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Julie Andrews on 'The Sound of Music,' film, fame and Lady Gaga

Julie Andrews, set to appear at 'Sound of Music' tribute, says it has 'certainly stood the test of time'

Julie Andrews will take the stage at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre on Thursday night for a 50th anniversary screening of "The Sound of Music," where she's appearing with Christopher Plummer, her costar in the beloved best picture-winning film at the opening night of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

The lively and humorous Andrews, 79, spoke with The Times by phone recently about the status of the movie musical genre, her blossoming friendship with Lady Gaga and the complexity of the Oscars' best picture category.

I was just reading some of the reviews from when "The Sound of Music" first came out, and I was surprised to see they weren't all that glowing.

I don't honestly know what that was about. Maybe they had more to choose from in those days, more musicals. Maybe they were spoiled by a lot of choices. On Broadway, it was a lot more saccharine. I think people thought it was OK to pan it because it did have that somewhat saccharine quality, which we in the film tried to dispel and to some degree, thanks to Christopher [Plummer], we did. Maybe they thought it's manly to put it down. Whatever they wrote, [the movie] certainly stood the test of time.

What was it like for you to watch Lady Gaga sing "The Sound of Music" tribute at the Academy Awards?

Phenomenal. I'd been a fan, but I'd never actually met her. Ten days before, she called and said, "I just want to be very sure that you're OK with this, that I'm not offending in any way." I said, "Are you kidding? Go for it. Enjoy it." We met face-to-face 45 seconds before we went on stage, so my actual first contact with her was when I walked on stage and gave her a hug. I subsequently spoke to her. We chatted for about 25 minutes. She sang very, very well. I was a fan, and now I've made a new friend.

She burst into tears after she walked off stage.

That's what she told me. She did say, "It's probably the biggest thing I've ever done." And so brave, in front of that audience to take that gamble. She worked very, very hard on it. I thought making that herculean effort and then handing it to me on a golden platter and walking off stage was amazingly generous. I'm the lucky lady that was asked to be in that great film. I never cease to be grateful, really.

Why do you think the "Sound of Music" style of filmmaking went out of fashion?

Expense. And things are cyclical. Big, big movies like that went out of style for a while when movies like "Easy Rider" came in, and then they began to come back again, and then things like the wonderful "Star Wars" and those sort of films were all the rage. Right now I guess we're on, what would you call them?

Comic book movies?

Yes, those are the summer blockbusters, and they're huge pleasures. But there were more musicals in earlier days, and I hope and pray they come back again. Myself, I love them.

How do you think Hollywood has changed since you made "The Sound of Music"?

Well, there are a lot more independent productions. Then it was all about the big studios. These days there are more personal movies being made and quiet subjects being enjoyed. Then there's all the digital, wondrous stuff that's being done. A great many of the musicals you saw on film then were whatever was on Broadway. I think the good news is there are a lot of good musicals on Broadway at the moment. Whether any of them will translate to film, it would be fantastic because it bodes well for musicals in general.

Do you think the public expects stars to be more accessible than they used to be, because of Twitter or TMZ, perhaps?

Truthfully, I mostly can be as private as I want. I do something like this and then I pop back into my garden.... I seem to be very busy, and I seem always to be working. When I did "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" and "The Americanization of Emily," all three were in the can and had not yet been released. So I was driving around having a fine time learning about how to make movies and enjoying myself enormously, and then they were released and it was quite an assault in a way. But it flares and calms, and that's probably the way it is for everybody in this marvelous business.

You and your daughter have written many children's books together. What are you working on now?

We have another children's picture book coming out later this year. I'm beginning to do a little [theater] directing, which I love because it's a way of giving back. "The Great American Mousical" has been turned into the most charming musical. Another one's being talked about as a movie: "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles."

There's some discussion right now of the motion picture academy reducing the number of best picture nominees back down to five. What do you think about that?

I believe and can only guess [the expansion of the category] was done to promote movies in general. It's 10 now, isn't it?

It fluctuates.

Right, it was eight this year. It was certainly easier with five. Personally, from a voting point of view, I wish it would go back to five, but that's even harder. The nomination is lovely, but who's to say that a musical is better than a drama or a comedy? How does one choose? That's a responsibility.

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

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