actually sit down and watch this thing for the first time...really, surreal is the new normal. I'm oddly calm. I'm watching Amy Adams up there—this beautiful redheaded Oscar®-nominated actress—saying, "I'm Julie Powell," and I think, "Okay, I can live with that."
EW: What was your reaction to the movie?
JP: It is a lovely movie; it is so sweet. I think it is very different from my book. The Julie Powell portrayed by Amy Adams is nicer than I am—the cursing has been pared down a good little bit! And, her edges are a little bit smoother. But, she does such a lovely job, and it is such a sweet portrait of that year and of that relationship with my husband, and I just think everyone connected [with the film] did such a wonderful job.
JP: You know, I call myself "enthusiastic" rather than "accomplished." I sort of taught myself how to cook ad-hoc throughout my 20s and was not very methodical about it. Instead of "I'm going to learn how to make a nice, simple sautéed chicken," it was "Seafood Gumbo—what is a roux? I don't know I will figure it out." So, I was used to disasters and the odd triumph, so I wouldn't call myself skilled and I knew that.
EW: But, you could cook.
JP: I could throw something together. I mean, we did cook. I've always cooked more than I gone out for dinner, which is strange for a New Yorker. New Yorkers rarely cook five times a week, but we did.
EW: So, it wasn't too crazy for you to cook your way through a cookbook, but cooking through the entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child in one year...that is a true project. Why did you choose that book?
JP: Well, it has always been that book. What had happened really was, I was 29 at the time and very unhappy in a dead-end job and had nothing I could call my own. I was not fulfilled. And Mastering the Art had been an object in my life since I was a child—not an object that I opened and cooked things out of, but an object.
I was obsessed with books as a kid, and it was such a beautiful book physically and it was so mysterious. You would open it up, there were French words, and it was old and creepy and elicit. And so it always held this fascination for me when I was a kid. Then, as I grew up and did start learning to cook, my mind naturally went back to it, and I started obsessively reading it as bedtime reading basically. I was reading it out loud to [my husband], Eric, while we were getting ready for bed.
So, that book was there and this simmering frustration was there and this idea that had I always wanted to write and was very frustrated as a writer—so it all came together at once. Here is my subject, here is my regimen, this is how I am going to plug writing in it—through this new bizarro thing I don't understand called a blog—and it all came together like that.
JP: What I was fascinated by was the period in her life before she became Julia Child—Julia on the road to becoming Julia Child—and the struggle she went through and the indecision and the doubt. The little vignettes I would write about—of her meeting her husband and her moving to Paris—[were] these steps that she didn't know were taking her to this moment where she goes to Cordon Bleu cooking school and her life begins in a strange way even though she was 37.
So, for me, I was trying to tell that story of her coming to that moment, and my story in the book is starting with that moment: Here is the moment where I made the decision that is going to change my life. I think [Nora Ephron] put it together slightly differently but made those parallels so very, very clear that these are two women out to transform themselves and the hard work that that entails.
EW: Speaking of the Cordon Bleu school, I know you were recently there. Can you tell me about that?
JP: Yes! I was at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris, which is where Julia Child graduated, and I got myself a little honorary diploma. I am of course honored, [but] it is a little absurd. I mean, I am sitting there at this awards ceremony and the Cordon Bleu students are passing out all these wonderful things they've made, and I could not do that in a million years, but it was a great honor and I did cry a little.
JP: Well, it was my faithful companion for sure; I think I went through between 60 and 70 pounds of butter in a year. There were always at least ... two boxes of butter in my fridge at any given time. If I ran out—which was rare because I always knew I had to have it—but if by chance it was 11 p.m. and I didn't have any butter, that was grounds for major, major hysteria. Obviously, butter and I are not quite so close as we used to be, but there is still always a little in my fridge.
EW: Yes, you are moving away from butter and French cooking to...butchery, right? Tell me about your new book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession.
JP: It is coming out in December , and it is primarily about a six-month stint I spent apprenticing at a butcher shop in upstate New York, so it is all about cutting up animals...
EW: You are fearless!
JP: I try to be fearless, and again that is Julia's legacy, I think, is to make women—and men—more fearless then they might have been otherwise, so I took a step.
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