There’s something in the recipe for Julia, HBO Max’s series about Julia Child and her transformative cooking show, that viewers are savoring like a warm meal straight from the kitchen. “People are having a very specific kind of reaction to it,” says David Hyde Pierce, who stars as Julia’s husband, Paul Child. “[They] feel embraced and comforted by it.” The role is both supportive but nuanced as Paul pours his all into giving Julia the chance to shine. Here, Pierce discusses portraying the man behind the star chef, played by Sarah Lancashire, the show’s window into his and Julia’s relationship, and where things stand right now with the Frasier reboot.
DEADLINE: How familiar were you with Paul and Julia Child before this project?
DAVID HYDE PIERCE: I was probably familiar with Julia the way most people who had heard of her work knew about her. I’d seen the movie [Julie & Julia] with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, and as a little boy certainly saw her on TV and was aware of her over the years. It wasn’t until they approached me about doing the show that I found out about Paul and was so intrigued and enthralled by him and their relationship.
DEADLINE: What was it about him that interested you?
PIERCE: He was so many things. He grew up playing the violin and loved music all his life. He was a fantastic craftsman, he redesigned the kitchen in their home so the counters could be high enough that Julia wouldn’t hurt her back. He was an incredible painter, visual artist and photographer. He just seems to be someone who didn’t understand or care about limitations. And then he put all of that into the service of this woman he loved, into their relationship and ultimately her career. I just find that amazing.
DEADLINE: Did you audition with Sarah? Or at what point did you have the opportunity to meet her?
PIERCE: I met her on the first read-through. There was a long lead-up where I was going to do the show, and then it turned out I wasn’t, and then I got a musical, so I was doing that instead. But then COVID hit, so the musical went on hiatus. By that point, Sarah had come on board after I had left the project. I didn’t know her or who she was. And because my musical was on hold and I was free, they asked if I would do the pilot. That’s when I looked her up, and it reminds me of Paul in the sense that it seems like she can do anything. I watched Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, and then some of her other stuff from her early days in television, obviously she had quite a range. She’s such a skilled actress. I had no idea how she’d be as Julia Child, but that wasn’t so important to me because I figured they must have cast her for a reason. And when we sat down at the table read, she just became her. It was very clear.
DEADLINE: The partnership that you two portrayed is just so beautiful. These are people of a certain age in a very different era, when a woman being a breadwinner was not as common, and Paul is in this transitional phase in his career. It’s interesting seeing how he processes this fame that comes to her.
PIERCE: What people talk about all the time is how incredible it is that he just submerged himself in her success, especially at this time when that wasn’t happening as often. He was a really strong man with a very healthy ego, and I find it impossible to believe that it was easy for him. I believe that he wouldn’t have had it any other way in terms of his love for her and his understanding of how great she is. But at the same time, he had to come to terms with the spotlight being only on one person.
DEADLINE: You really see that play out across the season. In the beginning, she has to manipulate him a bit into endorsing her shooting the pilot for The French Chef. But by the end, he really encourages her to keep going.
PIERCE: That’s a credit to the writers, because they’ve given us a window into what it must have been like for these two strong personalities to find this new world together. I love the scene where Paul had a first showing of his art and nobody bought anything except one guy who wanted a photo of Julia Child, and Paul and Julia are just sitting there together in the art gallery looking at his painting, talking about what the hell is happening to them. I just think it’s so beautiful. It’s such a rich, complicated human moment.
DEADLINE: You got to reunite with Bebe Neuwirth, who played Lilith on Frasier and the Childs’ friend Avis DeVoto on Julia. What was it like working together again?
PIERCE: We’ve always had fun, right from the first day of Frasier, and that was 11 years because she was on the show every year for 11 years. And of course, we know each other anyway from just being in the business together, in the theater. We just share a lot of experience, a lot of life, a lot of common vocabulary and understanding. So, it’s very comfortable working with her, and I just adore her. To be reminded of just how exquisite she is as an actor, when I just think of her as an old friend, that’s awfully nice.
DEADLINE: Speaking of Frasier, do you know anything about where things stand with the reboot?
PIERCE: I don’t know where they stand. I haven’t talked to Kelsey in a while. The last time I talked to him, I knew that it was a work in progress, and I think it still is in the works.
DEADLINE: With all the talk about it over the years, have you thought at all about where you’d want to see those characters?
PIERCE: My feeling was always that they had gone on their way, and I wasn’t really thinking about where they had gone. I went on to other shows. But I think if I saw a script where I went, “Oh my gosh, how interesting. Who would have thought that this is what they’re doing?” That’s why I never say I wouldn’t do it. It’s about how their story is told, because I care a lot about those people, those actors. This is how I always pick my projects, now that I have the luxury of picking them: I take them because I have to. That’s what happened with Julia. I read this script and I thought, I have to do this part. I want to explore this person and explore this relationship. And so, if I were to see a script of a Frasier reboot that I had to do, I would do it.