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Film crews descend on downtown Boston to film HBO Max pilot ‘Julia,’ based on legendary chef Julia Child

Actress Sarah Lancashire (left) arrived outside the Union Oyster House in Boston on Monday to film the pilot for the HBO Max TV production of "Julia," about the late culinary icon Julia Child.
Actress Sarah Lancashire (left) arrived outside the Union Oyster House in Boston on Monday to film the pilot for the HBO Max TV production of "Julia," about the late culinary icon Julia Child.Chris Haynes

If you thought you saw iconic chef and author Julia Child strolling through Boston on Monday, you weren’t imagining things.

Child, who called Cambridge home from 1961 to 2001, is the main character in a new HBO Max pilot called “Julia,” which chronicles the life of the “French Chef” star, who died in 2004. The production headed to Union Oyster House on Monday morning to shoot scenes starring British actress Sarah Lancashire, known for roles in “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” as the famed culinary queen.

Crews descended on the restaurant around 5 a.m. and filming began around 8. Sporting a rich red lip and a head of short brown curls, Lancashire was a dead ringer for Child in a matching bright green skirt suit with a blue checked button-down shirt underneath. Lancashire and costar Fiona Glascott stood on Union Street while a caravan of vintage cars and taxis cruised by, led by a vintage MGB.

To stay warm between takes, Lancashire wore fuzzy slip-on boots and a heavy winter coat as she chatted with Glascott, and held a plastic face shield to her mouth. Later, production moved into the restaurant, where they filmed a scene of Lancashire and Glascott sitting at the oyster bar enjoying a meal of bivalves and boiled lobster.

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“They originally ordered something like 24 lobsters,” said Union Oyster House owner Joe Milano. “Everybody was eating a boiled lobster. They must have done it 30 times.”

After filming wrapped for the day, Milano led Lancashire to the restaurant’s “wall of fame,” where brass plates that name notable guests hang on the wall. Milano had one made for Lancashire, and hung it near the one for Julia Child.

Welcoming the actress to the restaurant was quite the thrill for Milano, who recalled having Child as a guest back in the early 1970s.

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“She was a very fascinating lady,” said Milano. “She loved seafood. Obviously French cuisine was her forte, but she loved oysters.”

Before filming began, the production crew arrived on Sunday to de-modernize the restaurant, removing and covering any memorabilia or decor that looked as if it was made after 1970. By Monday morning, a crew of more than 100 team members in vans and trailers had gathered in the Union Street area, which was cordoned off from prying eyes. Restaurant employees who were on set also had to undergo COVID-19 testing conducted by the production’s nursing team.

The decision to film at the location began over a year ago, when production reached out to Milano. He told them it would have to be at a time of year when the restaurant wasn’t too busy, and would have to be done on a Monday. Then the pandemic hit.

“Tentatively it was going to be done in March, because we can deal with a closed-down day,” said Milano. “Then obviously everything was shut down.”

In addition to filming scenes in downtown Boston, “Julia” has shot in Malden, Worcester, and Framingham. On Sunday, production headed to Harvard Square, where a caravan of vintage cars cruised down Plympton Street and Mass. Ave. Onlookers could spot a vintage bus emblazoned with Cambridge Coach Lines on its side, as well as another covered with John F. Kennedy political banners. The only reminder of current events? The repeated calls by production staff to keep “masks on” after takes.

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“Julia” also stars “Frasier” actor David Hyde Pierce as Child’s husband, Paul, and Bebe Neuwirth. It’s written by “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” scribe Daniel Goldfarb.