The “Julie & Julia” tornado touched down in Beverly Hills on July 27. The stars and writer-director were hours away from the film’s West Coast premiere, but Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron generously took the time to meet with six bloggers (3 food/3 film) for a roundtable discussion about the movie and their connection to food and cooking. Here are some of the highlights:
Q: What drew each of you to the story, to the film?
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!
I just really loved the story of these two women looking for their calling. 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.
Meryl Streep: There was a whole energy that was unique.
Q: What was the last thing that each of you cooked at home?
Meryl Streep: Nora just gave me a cookbook, Ina Garten’s cookbook and last Saturday I made Tuscan lemon chicken, which I highly recommend. It was a big hit. And I have a shortcut for zesting four lemons that I might share with you!
Q: Amy, when we met with Susan Spungen [food stylist on” Julie & Julia”], she told us she spent a couple sessions with you at ICE [Institute of Culinary Education]. How comfortable were you before that and after in the kitchen?
Amy Adams: I’m not really intimidated by the kitchen. I think I’m a little bit tidier now that I’ve learned the correct way of doing stuff so it doesn’t look as messy. My chopped salad is more consistent now. She gave me a lot of great tips and a lot of shortcuts that I never would have thought of so I don’t mind preparation as much. That’s opened up a world of cooking to me because I have much more respect and enjoyment of prep work.
Meryl Streep: I just wonder if Julia Child had four children if she would have cooked the way she did…But I learned patience. I realized in my life so often it would be 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 then everybody’s standing around saying, “When is that going to be ready?!”
Q: Prior to the movie, were you familiar or did you read food blogs at all?
Amy Adams: No.
Meryl Streep: No
Nora Ephron: I do, I read Chowhound and 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. It’s great for New York. Serious Eats. Then my sister Amy has a food blog, One For The Table, so I do, I love them. You could ruin a day reading. 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.
Meryl Streep: That was the first time I heard about it. There was something about that article that jumped up. You read things, but it was an unusual challenge that she set herself.
Q: When we screened the movie we got to speak with Chris [Messina, who played Powell’s husband] and he talked about the food discipline when you’re shooting a scene all day and how you might have to eat 35 bruschettas.
Amy Adams: He had to.
Q: Do you have any experiences like that? Any long shoots where you kept having to eat?
Meryl Streep: Surprisingly I didn’t have a problem with it! No, we didn’t have to eat as much and with such gusto. Chris kind of set the moment, beyond anything than you could ever imagine. You have to realize how many times he did it: in the master, in the mid-shot, in the close-up, the over shoulder. I mean he ate a lot of bruschetta! And he did it every time. That first bite, where he crunches down. Mmm.
Amy Adams: He did a great job…It was important to know that we really enjoyed the food. But I hadn’t figured out and I still haven’t figured out, how Chris did it. How he was able to eat and talk and nothing falls out. It might be a structural thing, because with me I would talk and it’s a full show…I had a different relationship with the food on set but we all enjoyed it. Like the chocolate cake moment, that was so much fun. But we also negotiated what we ate the night before, like “What are we shooting tomorrow?” Ok, then I’ll have a small dinner and a small breakfast and be hungry. It definitely helped.
Meryl Streep: I never ate off set. Never never never. There was no need.
Q: Were your meals the foods that you were preparing during the scenes?
Meryl Streep: That was the reward at the end of the day, generally, after we had the shot. Like the sole, oh the sole. You could smell it. You could smell it.
Q: Were you familiar with Julia Child beforehand?
Amy Adams: I was familiar with her but more as a characterization. Not the intimate details of her life. It’s been a joy getting to know more about her life. I only knew her as sort of larger than life.
Meryl Streep: Like Dan Aykroyd.
Q: Nora, you wrote in 2006 about Julia Child. Was there a sense of fate about doing this film?
Nora Ephron: Totally and completely. I don’t mean to be ridiculous but I really did think “I should write this!” They had another writer first. When they first told me about this, it was just as a director because they already put a writer on it and I was not happy about it 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 big television series on the air and that was the end of her. I got to step in and I got to do it. I was completely thrilled.
Q: Did any of your experiences make it into the film? Did you see any parts of yourself?
Nora Ephron: Yes, I see parts of myself in both women. I see many of my worst qualities in occasional moments of Julie Powell. There’s no question that I don’t have Julia Child’s fantastic sunny disposition. And there are definite pieces of my marriage in Julia Child because I am married to an EXTREMELY nice guy. So was Julia Child. I didn’t make up Paul Child, he was exactly like that. The moment in the movie when Julia is rejected by Houghton Mifflin and he cheers her up is a scene that we played in our house on many occasions, right down to the last two words of it…That was improv by Stanley [Tucci]. It was so exactly right.
Q: How did you prepare for the role as Julia?
Meryl Streep: I didn’t really prepare too well. I kept preparing as we went on. I cooked out of the book, which I had never done and I argued with her. I had my own arguments with her about how she did things. But I looked at the video tapes and the “American Masters” series that they’d done about her, a documentary. For me the most valuable stuff was the early stuff, before she got hyperbolic about what she was doing, the curly cues of Julia Child became more flourished. But the early stuff is most valuable to see.
Q: Amy, how has this role changed your perspective on food?
Amy Adams: Not necessarily changed my perspective on food but on cooking and on the reasons to cook and how I cook. I take my time a little bit now, enjoy it. I’m starting to cook with my friends a lot more in tandem and I’m realizing how wonderful that is.
Q: Have you cooked from Julia’s book as well?
Amy Adams: Yes, that was one of the assignments Nora gave me. We had to cook a dish from the book and blog about it.
Q: And the dish?
Amy: The dish was Brussels sprouts with cheese and I can’t even say it in French without sounding foolish. But they were beautiful, they were beautiful. I wrote about it, much to my chagrin. I have so much respect for writers. It’s my one great envy. If I was envious of anything, aside from height, it’s writing. To really be able to sit down and express yourself, confidently, I can’t do it, it just doesn’t make any sense.