Julie Andrews

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Listen to excerpts from Patricia Sheridan's interview with Julie Andrews.

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Hollywood's favorite silver screen soprano, Julie Andrews, talks about her traumatic throat surgery (which left her singing voice permanently damaged), her latest children's book and her long marriage to director Blake Edwards. Andrews, 71, who is most often associated with "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins," was a star on Broadway, too, in "My Fair Lady," "Camelot" and "Victor/Victoria." Today she runs a small publishing company called the Julie Andrews Collection (www.julieandrewscollection.com).

The Oscar-winning actress will receive the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild Sunday. The show will air at 8 p.m. on TNT and TBS.

Q: How do you feel about awards? And is getting the Oscar still considered the big one?

A: They're all considered special. I mean each one is rather different. In terms of the Screen Actors Guild, it is totally by one's peers. So it has a very different feel to it.

Q: You recorded a song for your latest children's book, "The Great American Mousical." Isn't that a big deal since the throat surgery?

A: Right. Yeah, it was. It was suggested that one of the games for the "Mousical" book needed a song. Of course, it was "Would Julie like to try it?" And I said, "If you put it in a low enough key and use the five notes that I do have left to me, I'll run it up the flagpole." With a little bit of technical wizardry, as well, I happily was able to pull it off. There was an understanding if I couldn't, they'd move on from there.

Q: Because you sang professionally from such an early age, do you associate it with work or pleasure?

A: These days, pleasure. In the early days, I think it was all I knew how to do. But these days, after so many years of doing it, it's become a deep pleasure or was a deep pleasure.

Q: And do you still hum around the house?

A: No [laughing]. Very little. I miss the real singing, believe me. I don't have that soprano voice anymore because of the surgery, and I miss it enormously. But my lovely daughter, Emma, with whom I work and publish our books, said to me the other day, "Mom, you just found a different way to use your voice." And that is through the books. It suddenly fell into place for me.

Q: You've written lots of children's books, but would you ever write your own story -- the real rags to riches story?

A: Oh yes, indeed. As a matter of fact, I am. I'm working on my own autobiography as we speak. I'm way overdue for it, Patricia. I owe the publisher big time, so I have to get it done. It's not easy, believe me. Every day I question the validity of doing it.

Q: Did coming from such humble beginnings initially add a layer of insecurity when you first began performing?

A: I think you could honestly say that performing itself, in a way, gave me an identity. You know, I was raised as a singer. That was my big day job. I started singing when I was about 7, and they discovered I had this freak voice, which became a kind of gimmick. So, in spite of the hardships of our life in those days (we were very, very poor; my parents struggled very hard), it gave me something to do.

Q: It seemed for a while you were rebelling against your angelic image.

A: [Laughing] No. A lot of people, I think, used that as a good gimmick. To be truthful, the second film I ever made in my whole film career [after "Mary Poppins"] was a lovely film called "The Americanization of Emily." It couldn't have been more different. It wasn't a musical. Most of my life as much as I was able to choose, I did feel it would be lovely to do as much that is as different as possible. The success of "Poppins" and certainly "The Sound of Music," those are the things that do bracket you.

Q: Do you ever watch those films?

A: Not really. I mean, I may stumble across them sometimes if I'm channel-hopping or it's Easter or something like that.

Q: Did you ever regret the topless scene in "S.O.B."?

A: No and I'll tell you why. It was written 10 years before I actually got to make it. I had a lot of years to think about it, and it actually was a very, very valid part of the movie. It wasn't gratuitous. It was so built into the character that she had to do this to change her image and so on. And so knowing that I was directed by my husband [Blake Edwards] and in good hands, in safe hands, it wasn't quite as daunting as it may have seemed.

Q: You and Blake Edwards have been married more than 35 years. Has it been all tea and roses?

A: Thirty-seven. No, I don't think any true marriage ever is. It's like a graph. It goes up and down. But truly we both wanted it to work, and we both have enormous respect for each other, and it's fun. We vowed we'd take it a day at a time, and that was our secret, I think.

Patricia Sheridan can be reached at psheridan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2613.


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