HBO Max’s Julia: Sarah Lancashire stars as iconic chef Julia Child in the new series but pushed back against producers for this reason

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Get ready for another incredible character transformation: Sarah Lancashire is taking on the role of iconic TV chef Julia Child in HBO Max’s new comedy series Julia.

When it comes to TV shows inspired by real life figures, the past few months have seen some truly incredible transformations. We’ve had Lily James’s bombshell makeover as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy, Julia Garner’s turn as the fake heiress Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna, and more recently, Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout.

To the list of look-twice portrayals we can now add Sarah Lancashire, who is swapping darker procedurals in Happy Valley and The Accident for feel-good fare as she takes on the role of iconic chef Julia Child in the new HBO Max/Sky series Julia.

The first three episodes are now available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV but the eight-episode dramedy is inspired by Child’s extraordinary life. Most notably, though, it will also explore her long-running television series, The French Chef, which pioneered the popular cooking-show genre.

Julia has been hailed as a comedy drama but Lancashire has revealed that, when filming, she’d never considered the series to be such. Speaking to RadioTimes, she said: “When I was approaching this, I never approached it as a comedy. I wasn’t convinced it was a comedy, to be perfectly honest. I thought, ‘If everybody else wants to treat it as a comedy they can do… I’m just going to do my Julia Child in the only way I know how.’

“And maybe that was a degree of fear or insecurity, but I just had to cling on to everything that I knew in terms of character development.”

But while Childs was an undoubtedly witty character, Lancashire didn’t have any desire to turn her into a comedic character. It’s the reason why the actor remained firm in her decision to portray the celebrity chef in a truthful, non-eccentric way.

She continued: “Occasionally, I would be asked to take it a little bit higher and I would always resist. I would always say, ‘No, absolutely not’. I think she’s a woman who could be very easily lampooned because of her exuberance, but you don’t need to do that. It wasn’t necessary to do that.

“And I think there’s an awful lot… where we see the Julia who is away from the cameras, the Julia who is not switched on, and that is equally as important. And hopefully, there is a fine balance between the two.”

According to the official synopsis of the series: “Through Julia and her singular can-do spirit, the series explores an evolving time in American history: the emergence of public television as a new social institution, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity and America’s cultural growth.

“At its heart, the series is a portrait of a loving marriage with an evolving and complicated power dynamic.”

Julia: Sarah Lancashire is taking on the role of Julia Child in HBO Max's new series

Joining Lancashire as the beloved chef is Frasier star David Hyde Pierce, who will play Child’s supportive husband Paul Child. 

The series also stars Bebe Neuwirth (Madam Secretary), Brittany Bradford (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), Fran Kranz (Homecoming) and Fiona Glascott (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald).

A bevy of guest stars are also set to appear throughout the series as well, including Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, Robert Joy, Erin Neufer, Jefferson Mays, James Cromwell, and Adriane Lenox. 

Julia: David Hyde Pierce as Paul Child and Sarah Lancashire as Julia Child

In the trailer, we see Lancashire as Julia telling her husband: “At this stage of my life, I want to feel relevant.” So, she sets out to promote her cookbook Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, building a name for herself despite negativity from sneering chat show hosts and disapproving executives.

When she proposes an educational cooking show to a television network, one producer decides that they need a host with a “more camera-friendly look and a less distinctive sound”. Julia refuses to back down, though. “One of the advantages of looking like me,” she explains, “is that you learn at a young age how not to take no for an answer.”

Julia: Jefferson Mays and Sarah Lancashire in HBO Max's new comedy

Julia’s steely self-belief appears to waver when she finally finds herself herself in front of the camera on the set of The French Chef. As always, Paul is by her side to build her confidence. “If every critic would silence every artist, how dull would the world be then?”

It’s not long before Julia finds her stride and TV sets across the nation tune in to watch the popular show. “I hope you had as much fun as I did,” she tells her audience at the end of one show. “Bon appetit!”

The first three episodes of Julia are now available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV, with episodes being released weekly thereafter.

Images: HBO Max

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.