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May 20, 2022
In Julia, a British Acting Treasure Takes on an American Icon
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In Julia, a British Acting Treasure Takes on an American Icon

Lancashire had little awareness of Julia Child, outside of marketing for 2009’s Julie & Julia (which starred Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated turn). At the end of 2019, she told her agent she wanted to take a year off of acting for personal reasons. Days later, he called her, respectful of her decision but with a pilot script that he wanted her to read anyway, called Julia. She obliged, with no idea it was about Child; given her lack of familiarity, she read over a dozen pages before figuring that part out. She loved the writing, in any case, and put her hiatus on hiatus, flying to Los Angeles for auditions. She hadn’t auditioned in decades—“This is not grandiosity; I never got the job as a young actor because I was so hopeless in auditioning,” she tells me with a chuckle—and didn’t expect to get the role. She brought her youngest son along for the L.A. trip, making a little vacation out of it. “We flew home,” Lancashire says, “and I forgot about it.”

Little did Lancashire know that the project’s very survival had become dependent on her. Goldfarb and his team made extremely long lists of candidates to play Child (Joan Cusack was briefly attached but “that ended up not working out,” says showrunner Chris Keyser), and every single actor but one was ruled out. “The body language and the essence of [Child] is so masterfully conveyed by Sarah, and she moves back and forth between the pathos and the comedy with complete ease—I don’t know anyone else who could have done that,” Keyser says. “We and the network decided that it was either going to be Sarah, or the show wasn’t going to happen…. It was Sarah or nothing.”

Fortunately, Lancashire said yes. Her “year off” wasn’t meant to be—until, it kind of was. Three days into shooting in Boston, in March 2020, the set shut down due to the pandemic, and didn’t pick up again until September, when she filmed the pilot. Then, a COVID-19 surge delayed the rest of the season’s production schedule to spring. By the time Lancashire had returned to the U.S. to complete Julia in mid-2021, the world had changed: Save a two-week stretch, she couldn’t see her loved ones due to travel restrictions. “It’s not an experience I care to repeat, in terms of being isolated away from family,” Lancashire says. One of the most challenging roles of her career took on an entirely new layer of difficulty—though it was also rewarding. She could live, sleep, and breathe Julia Child as she’d never quite done with a character before. 

“To be perfectly honest, I think I was slightly saved the first time we were closed down,” Lancashire says. “I don’t think I was ready.”

A camera operator who worked on Child’s The French Chef told Lancashire that “Julia would walk into the studio and…just stand and watch and take everything in.” This was Lancashire’s point of fascination: the private, silent Julia who thrived in perseverance. One anecdote, particularly, unlocked something for the actor. “I was in a hotel for the first couple of weeks, and one of the managers came over to me and said, ‘I drove Julia home once,’” Lancashire recalls. “She’d been in the hotel at a function, I think she’d been the guest of honor. She’d entertained everybody wonderfully. He got the car ready and she climbed into the back. I said, ‘And what did she say?’ He said, ‘She said nothing. She exhaled very deeply, and then sat in silence for the entire journey home.’”

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