As with any cultural icon, Julia Child has been studied endlessly in the media. The chef’s life and work have been explored through documentaries, feature films, books, and more. But, in all the portrayals of Child that exist, it’s likely that there isn’t another where you’ll see her waking up in the middle of the night with a hot flash.
That’s the picture of Child that we see in episode one of HBO Max’s “Julia”: A 50-year-old woman who is going through menopause. She’s attempting to reignite the passion in her decade-long marriage, while also making strides in her career. She’s a multi-faceted, vulnerable and even contradictory character at times, but that’s by design, said creators Daniel Goldfarb and Chris Keyser.
“We were lucky enough that we were only covering one year of her life, and we had eight hours to do it,” Goldfarb told TheWrap. “So we could really dramatize smaller moments, intimate moments. Not just sort of the big biographical moments. And I think in doing that, we got to show a private Julia that doesn’t really exist in the documentary footage.”
As Keyser puts it: “This is not an attempt to blow the lid off of Julia Child and show what’s going on underneath.”
But, it did present an opportunity to dive deeper into the complex person that she really was (and that we all, arguably, are).
“No one knows where they’re going, or what the future is going to bring. No one is confident all the time. No one doesn’t have to deal with some prejudice, or isn’t prejudiced themselves,” Keyser continued. “And so Julia gets presented in all of her contradictions. She’s a feminist who may actually be more backward looking than forward looking. She’s slightly homophobic, when one of her close friends is a gay man. She’s guileless, but she’s not without her own personal fears and unless we could do that we couldn’t stay with her as long as a television show needs to stay with a character.”
Of course, there isn’t nearly as much information available about Child’s personal life as there is about her public persona. So the writers had to fill in the gaps, based on what they could find out about her at that point in time. “It’s the Amadeus version of Julia’s life,” Goldfarb explained.
One of the prime examples is the filming of the pilot episode of “The French Chef.” In the show, the production is quite calamitous. Sarah Lancashire portrays Child as slightly anxious, continuously dropping her utensils, tripping around the set, and fumbling her words.
Who’s to say what actually happened? The truth is, those episodes don’t exist anymore.
“Those pilot episodes, she actually made three. They don’t exist. But she wrote about them as being disastrous. So it was really fun for us to sort of dramatize,” Goldfarb said. “But we got to see Julia — kind of just this sort of unsinkable quality about her that people just loved. And that was in a way the secret ingredient that made ‘The French Chef’ different from anything that had come before it or actually anything that’s come since.”
In between the more vulnerable moments, there are also glimpses of Child that the world has come to know as an unflappable trailblazer. The woman who didn’t take no for an answer and didn’t care whether studio executives thought she was desirable enough to lead a television show.
But in all her complexity, she is still Julia Child, after all.
“I actually really love in episode three, where her father says to ‘be a lady,’ and she says: ‘I am a lady who’s not your type,’ “ Keyser said. “Because it’s a statement of we are all who we are and we’re not going to live up to anyone else’s expectations, and that’s one of my favorite moments.”