Meryl Streep’s Julia Child Accent in ‘Julie & Julia’ Wasn’t About ‘Replicating’ Her Voice

Meryl Streep’s illustrious career is full of performances that most actors would dream of. But she’s made these displays of talent incredibly common in a way that only living legends can. Her portrayal of Julia Child in 2009’s Julie and Julia isn’t talked about as much as her other Oscar-nominated roles. But it is still an excellent example of her ability to mold her talents to the demands of each character. 

Part of her preparation for the role involved changing her voice to resemble Child’s. It is a task other actors have also attempted. But no one has succeeded in doing so as well as Streep did. 

‘Julie and Julia’ tells the story of two strangers connected by cooking

Julie and Julia centers on the parasocial relationship between Child and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a New York blogger who catalogs her attempt to cook all 524 of Child’s recipes in a single year. Writer and director Nora Ephron used Child’s autobiography and Powell’s memoir to show their different life journeys, their relationship to food, and how their lives intersect with each other even though they never actually met

The movie was well-received by critics, earning a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, Streep was the main reason for the positive reviews. Her performance in Julie & Julia eventually led to one of her 21 Oscar nominations

Meryl Streep did a lot of work to get her Julia Child accent right for the movie

meryl streep julia child
Meryl Streep attends the premiere of the movie ‘Julie & Julia’ presented at the 4th edition of the Rome International Film Festival. | Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis via Getty Images

Whether in a prestige movie or a light comedy, Streep puts a lot of effort into understanding each character she plays. Child stood out thanks to her very high-pitched voice. This made her fodder for comedians like Dan Aykroyd who impersonated her on Saturday Night Live. 

The Oscar-winner took a more naturalistic approach without toning down the natural quirks of Child’s personality. In an interview with Emanuel Levy, the actor discussed her portrayal. “My out is that I’m not really ‘doing’ Julia Child, I’m Julie Powell’s idea of who she was,” Meryl Streep said. “So while I felt a responsibility to her memory and the legacy of the great work she did, and to the essence of her character, I didn’t feel I was replicating her.”

There was plenty of other talent involved in the making of Julie & Julia besides Streep. But everyone agreed she was the main reason that the movie impressed viewers. “Meryl Streep made it possible to make this movie,” said producer Laurence Mark. “She has an uncanny ability to suggest Julia Child and to imbue the character with the spirit of Julia Child, but it’s not any sort of impersonation. It’s a beautiful, beautiful portrayal.”

The star of ‘Julia’ also chose a stylized take on Child’s voice

Taking on a role that has already been held by one of the best actors ever is an intimidating concept. But that didn’t stop Sarah Lancashire from starring as Child in Julia, an HBO Max series about the cook’s life that premiered in March 2022. “The tone of the project is different,” she said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel. “You do 50 different Hamlets, you [cast] 50 different actors, they’ll all be different.” (The event was written up by UPI.com.)

Lancashire, who hadn’t heard of Child before the movie, also didn’t try to match her voice with the chef. While she did work with a vocal coach, Lancashire focused on finding a tone of voice she could hold on to for the eight-episode season that still evoked “the essence of her vocal eccentricity and her singularity.”

“We were looking at accent, really,” she explained. “Then for me, I pulled away from that and started looking at trying to create a parallel voice.”

Julia takes more creative leaps when depicting Child’s life. But most of the show’s choices appear to have paid off. Julia was widely praised post-release and it has already been renewed for a second season. 

RELATED: Julia Child Used Over 700 Pounds of Butter While Filming 1 Show