HBO Explores the Life of Cuisine Queen Julia Child

HBO Max's new bio-series reflects on the inimitable Julia Child—and her indelible impact on popular culture

HBO Max’s new bio-series reflects on the inimitable Julia Child—and her indelible impact on popular culture

It is hard to imagine a television landscape with no food programming, but long before Anthony Bourdain’s gastronomic travels, Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen tantrums or Guy Fieri’s dips into Flavortown, there was Julia Child, the woman who revolutionized not just the culinary genre but public television.

Child has been portrayed before on screen, perhaps most notably by Meryl Streep in the 2009 film Julie & Julia, but a new series starring English Happy Valley actress Sarah Lancashire aims to shine a light on the women’s movement of the time and the nature of celebrity in the early ’60s, through the dawn of Child’s long-running PBS show The French Chef.


There is no doubt that Child still fascinates, but what is it that renders the author and TV host so irresistible? “There’s something unsinkable about her,” says series creator Daniel Goldfarb. “She never took no for an answer. She just always persevered, and she persevered with joy. She lived with joy in every stage of her life. She bloomed as she got older and older and more and more comfortable in her shoes and as herself. When you watch her, you saw the joy, the love for life that she had, and I think that it had staying power.”

Casting Lancashire as the lead was a coup for the producers, who did not think there would be a show without her. “We just got incredibly lucky,” says Goldfarb. “She’s one of the greats and her Julia is so full and rich and not, I think, how anyone has ever played the role before. In terms of the actual Julia footage, it’s all her public persona and Sarah really found her private life and her interior life.”


While Lancashire immersed herself in Child’s writing and the endless hours of footage available, she found that trying to imitate Child was not the key to her portrayal. “I worked with a vocal coach for a very short period of time and then I pulled away from that and started looking at trying to create a parallel voice that would essentially create the essence of her vocal eccentricity and her singularity,” says the actress. “I’m not a mimic. I had to find something which worked in parallel and was comfortable. Really, I spent many, many hours just watching her, but that’s not a hardship. You kind of want to be in her company and she makes you feel better about the world.”

The benefit of a multi-hour series is the inclusion of those who surrounded Child—not only her husband Paul, played by David Hyde Pierce, but her producer Alice Naman (Brittany Bradford), book editor Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) and friend Avis DeVoto (Bebe Neuwirth). Every show, of course, needs an antagonist and Julia’s comes in the shape of reluctant show producer Russ Morash, played by The Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kranz. “What I love about the role is, he doesn’t see [the appeal]. In his mind, food is fuel,” says Kranz. “If he didn’t need it, he probably wouldn’t eat it. So I love the conflict he creates for Julia. It’s a lot of fun to play.”

JuliaCraveFor Bradford and Glascott, the roles were an opportunity to showcase two women in very rare positions in this era. “You don’t get to hear a lot about Black producers at this time,” says Bradford. “They were around. Sometimes you want to think that something that’s improbable is impossible, but it’s not.” Equally important was Child’s relationship with her editor. “Judith Jones is an extraordinarily generous woman who was really interested in bringing people together and elevating them,” says Glascott. “Not only did she fall in love with Julia’s work, but she fell in love with her. I mean, who couldn’t? And together they started to elevate each other. Judith always being a huge fan of food and cooking, then ended up years later writing her own cookbooks, which I think was hugely owed to Julia.”

Why Child’s presence continues to interest can easily be attributed to her larger-than-life persona, but what the writers also hope viewers will take away from this version is the origin story of more than just Child’s career. “There’s something about watching those first moments of discovery. These characters come up with, in the moment, a bunch of innovations that will last for half-a-century or more in food television,” says showrunner Chris Keyser. “Being at the birth of something is special. We were in this weird position of being a first-year show about a first-year show and constantly trying to put aside our expectations of what we might become because we understood that when the people at WGBH made The French Chef, they had no expectations whatsoever. There was a kind of innocence to it and innocence has a special power.” 

Julia debuts Thursday, March 31st at 9 p.m. on Crave1