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The Lady and the Scamp

Proper Julie Andrews seemed a match for 'Princess Diaries.' But would she click with wiseacre Garry Marshall? Would she ever.

July 22, 2001|JON BURLINGAME | Jon Burlingame is a regular contributor to Calendar

Dame Julie Andrews and director Garry Marshall would, at first glance, seem to be poles apart: the English-born, Oscar-winning icon of "Mary Poppins" (1964) and "The Sound of Music" (1965) fame, the epitome of charm and grace; and the Bronx-born, wisecracking sitcom producer who built a new career in the '80s and '90s directing populist movies like "Beaches" (1988) and "Pretty Woman" (1990)

They recently joined forces on Marshall's family film for Disney, "The Princess Diaries," starring Anne Hathaway as a San Francisco teenager who discovers that she's heir to the throne of a tiny, mythical European kingdom. Andrews plays her grandmother, the queen, who finds it necessary to instruct her in the ways of royalty.

Hathaway, 18, gushes about the experience of working with Andrews. "There wasn't one day on the set when she wasn't lovely and nice and funny and down-to-earth," she says. As for Marshall, Hathaway calls him "the ultimate grandfather-director, the funniest, most giving and warm guy in the world."

And while the elegant Andrews, 65, and the raucous Marshall, 66, might seem like the ultimate cinematic odd couple--compared by one Disney executive to "high tea and beer"--they seemed a natural pairing during a recent conversation in Los Angeles. Andrews laughed heartily at Marshall's nonstop barrage of jokes and lighthearted reminiscences of their weeks together on the film, which opens Aug. 3. They chatted like a pair of old friends--and old pros.

Question: What drew each of you to this story--and to work with each other?

Andrews: That's easy for me to say. I wanted to work with Mr. Marshall.

Marshall: They said, "We think you should do this picture. It's Disney, but you'll make it better. And we'd like to get some stars. We love Julie Andrews, go get her." And I said, "Well, I don't know her, but we'll try."

Andrews: He asked me to meet him. And we went and chatted.

Marshall: We should tell him the spooky part.

Andrews: It's actually six degrees of separation.

Marshall: When she did "Mary Poppins" in this town, she lived in a house that the studio owned while she was doing the film. I now live in that house--since 1974.

Andrews: He took me over there the other day. I walked around and remembered it and reminisced. And we filmed on the same sound stage as we shot "Mary Poppins." I mean, a sound stage looks the same when it's empty and different when it's full. But there's a plaque on the door that says that "Mary Poppins" was filmed on this stage. And that took me back a little.

Q: Fairy-tale themes run through both of your work: Julie, doing "Cinderella" for television [1957] and of course "My Fair Lady" [1956] on Broadway, and Garry, movies like "Pretty Woman." Why do you keep coming back to fairy tales?

Marshall: Well, I don't think you can do a straight-out fairy tale any more. I just thought that this [was a] sweet story--the dorky girl becomes the princess. I've done things along those lines, and I figured I'd do it a new way. To be very honest, the two main factors were, one, that Julie Andrews was going to do it, and two, that my grandchildren are 5 and 6, and I really wanted to make a movie that they could go see. This G [rating issue] came up, and Disney promised me, "You do whatever you want, we don't want a regular, light little fluffy [movie]. Do your craziness."

Andrews: Yeah, and we did. We had a ball.

Q: [To Marshall] When was the first time you saw Andrews?

Marshall: In the '50s, when I was going off to Korea, I was in New York for a while. I went 11 times to see "My Fair Lady" because they let you in free in your Army suit. I never heard the overture, because they don't let you in right away. [Andrews laughs.] They let you stand in the back. And I stood in the back. I was fascinated by her.

Andrews: Was I on every time?

Marshall: Yes. You were there every time.

Andrews: Wow.

Marshall: And I said, "She's very good, whoever this girl is." I loved the show and the charm of it all, and I went off to Korea for two years, but look, here we are.

Andrews: That many years later.

Q: [To Andrews] In "My Fair Lady," you played Eliza Doolittle, to Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. Here, you're more like Henry Higgins to Anne Hathaway's Eliza Doolittle.

Andrews: Exactly. And I think that Hector [Elizondo, who plays the queen's security chief] is Colonel Pickering.

Q: Is this one of the aspects of the role that interested you?

Andrews: That I was Professor Higgins? No. It didn't occur to me until later. The attraction was obviously, I admired Garry's work and love what he does. I had heard so many lovely things about him, because everybody talks, as you know.

Marshall: They talk. And they all imitate me.

Andrews: It's hilarious. [She starts to imitate Marshall's Bronx accent.] I can't do the words, but I got the emphasis just right. Anyway, that and the role and wearing all those glamorous costumes.

Marshall: Great outfits....

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