There’s something in the recipe for Julia, HBO Max’ series about Julia Child and her transformative cooking show that viewers enjoy like a hot meal straight from the kitchen. “People have a very specific reaction to that,” says David Hyde Pierce, who stars as Julia’s husband, Paul Child. “[They] I feel hugged and comforted by her.” The role is both supportive and nuanced as Paul goes out of his way to give Julia a chance to shine. Here Pierce discusses the portrayal of the man behind the celebrity chef, played by Sarah Lancashire, the show’s window into his and Juliet’s relationship, and the current state of affairs Frasier reboot.
DEADLINE: How familiar were you with Paul and Julia Child prior to this project?
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: Julia was probably as familiar to me as most people who had heard of her work knew her. I had seen the film [Julie & Julia] with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, and as a little boy I certainly saw her on TV and have been aware of her over the years. It wasn’t until they approached me about the show that I found out about Paul and was so intrigued and excited about him and their relationship.
DEADLINE: What interested you about him?
BREAKTHROUGH: He was so many things. He grew up playing the violin and has loved music all his life. He was an amazing handyman, he remodeled the kitchen in her house so the worktops were high enough so Julia wouldn’t hurt her back. He was an incredible painter, visual artist and photographer. He just seems like someone who doesn’t understand or care about limitations. And then he put all of that at the service of this woman he loved, in her relationship and eventually in her career. I think that’s great.
DEADLINE: Did you audition with Sarah? Or when did you have the opportunity to meet her?
BREAKTHROUGH: I met her on the first read. There was a long lead where I wanted to do the show and then it turned out it wasn’t me and then I got a musical so I did that instead. But then COVID hit so the musical was put on hold. At this point, Sarah had come on board after I left the project. I didn’t know her or who she was. And because my musical was on hold and I was free, they asked me to do the pilot. So I went to see her and it reminds me of Paul in the sense that it seems like she can do anything. I observe Last Tango in Halifax and happy valley, and then some of her other stuff from her early days on TV, obviously she had quite a reach. She is such a gifted actress. I had no idea what she would be like as Julia Child, but I didn’t really care because I figured they must have cast her for a reason. And when we sat down at the reading table, she just became her. It was very clear.
DEADLINE: The partnership that you two have portrayed is just so beautiful. These are people of a certain age in a very different time when a woman breadwinner wasn’t common, and Paul is in this transitional phase of his career. It’s interesting to see how he handles this fame that’s bestowed upon her.
BREAKTHROUGH: What people talk about all the time is how incredible it is that he just dived into their success, especially at this time when that wasn’t that common. He was a really strong man with a very healthy ego and I can’t believe he took it easy. I don’t think he would have had it any other way in terms of his love for her and his understanding of how amazing she is. At the same time, he had to accept that there was only one person in the spotlight.
DEADLINE: You really see that play out throughout the season. In the beginning she has to manipulate him a bit so that he agrees to shoot the pilot The French chef. But in the end he really encourages her to keep going.
BREAKTHROUGH: That’s a credit to the authors, because they gave us a glimpse of what it must have been like for these two strong personalities to find this new world together. I love the scene where Paul showed his art for the first time and no one bought anything except a guy who wanted a picture of Julia Child and Paul and Julia just sat together in the art gallery and looked at his painting and talked about it what the heck happened to them. I just think it’s so beautiful. It’s such a rich, complicated human moment.
DEADLINE: You must reunite with Bebe Neuwirth who played Lilith Frasier and the Childs friend Avis DeVoto on Julia. What was it like working together again?
BREAKTHROUGH: We always had fun, from day one Frasier, and that was 11 years because she was on the show every year for 11 years. And of course we only know each other from the joint business anyway, from the theatre. We just share a lot of experience, a lot of life, a lot of common vocabulary and common understanding. So she is very pleasant to work with and I just admire her. To be reminded of how exquisite she is as an actress when I just think of her as an old friend, that’s awfully nice.
DEADLINE: By the way Frasierdo you know anything about how the reboot is doing?
BREAKTHROUGH: I do not know where they stand. I haven’t spoken to Kelsey in a while. The last time I spoke to him I knew it was a work in progress and I think it’s still a work in progress.
DEADLINE: With all the talk about it over the years, have you even thought about where you’d like to see these characters?
BREAKTHROUGH: I always felt like they had gone their way and I didn’t really think about where they went. I went to other shows. But I think when I see a script where I went, ‘Oh my god, how interesting. Who would have thought they would do that?” That’s why I never say I wouldn’t do it. It’s about how their story is told, because these people, these actors are very close to my heart. So I always choose my projects like this, now that I have the luxury of choosing them: I take them because I have to. This happened to me Julia. I read this script and thought I had to do this part. I want to explore that person and explore that relationship. So if I saw a script from a Frasier Reboot I had to do, I would do it.