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Times Talks: A Conversation on Julie & Julia

July 25, 2009 | The Times Center, New York City

Intimate discussions with New York Times journalists and today’s top talents and thinkers, TimesTalks hosted “Food & Film: A Conversation with Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci” on July 25, 2009, to promote the theatrical release of “Julie & Julia”. Hosted by the NY Times’ Alex Witchel, the conversation covered everything from the original idea of adapting Julie Powell’s blog for a film to the its screening at the White House with the President and his family. “My husband kissed Michelle Obama three times. After the second one I thought, ‘He’s going in again’. He wasn’t even in the movie”, as Meryl recalled.

I didn’t know about Julie Powell ’til I read about her in the New York Times. And I read it and I thought, as I do about pretty much anything, ‘is that a movie?’. And I thought, no. No, it’s not. And that was pretty much it for a few months. And then a couple of months later, Amy Pascal – who runs Columbia Pictures – said to me, ‘We’re gonna take the Julie Powell story and put it together with a Julia Child story’. And the minute she said that, I thought, oh my God, that’s brilliant, that’s great. Then the next thing she told me was that they already had a writer, which was really sick – but they wanted me to direct it. But I thought, Oh I’ll just hang in and maybe something will happen to this writer. And it did! (laughter). She got a big television series and she didn’t have time to write it. And I said, well we can’t wait to find out what’s gonna happen. So that’s how my part of it began. (Nora Ephron)

In preparation for the film, Ephron not only printed out Julie Powell’s complete blog, but also read lots of biographies on Julia Child and the letters she and her husband, Paul, wrote to each other. Meryl came to the first reading for “Julie & Julia” dressed as Julia already, using a wig that was originally planned for “The Manchurian Candidate”. In an overall very interesting conversation, a Q&A with the audience was held, one asked Meryl what the most fun and the most horrifying experience in preparation for a film was (the most fun was learning to scull for “The River Wild”, the most horrifying was learning to play the violin for “Music of the Heart” within six weeks).

I’m just astounded by the range of talent and the numbers of really, really talented actors that are applying themselves wholeheartedly to material that just isn’t worth it. Just incredibly wonderful inventive invested work. But the stuff that gets made, and that isn’t a dish on writers – the writers are out there, they just can’t get the stuff bankrolled – and who knows if we’ve been able to do this film in this economic climate. (Meryl Streep)