by Ed Symkus

A strange thing happens when the absolutely iconic Julie Andrews walks -- or is it glides? Or floats? -- into a room for a chat about her full life, her busy career and other choice subjects. The person she approaches takes notice, flushes slightly and, perhaps subconsciously, sits up just a bit straighter. Although she's wearing a big smile, Andrews is also poised, posture-perfect, almost regal. One doesn't want to disappoint her by slouching.

She's talking up The Princess Diaries, her first Disney film since Mary Poppins in 1964. Note: It was Poppins that was her initial major screen success, just a year before The Sound of Music guaranteed her celluloid immortality.

This time out she plays Clarisse Renaldi, queen of (the fictional) Genovia, who visits America to tell her teenaged granddaughter Mia (Anne Hathaway) that she's next in line for the throne. But this is all news to Mia, since the royalty business has been a family secret for years.

"It was heavenly playing a queen," says Andrews in that marvelous combination of British and American accents. "I got to wear all those great clothes, and I got to wear millions of dollars worth of diamonds."

Andrews has been in the news recently, mostly for reports on a botched throat operation that's left her singing voice without a middle range. Since a lawsuit is pending, all she'll say about it is that she's optimistic about singing again and that she's exploring all sorts of options at the moment.

But there hasn't been much written about her acting in recent years.

"Everybody thinks this film is a comeback," she says in answer to that. "Actually, I was on Broadway in Victor/Victoria for two years. I did a movie two and a half years ago called Relative Values by Noel Coward, but it kind of slid away. I then did another movie called Unconditional Love that's coming out later this year, which is a very funny piece. I play myself in a tongue-in-cheek cameo. And I did On Golden Pond on television. So I felt like I've been around, but it wasn't in such a huge way as the big screen."

Andrews has displayed her dramatic talents in films such as Torn Curtain for Alfred Hitchcock and The Tamarind Seed for her husband Blake Edwards. But she's always been ready to show her great comedic ability. One of her favorite roles remains Sally Miles in S.O.B., again for Edwards in which she -- stunningly against type -- bared her breasts.

Told that Halle Berry stirred up a bit of controversy of her own by doing the same thing in Swordfish, Andrews, who hasn't seen it yet, says, "Copycat."

"To be given the chance to cut up a little and be a bit over the top is terrific," she says of her performance in S.O.B., a film about the comically dark side of Hollywood. "And the film has stayed the course. People who know their movies really think that's one of the treasures, because it's sadly so true."

It's getting a little weird talking face to face with Julie Andrews about seeing her naked, so the subject is deftly changed to one of her current literary projects.

"I've been doing a lot of reflection lately because I'm starting to write my autobiography," she says. "And I remembered my first feelings about America. Coming from England, I was trying to put together thoughts about it. First of all, the culture, the architecture, everything about it is larger than life. Your tomatoes are bigger than ours. Your robins are bigger than ours. Everything's on ice. It's so different, and I was so green. I used to have to stop in a doorway and clear my head from being dizzy because I was very scared. And I knew very little. I was always racing to catch up with myself. All I knew was how to belt out a song and do good in vaudeville and musicals. I got a good beginning education about audiences in England. But the learning began when I got to America."

Andrews was also quite pleased the day, last year, when she found out she was to become a dame in England. Actually, it was more a state of shock than pleasure.

"I had the breath knocked out of me," she says, laughing. "I mean, I literally just sat down on the bed as if somebody hit me. It was wonderful. It was a phone call from the British ambassador: 'We'd like to honor you, would you accept?' They have to clear the fact that you would like to receive it. And I said, 'You're joking!' I couldn't believe that what they were saying was what they meant. It's the deeply personal pleasure, the fact that you've been honored by your own country, which means such a great deal."

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