The role Julie Andrews was snubbed for

Julie Andrews is coming back to Sydney to direct the musical My Fair Lady.
Julie Andrews is coming back to Sydney to direct the musical My Fair Lady. AFP PHOTO /VALERIE MACON

HER cutglass tones are instantly recognisable and haven't dulled over the years, so when speaks to Dame Julie Andrews we're half expecting a rendition of "Supercalifragilistic" to explode from the lips of the living legend at any given moment.

But unlike her alter-ego, Mary Poppins, everything in Julie's sprawling LA home is far from 'practically perfect.' During our chat dogs continually bark and phones ring, to both our amusements. "It's one of those nights," says the star apologetically. "Everything is going crazy here!"

At 81, Julie is a mother to a natural daughter, her late-husband's two children, and two adopted children - who she adopted from an orphanage in Vietnam - and she's also a grandmother 10 times over and a three-time great-grandmother. So, it's understandable that the uncertain times we live in give her cause for concern.

"I do worry," she says. "In some way it's the same as back during the Second World War, when my parents worried for me and my brothers and sisters. I do worry a lot … I worry that values are changing. It sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I do mean it, most sincerely."

Inspired by her own ample brood, she's doing her part to ensure that today's youth are educated and inspired with a new Netflix series and an ongoing series of books for children.

"I'm very busy writing with my daughter," she says. "Which I do all the time as much as possible - all our children's books are written together these days.

"The arts are hugely important when it's said and done," says the performer, passionately. "Without the arts, how would any of us know what our values are … what's decent."

Julie Andrews is returning to Sydney for another run of My Fair Lady.
Julie Andrews is returning to Sydney for another run of My Fair Lady. Contributed

In contrast to her big screen portrayals, Julie's own childhood was far from carefree. Born Julia Wells in England shortly before the Second World War, her parents divorced when she was four and her mother later announced that her father wasn't in fact her father at all - she was the product of a fling.

Remarrying a musician called Ted Andrews, it was he who first noticed a young Julie's extraordinary singing voice. And at the age of 10 she was coached into her first public performances - singing for the returning troops after the end of the war. A mere three years later she was on stage performing for a young Princess Elizabeth.

"I was a youngster in so many ways," she reflects. "Starting out in many different aspects of the business … for many years I learnt my craft, doing as I was told, touring a great deal. I guess I paid my dues as they'd say in my early years."


It was the stage though that turned her into a star. At 20 she first stepped out as Eliza Doolittle in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady and it's this groundbreaking role that she's revisiting for an Australian audience - though this time from the director's chair.

Directing a new production to coincide with the show's sixtieth anniversary last year, the musical broke records after its run at the Sydney Opera House, selling more tickets than any other show in the iconic building's history.

And now - due to demand - it's returning for a second run at Sydney's Capitol Theatre.

"Other than doing it originally as the character of Eliza, I've never attempted to direct it before," says Julie. "I was taught by the best when the show was in its original phase, but I've learnt so much more about it since directing it."

Back in the 50s, for more than three years the actress made the role her own, even earning a Tony nomination for her take on the cockney flower girl. But when it came to making the now iconic movie version, she was passed over in favour of Audrey Hepburn because Julie "wasn't known at that time."

Later commenting on the snub, she said: "Audrey and I became good friends and one day she said to me, 'Julie, you should have done the role … but I didn't have the guts to turn it down'."

However, fate was smiling on the performer. That same year Walt Disney cast her as the lead in Mary Poppins, which not only became a blockbuster, but also saw her nab the best actress Oscar from her screen rival. Next came Maria in The Sound of Music where she capitalised on her four-octave range voice to "Do Re Mi" herself to another Oscar nomination.

Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mary Poppins.
Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mary Poppins. Contributed

"Luck and serendipity is what comes into it," she says on her award-winning body of work. "I have been so very fortunate to have been asked the things that I was asked to do. It seems quite miraculous to me - I'm a very lucky human being."

Enduring classics, the films are just as popular now as they were then. And she's continued to make her make on younger generations of fans in the likes of Shrek and as Queen Clarisse in the hit Princess Diaries movies, alongside Anne Hathaway.

16 years since first hit the big screen there's lots of talk about a third instalment of the popular Disney franchise being on the cards.

"There's talk about it - so much talk!" she says. "But I haven't actually heard anything other than talk."

While cinemagoers are keen to see her back on the big screen, it's the other side of the camera that's increasingly interesting the Dame.

"I think I would love it if I'm able to direct some more," she says. "Because that for me is quite new. I would love to either produce or direct … there's so much out there that's delicious and I'm longing to try my hand at."

Interrupted by more dog barks and a pacifying "okay, okay!" from Julie, talk then turns to her large family.

Despite being just shy of 82 (her birthday is in October) there's clearly no stopping Julie. Writing for children aside, the legend is also putting pen to paper on her second autobiography, a follow-up to her first volume which topped the New York Times bestseller list in 2008.

"I'm writing my second book of memoirs," she says. "And that's quite challenging, believe me. I used to keep copious diaries as a kid, so they've been quite helpful."

Re-reading her childhood diaries and reflecting on her humble beginnings, she knows how far she has come and Julie is the first to admit just how blessed her life has been.

"Who could have possibly guessed that it would result in this good fortune," she grins. "I am a very lucky lady and I know it."

My Fair Lady is playing at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney until October.

Topics:  julie andrews my fair lady

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