Julie Andrews has been Hollywood royalty for decades. Lately, she’s had the parts to prove it with queenly roles in “The Princess Diaries” and “Shrek” films.
Andrews — who reprises her voice role in “Shrek the Third” as Queen Lillian, mother-in-law to Mike Myers’ ogre and mom to Cameron Diaz’s ogre princess — is a pragmatic monarch.
Since throat surgery ruined the glorious singing voice of the star of “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “Victor/Victoria” and other films, Andrews finds other ways to express herself, continuing to moonlight as a children’s author and director.
Though she managed a subdued little musical number in 2004’s “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” Andrews said she has not recovered her singing voice in the 10 years since the surgery.
“No, sadly,” Andrews said in an interview to promote “Shrek the Third.” “I’m not singing. My daughter, the one that I write with, said something so lovely. I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t singing and how much I missed it. And she said, ‘Mom, you’ve just found a different way of using your voice by writing.’ It made me feel so much better. ...
“I do miss singing with an orchestra, the beauty of it all. I miss the music. But at least I am able to still contribute, which is lovely.”
Once passed over for Audrey HepburnAndrews, 71, has referred to her talent as “my freak four-octave voice,” which gave her an early start in show business in England. The daughter of music-hall performers, Andrews was singing on stage as a child and was still in her teens when she debuted on Broadway.
She quickly became a Broadway superstar as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and followed that musical as Guinevere in “Camelot,” though success in Hollywood initially was elusive.
Andrews was passed over in favor of Audrey Hepburn for the big-screen version of “My Fair Lady.” But Walt Disney cast her as the perky, singing nanny in 1964’s “Mary Poppins,” a screen debut that earned Andrews the best-actress Academy Award. That same year, Hepburn was not even nominated for “My Fair Lady.”
A year later, Andrews was nominated for best actress in “The Sound of Music,” and she earned a third nomination for 1982’s “Victor/Victoria,” one of seven films she made with her husband, director Blake Edwards.
Andrews’ voice problems developed while she was performing in the Broadway production of “Victor/Victoria” in the mid-1990s. She underwent surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules, but the operation left her without her singing voice.
She sued two doctors and Mount Sinai hospital in New York and settled out of court in 2000, with no terms disclosed.
Filling a hole with writingBy then, Andrews had long since established herself as a children’s author, a sidelight that became increasingly important with her singing career over. Her books include “Mandy,” “Little Bo,” “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” and her “Dumpy the Dump Truck” tales.
Andrews and daughter Emma Walton Hamilton write together and oversee a collection of children’s stories under Andrews’ name that includes their own works, tales by others and books that had gone out-of-print.
The writing career began about 30 years ago during a simple game with her children “that required the paying of a forfeit,” Andrews said. “I was the first to lose, and I said, ‘What shall my forfeit be?’
“My eldest daughter said, ‘Write me a story,’ and I thought, OK, because I used to make up little tales for them. I thought a couple of pages of an Aesop’s fable would be fine, but she was my new stepdaughter, and I thought, well, maybe I can really make something of this and give her a gift.”
The pages piled up, husband Edwards urged her on, and “when the book was finished, I felt empty and I wanted to do it again,” Andrews said. “It’s been going on like that since.”
‘A dream to work with’After another children’s book, William Steig’s “Shrek!”, became the basis for the 2001 animated hit, Andrews was brought in for 2004’s “Shrek 2” as the voice of Lillian, wife of the frog king Harold.
“We were thinking, OK, we need a queen who has really got it together but has got to have a sense of humor because of the world she lives in,” said “Shrek the Third” producer Aron Warner. “Her husband’s a frog, her daughter’s an ogre. So we had to have someone we knew could laugh but could also carry that sort of regalness.
“Julie’s an icon and a dream to work with. We were just talking about how sometimes during her recording sessions, we would sit there and go, ‘That’s Julie Andrews.’ You need to be paying attention to the lines and not the fact that it’s Julie Andrews, and I wasn’t listening.”
Though her singing career is behind her, Andrews does get to hum a tune in “Shrek the Third.” In a dizzy moment for Queen Lillian, she trills through a few bars of “My Favorite Things,” one of the songs Andrews belted out in “The Sound of Music.”
“It felt like a charmingly wicked thing to do,” Andrews said.
Andrews has directed for the stage and hopes to do it again amid her writing and acting work, which she hopes will include future “Shrek” films.
“I’m lucky, because I have this job, and I have my wonderful publishing job. I seem to have spread, which makes me feel great, and I’m getting to the age where I love to think about directing now,” Andrews said. “I just love to keep myself active, because I’ve always been active. So as long as I do something that I love, I’m happy.”