David Hyde Pierce on Playing Julia Child’s Husband in Julia

David Hyde Pierce—best known for playing Niles Crane on Frasier—The HBO Max series will screen the spring returns Julia. Pierce is Paul Child’s husband. Julia Child was a well-known TV chef and author who helped change the way Americans approach cooking. The show, which picks up on the Childs’ lives after they return to the U.S. from Europe in the early 1960s, follows their diverging career paths: Paul, a diplomat essentially forced into retirement, finds himself floundering just as Julia decides to try her hand at hosting a cooking show for a public TV station in Boston. JuliaThis is how it all turned out after a rough start. French Chef eventually went on to air for 206 episodes—and how Child’s rise to fame was in many ways made possible by her husband and a team of friends, editors, and producers.

As Paul, Pierce conveys the nuanced challenges involved in supporting one’s partner in the spotlight—no matter how he may feel in a given episode, Paul is depicted as steadfastly at Julia’s side. Their romance, remembered in history as a “feminist love story”, is not the central focus of Julia. The strength and vitality they share is evident even though the series chronicles their struggles, especially as middle-aged couples who have to face the fact that they chose not to have children.

TIME interviewed Pierce to discuss his role as Paul Child. How it compares to Niles Crane and how he felt about the character. FrasierFor him, reboot could be a synonym for.

How familiar were you with Paul and Julia Child’s story before filming?

I knew nothing about Paul—it was great to dig into his life because he was an endlessly fascinating, complicated man. Paul was an excellent photographer, fine furniture maker and self-taught artist. In addition, he was a member of the diplomatic corps. To be obliged to investigate all these pursuits in order to prepare—it was a gift.

Paul is a break from 1960s culture which expected men to become breadwinners or fulfill traditional masculinity ideals. You see that contrast with his father-in-law (James Cromwell), who expects Julia to marry someone “manly.”

This guy is very similar to Niles Crane (the character I played on). Frasier—very sophisticated, knew about wine, knew about food. He was also a great entrepreneur. His fear of heights was a constant concern. When a storm was blowing around the ship, he went to work and decided to climb up to the top to get rid of his fear. Actually, it only made matters worse. He seemed to double down every time he encountered resistance.

You’ve talked before about working to convey Niles Crane’s restrained and intense desire for Daphne, his unrequited love interest, through physical comedy. Paul is much different—what were you thinking about while taking on his physicality?

Paul was a smaller man than I am. That is what it means to be a man, I think. He was much more fit because of the activities he engaged in than Niles Crane. Niles moved around in spite his body. Therefore, terrible things happened.

People familiar with the Childs’ story know them as strong, loving partners. The show also depicts some of their most difficult moments.

There’s no such thing as a couple that doesn’t fight. This was the challenge: imagine conflict situations. That’s really important, because it shows the depth and strength of the relationship.

She is so charming when she drinks with James Beard.

James Beard was her best friend. There’s no record of that event happening—but it is totally intuitable that Paul, along with being totally supportive of her success, would feel that way. He’s processing his own decline professionally. As much as he loves and supports her ascension, he’s a human being.

JuliaHave you had the chance to reunite with your Frasier castmate Bebe Neuwirth, who plays Julia’s friend Avis DeVoto. It’s a funny, pissy dynamic. How was your experience working with her once again?

We’ve known each other from New York theater circles for years. There’s nothing better than getting to play an antagonistic scene with someone you really love. They trust one another and are able to just have fun. And there’s a wonderful jealousy she and Paul each have about their relationship with Julia.

You’ve long said you’re opposed to the idea of participating in a Frasier reboot. Are you looking for something to make it back with this trend in reboots?

This is what I wish for. In terms of my own involvement, I’m not going to talk about another woman while I’m involved with this one.

This article appears in TIME, April 11, 2022.

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