Halfway through Julia’s sixth episode, Judith Jones, Julia Child’s fabulously shrewd and stylish editor, treats our ears to some culinary poetry of her own: “Food makes me feel creative.” Yes, the woman (wonderfully portrayed by Irish actor Fiona Glascott) just spent a week trying to crack a bread recipe in a burning-hot kitchen. But it’s more significant than that. As this week’s episode confirms, Judith is the preeminent woman editor in the country, yet her boss, the renowned Blanche Knopf (Judith Light), thinks she’s “squandering” her legacy by having an editing dalliance with cookbooks. Never mind that Judith also edits the likes of Albert Camus, Anne Frank, and Jean-Paul Sartre. “I’ve been around the block, Judith,” Blanche spits at her. “I own the block.” And the block does not value her contributions to poultry, vegetables, or sauces despite the book sales speaking for themselves.
Looking back through a modern lens, we know Jones didn’t heed Knopf’s missive and continued to work with her close friend Child and a bevy of other culinary authors for the remainder of her career. (She retired from the publishing industry in 2011.) She also had a robust and enviable social circle, which Julia, for whatever reason, decided not to dive into just yet. On a recent phone call, Glascott told us more about Judith’s passion for French cuisine, what she’d love to see if we get a second season, and the joys of witnessing the show’s mini Frasier reunion as a fan.
Okay, silly opener, but are you a Frasier fan? If I was around David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth all day, I wouldn’t stop talking about how much I love Frasier.
I am. Very much so! I didn’t have any scenes with Bebe in the first episode, but I did with David. Listen, I’m not one of these people who can hold back. I was like, Oh my God, I’m such a fan of Frasier! He was so willing to talk about it. In England and Ireland, it’s constantly replayed and is very much a part of our lives all the time. You put the telly on and there’s Frasier. He was like, “This is great; it’s been so long since I talked about the show.” I was thinking to myself, What are you talking about? I just saw you the other day with Martin and Daphne on TV. Bebe talked a bit about Cheers as well. To see them together onscreen made me way too excited.
What did you ask David about Frasier?
I really wanted to know what the week was like filming a sitcom. What day did you start rehearsing? What day did you get new scripts? When was your weekend? When were your tape days? I did an audience sitcom a few years ago with Jonathan Pryce called Clone, but it was only six episodes. I wanted to know what the real deal was like.
I found the seventh episode of Julia very interesting to watch unfold because, for the first time, we see many different perspectives questioning the genius of Julia and the idea of the cookbook. What does Judith see in Julia that others necessarily don’t?
From what I read and investigated about Judith, this cookbook that arrived on her desk had never been seen before. The way it was laid out, for one thing — it had ingredients on one side and a whole page with very clear descriptions about how to do it on the other side. In the literary sense, this new way of writing arrived on her desk. Her brain immediately began pinging off all of those genius areas.
Judith also loved food and cooking, particularly French food. She spent quite a lot of time in France for work. At one point, a couple of friends of hers put together this little restaurant in their apartments. She was seeing someone who was a chef, and they would get up at the crack of dawn to go to all of the best markets and spend the day grating fish for a fish sauce — all these things Julia did, too. Judith loved the process of cooking and sitting down with people to eat. When Mastering the Art of French Cooking arrived on her desk, it was like her prayers were answered. There were so many people who knew Julia in Boston while we were filming: “Oh, my grandfather used to sell her fish.” The sheer force of that extraordinary personality must’ve taken Judith’s breath away.
There’s a lot of terrific literature about Judith and her publishing legacy. I recently read an article about her first round of notes for Julia, in which she argued that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was incomplete unless a recipe for mussels was added. What was your most interesting discovery about her?
I could keep you for hours talking about her. There wasn’t just one thing. The more I got to know her, the more admiration I had for her. Something that really stuck with me is that on top of all her work and support for her writers, she would bring them, their partners, their children, their mothers, their animals for a week to stay at her home in Vermont. She would do whatever she felt was needed to make the writer feel comfortable to work. I thought that was really extraordinary. Her job was a vocation, not just a job. She would say, “What grows together goes together when you cook.” They would all go out for walks and take whatever was there to create something extraordinary. There’s no snobbery with Judith. No elitism. That really shows you the type of person she was. She was at the pinnacle of her career, particularly a woman at that time. She had a very happy marriage and many friends. She was interested in other people. I loved what you said — it was mussels, yes?
Yes, mussels, while editing the chapter about fish.
That’s wonderful. I didn’t know that. She pushed the bread chapter as well. She really wanted Julia to include bread in the book. And she was right! It was a cookbook for America, not France.
Something I realized at the end of the episode was that we’ve only seen Judith in a professional capacity. We’re shielded from her personal life, which, as you just described, seemed ripe for compelling stories. Was there a reason for this?
What’s interesting to me is watching a woman onscreen and seeing how fascinating, complex, wonderful, and difficult her work life can be. Even the audience doesn’t know she has a happy homelife. I thought it was great that we saw Judith’s professional life and didn’t need to go into her personal life yet. I can’t say what the thoughts of the writers were. If we get another season, hopefully we’ll explore her a bit more outside that lens. There’s so much to Judith. I was pleased that we got to see her relationship with Blanche Knopf, for instance.
I’d like to know how you interpreted Judith’s office standoff with Blanche, her mentor. She argues, essentially, that Judith is tarnishing her legacy as a female editor by also finding fulfillment in cookbooks.
I don’t think I or Judith or any woman should be told what they’re doing. If you choose to follow a certain career, that’s not all you are. You don’t have to be just one thing. Judith’s realization and acknowledgement of how genius this first cookbook was — and the difference it would make to the cooking world and people at home — was enormous compared to what Blanche saw. Hell, she didn’t see anything. It wasn’t in the literary great’s world that she was in. For Judith and for me, I felt, Well let’s not get pigeonholed. Don’t tell her what to do! She knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s a bigger conversation about feminism. It’s a very nuanced conversation and different for every woman. We have two strong women in the scene having a conversation about how they really, really feel and not wanting to be told what to do. It’s difficult to hear that from somebody who’s your mentor, but it doesn’t mean Blanche is right. Every scene with Judith Light is joyful. Have you ever spoken with her?
I have! Back in her Transparent days. It’s great that you have another iconic Judith in your life.
She’s amazing, isn’t she? Doing a scene like that with someone at her caliber — well, it’s enjoyable but not difficult. That’s her brilliance.
What was the required maintenance for Judith’s incredibly chic haircut?
I call the style a bob, but I’m sure it’s got a more official name. I’m glad you asked me that! I had to get a little bit of a trim every two weeks. At one point, I had some time off from filming, and they ended up giving me a look that was a tiny bit shorter. I loved it. You have to keep your eyes on the follicles. The back grows quicker than the front. But that was for someone else to worry about. I’m going to call the show’s hairstylist right now and thank him.