Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning directors/producers Betsy West and Julie Cohen didn’t waste any time after ”RBG,” their 2018 documentary highlighting the legacy of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Instead, they started on their next project following another groundbreaking woman of her industry: Julia Child.
Child revolutionized cooking and TV for American women, starting with her 1961 book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which sold more than 2.5 million copies. Not long after, Child secured a spot on WGBH with her show “The French Chef,” which debuted in February 1963. Her home of 40 years, in Cambridge, became the set for three of her television shows..
Their documentary, “Julia,” opens at AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, and Embassy theaters on Nov. 19. It includes archival footage of Child with testimonies from those she inspired,, like Ina Garten and Marcus Samuelsson, and those who knew her personally, like her friends from Cambridge. Using a combination of journal entries, mouthwatering recipes modeled to parallel key events in Child’s life, and even Dan Aykroyd’s “Saturday Night Live” parody of “The French Chef,” West and Cohen tell the story of the woman who changed food and TV as audiences know it.
The directors sat down with the Globe to discuss what drew them to Julia Child and which of her famous dishes they encourage viewers to try.
Q. What is your earliest memory of Julia Child?
Julie Cohen: My earliest memory is I think what a lot of people’s is: Julia on “The French Chef,” as this absolutely mesmerizing character, someone who was very funny and very loud, and knew all of this incredible stuff about the magic of what you could do with food in the kitchen. She actually seemed maternal.
Betsy West: I grew up in New England, so Channel 2 WGBH was a fixture. I remember Julia as being this great character on television. I think I was a little less fixated on what she was actually doing, and the fact you couldn’t do this food as a kid, but her whole presence was very warm and funny and enjoyable.
Q. Why did you decide to make Julia Child the subject of your documentary?
JC: After “RBG”’s success, it seemed obvious to us that telling the stories of more groundbreaking women would be a worthwhile thing to do and one that audiences were eager to watch. We started considering many different potential women’s stories to tell. Julia jumped out at us, because she’s like Justice Ginsburg in terms of being groundbreaking in her field.
We realized it would be an opportunity to dive into the world of food, which was really intriguing to both of us. We love the fact Julia found herself and became a superstar when she was already in her 50s. It’s not a typical “A Star Is Born” narrative of this young ingenue who becomes a superstar, but it’s someone who organically appeared on this “I’ve Been Reading” show on PBS [and] captured audience’s attentions.
Q. What makes your film different than other films about Julia Child?
BW: The bigger thing was to put Julia in the context: what was the world like before Julia Child? We made a reference to it [in the documentary], but Julie and I had a wonderful bus ride, when we were first talking about doing this film, talking about all of the horrible recipes on the tables in our mothers’ kitchens.
JC: Yeah, the idea of what good food was and what was an acceptable thing to serve to guests. I still have a strong recollection of a neighbor who made something called mock apple pie, which was apple pie that literally had no apples in it. You soak Ritz crackers in lemon juice and water and then use them. The whole idea of using food to open up new worlds, which is something I feel we’re now more accustomed to, just wasn’t seen as a priority before Julia.
Q. How did you decide which food dishes to portray different parts of her life in the documentary?
JC: It really was a question of which Julia recipes fit to which particular moments. For the love scene with Julia and [her husband] Paul, where we’re kind of describing their romantic and sexual life early in their marriage in Paris, we knew we wanted a dessert for that scene. That’s when I spoke with Susan Spungen, the food stylist, to say, “What are some classic great Julia desserts that have multiple steps?” because we want to really show it playing out and looking really lush and sensual. The first thing in our mind was chocolate sauce, and then she told us about the pear tart.
BW: That really worked out so well. [We also talked about] how to illustrate the failures and [chose] Hollandaise because that’s something you can really easily screw up. When you go, “Ugh, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look.” I think everybody who is a cook has had that experience of failure. You get halfway through a recipe and make a mistake, you forget something, it’s like “OK, can I fix it, or do I just have to start all over, throw it into the garbage, and try again?” which was something Julia was ready to do.
Q. If you had to pair this documentary with one Julia Child dish viewers should enjoy while watching, what dish would it be?
JC: It depends on your mood. When you go into the film and we put the roast chicken in front of you at the beginning. You’re gonna really want some roast chicken.
BW: That’s very satisfying, but if you have eaten before the film, but then it made you hungry again, you might want the pear tart.
JC: I was gonna say, are you watching this with your significant other? Is this part of a date watch? In which case, maybe the pear tart.
BW: The pear tart would be good for that.
Interview was edited and condensed.
Riana Buchman can be reached at email@example.com.