Giullian Yao Gioiello talks working with Julie Andrews on “Julie’s Greenroom,” and the “vital” importance of arts education

Photo Credit: Michael Creagh

It would be any young performer’s dream to star on a show alongside the incomparable Julie Andrews — but, for Giullian Yao Gioiello, that dream is a reality.

The young multihyphenate can be seen with the legendary Andrews — of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins fame, of course — on Netflix’s aptly titled Julie’s Greenroom. The series, which spans 13 episodes in its debut season, is aimed at children and features Andrews, Gioiello, and puppets from the Jim Henson Company exploring many aspects of the arts.

Gioiello — who attended the Fiorello H. Laguardia High School Of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City for drama, guitar, and vocal performance — called auditioning for this show “serendipitous” because the character has “all these random talents” that Gioiello has gathered throughout his life and “puts them to use.” See, Gioiello considers himself a “jack-of-all-trades.” In addition to the skills he honed in high school, he knows how to dance, beatbox, whistle, and juggle.

With the help of special guests — the star wattage is through the roof with the likes of Idina Menzel, Chris Colfer, Josh Groban, Alec Baldwin, Sara Bareilles, and various others — Julie’s Greenroom explores many facets of the arts. Something that, given the current political atmosphere, seems imperative.

In this interview, Gioiello talks about getting his chance to work with Andrews — who has been extremely vocal about President Trump’s proposed elimination of arts-based programs — on Julie’s Greenroom, his favorite moments from the series, and his opinion about how important arts education is this day and age.

A PLUS: What was it like working with the legendary Julie Andrews?

GIULLIAN YAO GIOIELLO: Incredible. Unreal. Yet, at the same time, it was very natural, too. From the moment I walked into the audition with her, I think there was an understanding we had with each other. She appreciated my work and how I looked out for her. In turn, she took me under her wing. And during shooting for Julie’s Greenroom, it really was quite a whirlwind — 15-hour days, A-list celebrities, and brand-new scenes every day — so we really needed each other to stay sane. I would give her a shoulder rub in between takes and she’d make sure I always had a cup of tea, too.

What was the best piece of advice she gave you?

A great piece of advice I got from Jules was probably this one moment where I was having problems staying focused on a day I didn’t have many lines. I was standing on set for hours that day — as usual — and I remember speaking to her about having problems feeling natural when being filmed in those moments. She told me that she’d had the same problem with Jack Lemmon in That’s Life! and what she found was that when you’re sitting there listening to another actor speak just think, “Wow, how much do I love him/her,” and allow that to speak through. By doing that, your eyes would have love behind them and it’s more active than just sitting around. It really helped me since, as many actors figure out, there’s a lot of sitting and waiting on set, and keeping your energy up can be one of the hardest parts of shooting.

What aspects of the arts does the show explore and how do the weekly guests lend help to teaching those subjects?

We explore everything. The main stuff: singing, acting, dancing. And then the more eccentric stuff: circus/clowning, percussion, classical music, orchestra, and more. I love that we also work on costume and writing, which are for those kids who maybe aren’t as interested in performing but still love the arts. And our guests make this even more incredible.

Chris Colfer, who many might know from Glee as an actor and singer, ended up being our writing guest because he — being the incredibly talented guy he is — has written an entire series of young adult novels, too.

It’s amazing to have basically the best, multitalented teachers around to be an example for our audience: world-renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell, six-time Grammy-nominated musician Sara Bareilles, and, of course, the most qualified teacher in the world, Julie Andrews.

Andrews has been very vocal about President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate arts-based programs. How do you feel about that and what is your plea to those who agree with that?

For these next four years, the arts become vitally important. Important as a society, for us, and our children to be able to express ourselves, to speak up through our creativity, and for our children to have hope that they can follow their dreams. This is America — I mean, c’mon!

My high school was the arts education hub for children from every part of the world, and every racial and economic background to learn and get a chance to really pursue their dreams. I only hope that other children are as lucky as I was to get a decent arts education.

As Donald Trump cuts the National Endowment for the Arts out of his budget, it becomes exponentially more important for us to stand up for the arts and the opportunity for our children to foster their own creativity. As was said by Julie and Emma [Emma Walton Hamilton] in the CNN article you mentioned, “The arts are fundamental to our common humanity.”

To those who believe this it is the right thing to do, consider that the $148 million dollars that went to the NEA last year is only 0.012 percent of federal discretionary spending, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. It creates jobs, fosters the dreams of our younger generation, and strengthens the education that children receive — for a microscopic price. It’s a no-brainer to me.

What was your favorite part of filming the series — besides your super-famous co-star?

It had to be the guest stars I got to work with every day. Talk about just A-list talented people. And not just actors, but performers who are the best at their craft. People like Idina Menzel, Alec Baldwin, Bill Irwin, and Sara Bareilles would just stop in for a couple of days and shoot with us, and I was their main dude. And all these stars were so different! Beautiful in their own ways, some of them more shy than I expected, or intellectual, or charitable — the list goes on. All of them were extremely kind.

One time, while Sara Bareilles was on set — I’m a musician, too — she and I literally got to write a song together for the show. I mean, what kind of lucky life do I live where, on Monday, I write a song with Sara Bareilles, Thursday I harmonize with Josh Groban, and the whole week Julie Andrews and I have tea together!?

In your opinion, why is teaching the arts to kids so important?

Teaching the arts to kids is vital. When we’re young, we’re so susceptible to the world. And our creativity is fresh, innocent, and ready to be shaped. Just that little push from parents, teachers, and maybe even Julie and me can give that jump-start to a kid who’s got an innate talent and something to say or show it to a kid who wants to work their butt off and build that talent themselves. It opens up the world for kids, to see and understand the arts, especially the ones they didn’t even know about. I can think of a couple drama teachers of mine that single-handedly made my career a reality simply with their passion for my own potential.

I also remember that as a kid I tried piano, hated it, and decided I wasn’t a musician — and a year later, because of my dad’s dedication, I picked up a guitar and it turned out to be one of my lifelong passions. For a kid, they just need to see what’s out there. And them finally having that knowledge sort of unlocks this incredible potential: their creative mind. And without that extra push from the NEA, schools, or parents, there could be all these kids out there who never find their true passion.

What do you hope this show — which we’ll hopefully see more of in the future — accomplishes?

I hope this show brings the arts, diversity, and an infectious positivity into the homes of millions of families — especially the ones who aren’t lucky enough to have arts funding at their kids schools. Those kids who don’t have that teacher who looks out for them or that creative parent to push them. The kids who have that incredible potential for greatness and that spark of creativity that need this show to give them that push over the edge, piques their curiosity, and helps them find their passion.

And I hope, in particular, it finds its way onto the screens of those kids who feel rejected by their friends and peers for being different, and helps them realize that anyone can have a life full of imagination and artistry — no matter what they look like or come from. In Julie’s Greenroom, Hank, who’s stuck in a wheelchair, learns that he, too, can dance, just like everyone else. And this can happen outside of the show. A gargantuan task you might say? Well, no one better than Julie Andrews to make it happen.

By A Plus’ CARSON BLACKWELDER

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Visit on the last Thursday of each month for the latest installment.

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