In a twisty version of cinéma vérité, Julia Child's grandniece, Julia Child Prud'homme, appears in the new movie, “Julie & Julia,” as a bridge instructor so boring that everyone's favorite home chef ditched the class in favor of cooking school. I recently visited with Prud'homme in her Hollywood apartment, which is filled with artifacts connected to her famous relative: two ornamental pillows owned by Julia Child sit on a twill couch and framed sketches by Julia Child's husband Paul brighten a wall.
Paul Child was the twin brother of Prud'homme's grandfather, Charles. Stanley Tucci plays Paul in the film. In a nice touch of verisimilitude, throughout the film the actor wears a turquoise ring that belonged to Paul. The Child twins were very close and their families often vacationed together, frequently in a cottage hand-built by the two couples in Maine. Charles's daughter developed a close bond with Julia Child and named her firstborn after her aunt, the Julia Child Prud'homme who appears in the movie. “Julia and I were given the nicknames 'Big Julie' and 'Little Julie' by our family,” Little Julie recollects. “I used to think that her name was actually 'Big Julie' when I was small.”
Like her namesake, Prud'homme possesses flaming red hair and a healthy appetite. The Julia Child mystique was a great influence on her, and it is no surprise that she has also chosen a life in front of an audience. A stage-trained actress, Prud'homme has appeared at the Lincoln Center Theatre, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Intiman Theatre among others. She is currently a member of Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood.
“Julie & Julia” is Prud'homme's motion picture debut and she says that she enjoyed her time on the set with Nora Ephron last year in Manhattan. “Nora is the best. She was warm, enthusiastic, welcoming and kind.” Prud'homme got a kick out of hearing Meryl Streep, who plays Julia Child in the film, perform her relative's distinctive voice. I think [Streep] does a great job. Julia always thought imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.”
Prud'homme's own take on her great aunt's voice has evolved with practice. “I have a few words that I can imitate almost perfectly,” she says, “If I am trying to do her voice, I use one of those words to kick me into her overall voice. The word that I do best, because she
was such a positivist, is 'Wonderful!' She used that word all the time.”
Prud'homme also has vivid memories of visits from her famous relative when the Prud'homme family relocated from London, England to Pasadena, California, Julia Child's birthplace. The Prud'hommes lived in a rambling Mission-style villa near the Huntington Hospital. Prud'homme recalls that “Julia and Paul used to stay with us for extended visits and Julie would try out new recipes in our kitchen. I remember once she soaked chocolate pieces in rum for some time and then baked them into an angel food cake. She took the chocolate-flavored rum and poured it over the finished cake. It was delicious but I don't recall seeing the recipe in any of her subsequent books.”
After a career spent working in theatre in New York and regionally, Prud'homme returned to Southern California in 2003 for film and television opportunities, appearing in episodes of “The Office,” “Without a Trace” and “Raines.” She often visited Child in Santa Barbara, where the author and her husband Paul had settled in the eighties.
Prud'homme attended a lunch held to celebrate Julia Child's 89th birthday, featuring BLTs, good white wine and a table full of fancy people. Julia Child looked down the length of the table and asked her relative, “Aren't there any nice young men for you?” The table grew silent as everyone waited for the younger woman's reply. “Uh, yes, Julie, I am actually seeing a 'young' man now,” Prud'homme explained, “he's eleven years younger than me.”
“That's wonderful,” the older woman exclaimed, “And do you know why that's wonderful? “No, Julie. I don't know why,” said Prud'homme. “Because, men die first!” came the chipper answer.
Child was a realist, unafraid to let things get messy. It is likely that she would have enjoyed the film adaptation better than Julie Powell's blog since the movie introduces Paul's many contributions to the world. Prud'homme says “Julie wrote My Life in France to highlight Paul's role in her success. He was her biggest supporter, he had such a big hand in her life: her discovering food, falling in love with food, and with the creation of the French cooking book. He really was her rock.”