Julia Child, an invaluable presence in the American television industry, is best remembered for introducing the country to foreign cuisines through her accessible cookbooks and famed cooking show, ‘The French Chef.’ Thus, Max’s show ‘Julia’ brings the story of this extraordinary chef through a dramatized lens and explores her professional as well as personal life. In the woman’s journey to rising fame through revolutionizing a genre and everything that comes with it, Julia appeals to the audience through her pleasing personality and tactful mind.
Throughout the show, the woman’s unique voice and accent become one of her most distinguishing character traits, blanketing her character with cheerful sophistication. Given the eccentric nature of Julia’s voice in the show, which resembles her real-life counterpart, people are bound to wonder about its origins.
Why Does Julia Child Talk Like That?
The real-life Julia Child had a distinct Trans-Atlantic accent, highlighted by the clipped or over-enunciated consonants and stretched vowels. As a result, the accent mixed with her unique vocal range paves the way for the celebrity chef’s quirky and memorable voice.
The Trans-Atlantic or Mid-Atlantic accent, as it’s referred to occasionally, is a mid-way between a regular American and a British accent. William Tilly, a linguist, is credited with the creation of the accent. In the 1920s, the Australian man introduced this accent and called it World English. Initially, American classic theater actors equipped it to exude the sound of the upper-class British. As such, the accent soon became a signifier of any individual and their family’s socio-economic status.
Many educational programs within the upper-class circles, especially on the East Coast, began operating in the Trans-Atlantic accent until the 1940s. Since Julia Child’s education took her to multiple East Coast states, such as Massachusetts’ Smith College and New Jersey’s Princeton University, the accent was likely a regular and perhaps even taught part of her life. Furthermore, Julia’s mother, Julia Carolyn Weston, hailed from Massachusetts herself, which must have exposed her daughter to the accent at an early age.
Therein lies the origin of Julia Child’s particular voice. Due to the prevalence of the Trans-Atlantic accents within Hollywood, viewers can find several other personalities with a similar way of speaking, including Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis or Jackie Kennedy, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Additionally, Hollywood films, especially those with period settings, often reference the accent, preventing it from being erased entirely.
Although Julia’s accent is a crucial aspect of what sets her voice apart, her general vocal range also plays a significant role. However, even though Actress Sarah Lancashire focused on getting a hold of her character’s off-screen counterpart, she decided not to imitate the exact register of the chef’s voice since her vocal range differs from the real-life Julia Child.
“We were looking at accent, really,” Lancashire said in a conversation about her show. “Then, for me, I pulled away from that and started looking at trying to create a parallel voice.” Consequently, with the help of a vocal coach, Lancashire developed a speech pattern that showcased “the essence of her [Julia Child’s] vocal eccentricity and her singularity.”
In order to do so, Lancashire had plenty of references at hand, such as the numerous ‘The French Chef’ episodes. Furthermore, the actress also got to interact with Julia’s letters to her editor, which helped her capture the chef’s essence and infuse it into her character. “You kind of want to be in her [Julia’s] company, and she makes you feel better about the world, really. She’s a tonic,” said the actress.
Lancashire, who originally has a soft-spoken posh British accent, previously undertook another project that required her to work with speech and dialects. In the 2014 drama show, ‘Happy Valley,’ the woman embodied Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant hailing from the valleys of rural Yorkshire. Thus, with a history of taking on characters with distinct vocal traits/accents and seamlessly bringing them to the screen, Lancashire tackled her role in ‘Julia’ with similar dedication. In the end, we get an on-screen Julia Child with a non-identical but similar voice to the real-life Julia Child.