David Hyde Pierce interview: ‘Julia’
“The thing that really jumped off the pilot script that I read was the relationship between Paul and Julia, two very strong people,” recalls David Hyde Pierce about what drew him to the HBO Max series “Julia.” The first season of the show focuses on how icon Julia Child started her television cooking series “The French Chef” on public television in Cambridge, MA. The four-time Emmy-winning actor stars as Julia’s husband Paul, whose initial “skepticism” about TV was overcome by “his love for and belief in her.” “I liked that journey,” adds the actor. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Although the series centers on Julia, it showcases just how fascinating and impressive an individual Paul was as well. “He’s this extraordinarily complicated man with multiple loves in his life, multiple careers,” notes Pierce. Early episodes of the season show Paul’s serious pursuit of painting and photography, two lifelong hobbies he threw himself into after his time in the Foreign Service as a diplomat comes to an end. The actor talks about researching Paul’s interests and his process of finding the character acting opposite Sarah Lancashire, who plays Julia.
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Like Julia, Paul felt very passionately about good food and wine. Pierce discusses some of his favorite food memories, including an “incredible meal” he and husband shared in France when they were young, his grandmother’s suet pudding with a “hard sauce” with “so much alcohol” that made “every holiday a happy one,” and eating “60 dumplings in multiple takes of the Chinese restaurant scene in ‘Julia.’” The show always features incredible food, and the actor praises “hero” Lancashire and her “gift for physical comedy” that helps her act and cook at the same time.
Pierce gets to demonstrate his gifts at physical comedy in “Julia,” too. But unlike his earlier roles such as the beloved character Niles on “Frasier,” Paul “was fundamentally so much more grounded,” shares the Emmy winner. He adds that he wanted to ensure with this role that he didn’t “go back to something I’ve done before,” so he added “a bit more bodily weight” to Paul’s physicality.
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The season chronicles a period of great transition for Paul and Julia, as he settles into forced retirement while her new career as a public personality takes off. Pierce appreciated the opportunity to explore this storyline, one he felt he could relate to based on his own life. He shares, “In my career, you have heights of your career and you have times when it isn’t as successful… You can be supportive and loving and thrilled for someone at the same time that you’re envious or feeling down on yourself.” The actor says that what he appreciates about the real Julia Child is her “innocence and almost naiveté” as well as the “effect she had on people who watched her and who worked with her.”
“Julia” also reunites the actor with his “Frasier” co-star and fellow New York theatre mainstay Bebe Neuwirth, who plays the title character’s best friend Avis DeVoto. “The initial relationship between Avis and Paul is a fairly cool one,” notes the actor, which he felt was a “pleasure” to play as “two people who know each other very well and who really adore each other playing that they don’t.” The duo have a standout episode in “Foie Gras,” in which Paul is bedridden with the flu and Avis begrudgingly cares for him. Pierce also discusses acting opposite guest star James Cromwell in an earlier episode.
On the joy of starring in such a joyous show, Pierce says that “Julia” “makes people feel good without being a feel-good show. It doesn’t talk down to the audience.” He cannot divulge many details about the upcoming second season, but teases, “I can’t tell you anything but I’m sure I’ll find out more as we are in France.”