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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor Interview

Theater, Opera and Film Director

June 3, 2006
Los Angeles, California

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  Julie Taymor

In your own life, when did you first feel transformed by art?

Julie Taymor: I don't know if I'll remember that moment, but I was always playing in the backyard. I was always dressing up and putting on shows. My elder sister loved to organize things. And so we did a lot of make-believe. Remember that word? A lot of play.

I think that there's an unfortunate thing right now that children are in front of computers as opposed to going outside and taking a bit of string and a bit of fabric and a stick and making a kite, and understanding that this kite could be a bird because you imagine it to be a bird, not because you push a button and "bird" comes up in your Google. I feel like the computers are a tool, but they've become a monster, and will really cut down on the creativity and imagination of people, period, that it's a going backwards in certain ways. It's going forward and it's wonderful when you use it as a tool. But it's like when people say, you know, the modern technology is better. Well, honestly, who built the Taj Mahal? Who created these beautiful structures, these buildings, and out of what? Or the pyramids. I mean, yes, you had slaves, and that's lousy, but on the other hand, it's the imagination of the creative -- the artist -- isn't necessarily better because they've got higher technology and better tools.

My parents encouraged us to go out and play...

I went to Boston Children's Theater when I was a young kid, at about age eight or nine. I started to take the -- not the subway, but the trolley cars into Boston, and was acting at a really young age. I think Midsummer Night's Dream is my earliest memory of a play that we saw on a trip in the summer when I was about eight in Canada at Stratford, at the Shakespeare festival there. And then I acted as Hermia, and that was my first memory of really acting when I was seven or eight years old. But I think it was a Shakespeare play. I'm almost sure it was a Shakespeare play.

You've said that your parents gave you a sense of trust in yourself, and gave you freedom. How did they do that?

Julie Taymor: Well, I'm the youngest of three, and I'm younger than my older brother and sister by five or six years. They had a lot of trouble with them. It was the '60s, and I got to watch. I should tell you about my new movie, Across the Universe, because it's all set in the '60s.

My father basically said to my mother, "Okay, she's yours and if you don't want to say no, then don't say no." They put so much trust in me that I had to create my own sense of morality. I would make those decisions myself. They treated me like an adult. I called them by their first names when I was very young, and I became very good friends with my parents. Only once did I lie to them, and I lied because they forced me to because they didn't trust me. They wouldn't let me go with my boyfriend when I was 12 or 13 or 14 or something on a trip, thinking of course I would lose my virginity, or I would do something, get pregnant. I was master of myself. I could take care of myself, so I went anyway, told them I was with a friend. When I came home, I said to them, "I lied to you, and this is why I lied to you." I know that sounds pompous, but they said, "Oh, you're right. There's no reason to do that. We're not going to treat you like a child." So treating me like an adult made me act like an adult. That's why...

When I was 14 or 13 or 15 I went to Sri Lanka on the Experiment in International Living for a summer. I wanted to travel. And going outside of my own culture and traveling and seeing my own world from a foreign perspective is a big part of my life and who I am. That's what I was talking about earlier, is stepping outside of yourself and examining yourself with a different perspective is very important, and it's important to do as an artist for others. Then, when I was 16, I graduated from high school early -- and never really officially graduated -- and went to Paris to study mime at École de Mime Jacques Le Coq. And then traveled some more, and started my own theater company in Indonesia. I basically was very, very let free, let go. "Do what you want to do. We will support you." And I suppose that could be bad. But in my case, it worked out well, and I was always extremely close to my parents.

Were they artistic as well?

Julie Taymor: My father was a doctor. He's gone now. Mother was in politics, but she has an artistic flair. I think she's very dramatic. Her father didn't want her to go into theater or film. That was a bad thing. You know, only hussies become actresses. But then she found a medal my grandfather had received for acting when he was young. No, my parents weren't in the arts, but they were lovers of the arts, and they talked about it. I didn't really go to concerts, classical music or any of that. I never really enjoyed opera when I was young. But they were very encouraging of us doing the arts.

What kind of politics was your mother involved in?

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
Julie Taymor: Democratic politics. We're from Massachusetts. She was always involved; she ran for office and was a state representative. We knew the Kennedys; I still know Ted Kennedy. She was a delegate to all of the conventions and many other things.

When she got older she got her master's and started a program for women in politics at Boston College and then Boston University and Smith College. She's now in her 80s, but she was one of the first women to really be involved in politics. I remember canvassing with her when I was 12 and having people say, "Oh, go home. Take care of your kids." "Well, my kids are with me." Having that kind of prejudice against her as a female -- because she was one of the first. She was very attractive. She wasn't Louise Day Hicks if you remember that. She wasn't that kind. There were a lot of women that didn't support women at that time.

So she became very involved in teaching and setting up programs, especially for women who had finished with their children, who now wanted a career in politics. She started a whole program to get them ready to go out into the political sector.

So you had a role model for being outspoken, not hiding in a corner, and forging a new path.

Julie Taymor: My mom? Oh God! My mother was never home when I was a kid. I complained. "Why aren't you baking Girl Scout cookies?" or whatever, although you can buy those in boxes. Actually I was very proud of her, that my mother was working or going to school. I think that I got enough attention, and I think the fact that she let me be free and didn't spend so much attention on me was a good thing.

That's a twist on what a lot of the parenting books say these days.

Julie Taymor: Oh, suspend all that!

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