Forget wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings: When film fans (or just anyone who sang “Do Re Mi” into a hairbrush at any point) start reminiscing about classics, The Sound of Music inevitably comes up as a favorite thing.
As everyone who watched this year’s Oscars is already well aware, this month marks the 50th (!) anniversary of the release of the Academy Award-winning film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer — and Andrews can’t believe it has endured this long. “If anyone had told me that 50 years after the fact I’d be still speaking to you about it and it’s magic, I could not have anticipated that or believed it,” she told Billboard earlier this week.
The film didn’t have to wait long for fans and accolades: It was an instant hit and — along with the previous year’s wonderful Mary Poppins — turned Andrews into a beloved global star and a touchstone for big-screen warmth and comfort. To mark the release anniversary, the lovely Dame Julie Andrews kindly spoke with Billboard about her experience playing Maria von Trapp, her fondness for Plummer, and her somewhat-surprising new friendship with one Lady Gaga.
BILLBOARD: I wanted to ask you about Lady Gaga‘s Oscar performance–
Wasn’t she stunningly good?
She was delightful.
I’ve always been a fan but she just knocked it out of the ballpark that night. I was thrilled by her and for her. I thought it was so lovely.
Were you able to talk to her at all afterwards?
Yes. Each of us ducked out fairly quickly, but I phoned her the moment I got home and we had about a good 25-minute chat. Which was lovely, because I’d never met her before! The first time I’d ever spoke to her, other than once on the phone, was as I walked onstage.
But she did call me about 10 days before to make sure I wasn’t in any way unhappy or upset that she was doing this. And of course I wasn’t. I said, “Just have a good time and enjoy it! Go for it!” She said she wanted to do it as a tribute to me, and she was singing everything in my key, to which I said, “Why? It’s so high!” And she said, “Because I wanted to honor you.” She just, having done so brilliantly that night, then gave the evening to me on a platter, so to speak, and was very generous about it.
Yes, when you came out after that performance you could tell the audience was so excited. That had to be so gratifying for you.
It was lovely! And I was very busy at that time concentrating on her because I felt I had to get to her and tell her how great it was. It’s only by seeing a little clip of it afterwards that I realized how lovely that was. And I must say, the audience was amazingly kind and loving and welcoming, too.
I know it was obviously a musical before it was a movie, so it already had a bunch of fans, but do you remember the first time you realized The Sound of Music was going to be more than just a movie in your career and was going to be this touchstone in the zeitgeist and an enduring classic?
I don’t think I could have possibly guessed, ever, that it was going to be iconic as it has become. If anyone had told me that 50 years after the fact I’d be still speaking to you about it and it’s magic, I could not have anticipated that or believed it. But I think once it had opened and become a success I realized that we had a very good thing in that movie, that it was a good movie. But I don’t think anyone connected with it that it would be that huge.
When fans have come up and talked to you over the years, I‘m curious if there are specific scenes or songs that people most want to talk about.
Mostly, in passing, they are usually very welcoming and warm and generous and mostly what they want to say is a kind of thank you for giving us so much pleasure. Not just over the years, but with that movie, and that’s what they want to convey, first and foremost. It’s so lovely that they do. It’s a gift, it really is. I think the movie made a ton of friends, but it made me a ton of friends too because people are so lovely about it.
That’s so nice. Were there any songs or scenes that made you nervous while you were filming? Like, “Gosh, I hope this comes across onscreen.”
Well, I was nervous to start with in every way! [laughs] Because it was only the third movie I’d ever made and I wasn’t that skilled, or I wasn’t that knowledgable! But we had such a good gentleman at the helm, the lovely Robert Wise, who was such a dear man. In general, yeah, I was just very nervous. I was nervous if I could match Christopher Plummer because his talent was so huge and he was a legitimate actor. My work, for so many years, was from the so-called illegitimate side of the business, which was musical. Pairing me with him I wondered if it would work, and of course we’ve been friends ever since, he and I, and it was a lovely, lovely friendship.
How often do you guys keep in touch?
More than you think! Our paths cross birthdays, Christmases, all of that, phone conversations. We’ve seen each other quite a bit and we’ve subsequently worked twice more professionally together so more than you’d imagine. He’s a great chum.
And when was the last time you watched The Sound of Music? Have you seen it with your great-grandchildren?
Well, I’ve bumped into it once in a while, if it’s suddenly showing on television. Now, I’m not the one who sits down with the grandchildren — normally it’s their mums who do it for them! If I happen to catch it, because it’s playing at Easter or Christmas or something, I might glance at it for a moment and remember with fondness the scene that I happen to be glimpsing. I don’t think I’ve seen it through for many a year, probably in total no more than about 6 times. We’re going to be doing the Turner Classic Movie tribute to The Sound of Music next month, and I won’t probably stay to see it but I’ll certainly reminisce a little about it before the screening. And I’ll see Chris there, too.
You’re on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Every year, they have the sing-along Sound of Music. I know you haven’t been in the past, but is there any chance you might stop by this year’s Hollywood Bowl show for the anniversary?
Oh gosh, I guess you could never say there is no chance, but who knows! I think if Chris would do it with me, maybe! But I can’t honestly say it’ll happen.
Before I let you go, I wanted to quickly ask you: The Princess Diaries films were such a success 15 years ago —
They were! It’s fabulous to play a queen and wear all those beautiful jewels and gorgeous clothes and kind of parade around in them. It was a lovely role for me, and Garry Marshall, the director, made them such fun.
There’s actually a new Princess Diaries book coming out this summer, set 10-ish years later. If Anne Hathaway was in, would you consider reprising your role?
You never can tell! If it is 10 years later maybe somebody else should embrace it now, but you never know!