I’ve been on the road for a few days now-I’m in San Francisco now, kickin’ it old school with a Jack Daniels bottle from the mini-bar before heading out to my reading tonight at Books, Inc. at the Marina-and have done quite a few interviews and fielded enough questions to be able pick out my top five or so that I’m asked most often. Right up there at the top of the list, just under “How surreal is it to see yourself portrayed in a movie?” (Answer, for the last time: very) but perhaps a bit above “What’s your favorite cut of meat?” (Answer: I like ‘em all, but oxtails rule) is: “The Julie of Cleaving is completely different from the Julie of Julie & Julia -how do you expect readers to react?”
It’s a loaded question, of course, a quasi-polite way of asking, “So how the hell am I supposed to follow you from sweet Julia Child-devotion and marital bliss to beef-hacking adultery, you slut, you?” It’s question meant, a bit, to trip me up. Like how, in the big police procedurals, the idea is to just ask the same question in different forms until the perp slips up. “Ah, so you ARE in fact a skank, is that what you’re saying now?”
I’m not going to slip, though. Just where would I slip to, after all? That’s the nice thing about laying it all out there, bloody as an open wound. When someone calls me an amoral, filthy, self-absorbed whore, there’s no pain there, because hey, I got there first. I reported that as breaking news.
One thing, however, always flummoxes me about this question. This thing about the two Julies. Glinda the Good Julie, the Wicked Julie of the West. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around. I mean, it’s just me. Okay, that’s an obvious point to make; it’s not as if anyone is suggesting there’s an actual evil twin scenario going on here. But I have, you know, lived my life, and I can attest, I just have the one. The marriage connects to the blog connects to the book connects to the affair connects to the butchery … all of which connect to high school theater and my first car (a ’69 Buick Le Sabre, as it happens) and, I don’t know, my relationship with my mother. I don’t see the disconnect between the parts that are nice and full of butter and Julia Child and the parts that are painful and include pig parts and BDSM. One leads to the other and back again. It’s hard for me to remember, sometimes, that for people who know me through the experience of reading my books or, even more discombobulating, watching Amy Adams play me in a romantic comedy and then reading my second book, I must really seem like a fiction, a character in a novel. And the problem with characters in novels is that they have more responsibility than ordinary messy actual people do to make sense. Actors need to figure out their characters’ motivations in order to move forward with the role; people don’t need to figure out their own to do the same. (Strictly speaking. Though a little psychoanalysis can come in handy from time to time, I’m here to tell you.)
When you’re looking at a character in a novel, it’s easy, maybe even necessary, to define her role in the scheme of things. Is she the protagonist, the comic foil, the villain of the piece? Of course, in our own lives we perform all those roles, and we don’t really think of ourselves as “good” or “bad.” We’re just “me.” A maker of bad choices? Sure. Fucked up? Oh, yes. An amoral, filthy, self-absorbed whore? Sometimes, absolutely. Still, somehow, good vs. evil seems a bit beside the point, to me. But of course not to readers. A reader’s job is to judge these things. It just that that judgment takes some getting used to, when you’re the character under scrutiny.
When J & J : The Movie! was coming out, Amy Adams did a big interview for one of the women’s magazines- Allure , I think it was. At the end of the interview the reporter-in sort of a dick move, I thought-suddenly sprung upon her the information that the woman her character in J & J was based on had a new book coming out, in which she recounts having an extramarital affair. Amy was clearly thrown off by this information and replied, ” My Julie Powell would never do that.”
” My Julie Powell.” I found that fascinating and sort of adorable, actually. That Amy Adams had internalized some version of me, had invested in the person she thought I was, had created a character out of me, not only on screen, which was her job, but in her head and heart, which is what makes her so good at her job, was odd, but also oddly flattering. “Her” Julie Powell isn’t me, but I’m glad she has one and is so clear on what she would or wouldn’t do. Lord knows, I wish I were so clear.
I hope Amy’s Julie is generous enough to forgive the much more fallible, less cute, and entirely more confused and confusing Julie that she’s based on.
Still of Amy Adams © 2009 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. All Rights Reserved.