Interview: Julie Powell of 'Julie & Julia'


Julie and Julia coverThe movie Julie & Julia opened in theaters last weekend, as you can see from our group review. The film was adapted in part from the book of the same title by Julie Powell. Powell returned home to Austin for a few days this week to visit with family and support the film's first week. She was in attendance for a Q&A at the first two of four movie-and-feast events at Alamo Drafthouse.

I attended a small book signing and pre-feast party on Tuesday at her dad's law office in downtown Austin, where friends, family and colleagues were treated to Southern hospitality. Upon meeting Julie's mother, Kay Foster, I thought of Will Rogers' quote: "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet."

I had the opportunity to ask Julie Powell a few questions during the party. Here's what she had to say.

You've mentioned that you've seen the movie at least six times now – is it surreal to see yourself portrayed, or when people say "I saw you in the movie?"

It will be seven tonight. It's gone from surreal, to in the middle there I was able to kind of watch it as a movie. Now I'm watching a movie I've seen six times, in close succession so I can barely watch it anymore, but I think it's a great movie. It continues to be strange. I'm probably a little more prepared for it than some people would be, because I started my blog at a time when people got intensely involved with my blog. I was writing about very personal stuff. People thought that they knew me, so I've gotten a little bit used to that. The difference is that the movie is not me.

People think it is and will say things like "I hated your friends with the Cobb salad." There were no friends with the Cobb salad. That's Nora Ephron's invention and lots of things like that, so it becomes that people are equating me with this fictional character. It's a little surreal, but you get used to that too.

Have you been to any of the Alamo Drafthouse Feasts?

I never have. I went over there last night at the end to do a Q&A, and talked to the chefs that work there that put together the feast. They do amazing work. They were such great people, and afterwards my mom said, "It was a cross between being a chef and a writer for The Onion." They are constantly working forward, doing fancy new things. I can't reveal what they are doing for Inglourious Basterds -- FUNNY, funny!

What are your favorite places to eat in Austin? What places have you missed, and have you been to any new eateries?

Every time I come there's so much new because I don't come down but a couple times a year, it's so overwhelming so I basically say "Lead me." I always have to have Mexican food, I missed BBQ this time. I usually have to get my breakfast taco fix. We went to Jorge's today for lunch, which has amazing red chili enchiladas. We went to Vespaio last night, which was good. That's sort of all the meals I got. My dad cooked me up a steak first night I was home ... I'm a medium-rare girl myself.

You did a press junket for the book, now for the movie -– how do the two compare?

You eat better on book junkets, and you get put up in better places on movie junkets -- that's the basic difference. Movie junkets schedule you so tight that you’ve got 20 minutes to swallow down a chicken club sandwich in the conference room they've set aside for you. At 10:30 at night you go to your lavish hotel suite and try to sleep in it until 5:45 in the morning when the makeup artist comes knocking at your door. It's much more densely scheduled whereas at least my experience with the book tour, I had maybe an unusually excellent experience -- I was treated very well by Little, Brown and Company. They don't schedule you quite so tightly, and they make sure that you have time to see friends if you are in town. I prefer book tours overall, a little more relaxed.

What are some of your favorite food movies?

Big Night of course is a classic. I'm a classicist so I like Tom Jones. I like my food greasy and big and meaty and sexy, so for me that's a classic scene. There aren't just a ton of movies about food. I loved Mostly Martha, because I like how it showed a difficult woman using food to deal with her life in ways that were not just pretty and happy and lovely. I think that's something a lot of food writing lacks. It's a very kind of lazy way to use food in movies, just nothing but the sumptuous feast all the time instead of people that work with food. They internalize it and work through their problems using it, so I do think that Mostly Martha is another good one.

The topic has come up that a lot of good food blogs aren't around anymore, because people get busy and aren't able to make money from blogging, that they didn't monetize it. I know you started blogging for a different reason but looking back, would you have done things differently?

It was so far from where I was at that it's almost impossible for me to say. I don't think I ever want to be Perez Hilton. I don't want to be someone making ad revenue. It was a real personal project, and that was why I stopped doing it afterwards. Not because I was getting too busy and not making enough money but because the project was done.

Nowadays I blog simply to keep people who are interested in what I do in the loop but I'm not really looking to be a professional blogger, that was never part of my game plan. Obviously it's something now people have to do, it's a full-time thing and it's extraordinarily challenging. Back in the day there were 5000 blogs in the world, now there's 130 million.

It seemed that you were blogging in a time when it was preemptive to everything that has been going on with blogging over the last few years, especially with female bloggers. Have you been to a BlogHer Conference?

I've never been, I feel like I'd be a little out of place there. What I was doing was cave painting, I was a caveman writing stuff on the wall. These people are so advanced, and know so much.

Blogs often given readers a sense of personal connection. How do you feel about the loss of anonymity, especially now with the movie?

When I started the blog, I didn't know what a blog was. I thought it was going to be for my mom to read. So by the time I had a readership, I had set this level of intimacy. I couldn't go back because I had readers, and they'd basically call bullshit on it. I'm really glad that it happened that way, that I didn't know what I was getting into because it was so important to the development of my tone and my voice as a writer. I don't know that I could do that now. If I started a blog for the first time now, I am inevitably going to hold stuff back. I still think I try to be honest as I can and upfront as I can be. Knowing that there are potentially millions of people reading --

People ask why I didn't blog the second book. One of the reasons was that I was going to tackle some personal topics that I didn't want to be writing about as I was working through them. It was a decision I made having gained information about what it truly is to put yourself out there. I think it was a one-time thing for me. With my books I'm still definitely TMI Girl, but at least I like to craft it more than I was in the beginning.

You were inspired by Julia Child's books including My Life in France. Have you been to France?

I traveled only very briefly in France. I was in Paris for two days a few weeks ago, a whirlwind tour. I spent a little time in Dijon. I've only been a couple of times, unfortunately. I would like to spend a lot more time there.

Any preference for regional food?

You go to Provence and it's more Mediterranean. I was also in Strasbourg for one day and I love the food of that region. It's got the German influences, sauerkraut and all that kind of stuff and lots of pork!

One of the notable points made with Julie and Julia was that no matter how bad your day is, you could still come home and doing something for yourself by cooking.

People ask me how I have the energy to do it and I say, physically it's exhausting to cook every night. Existentially speaking, I have so much more energy having that time to myself in this project, this gift to myself at the end of the day. Even if it didn't go smoothly, it was still a gift.