Whether she’s playing a principled politician or a wand-waving wizard, Julie Walters always wins our hearts. She shares some of her favourite moments with Age UK.
It’s little wonder that we think of Julie Walters as a national treasure. Whether she’s spouting filth in Dinnerladies, or breaking our hearts in Calendar Girls, Julie always steals the show. She remains exuberantly youthful off-screen with an infectious laugh. But that national treasure label isn’t one she’s particularly convinced by…
The ‘national treasure’ tag makes me sound like a statue! I feel like I should be embalmed or encased in the Tower of London. The hard reality is I have been very lucky. I often wonder, ‘Why do people like me?’ Maybe it’s because I’m ordinary. My luck is that I get to do some extraordinary jobs, that’s all.
I’ve had so many wonderful roles, and because I’m grateful for what I’ve done, it makes me less ambitious nowadays… to the point where I don’t think I’m ambitious at all anymore. I just like to see what comes up.
When I left school I was at a loose end – so I thought I’d try nursing. The Sister on my ward must have been nearly 70, and she’d done nothing else but work there. And I thought, ‘My God, will this be me in years to come? Will I never ever do anything but work here?’ So I left after I’d finished my intermediate exams, and somehow managed to get into drama college in Manchester.
My mum was NOT impressed at me jacking in something that was a solid profession… and which carried a proper pension at the end of it!
When she died, I found a box containing some of her possessions. It was stuffed full of clippings for magazines and newspapers… things about me that she’s cut out and kept. So she must have been proud of me, and what I’d done. I confess that I wept for quite some while after I found it!
I love playing the larger than life people; those who speak their minds like I do.
I’ve never been the ‘meek and mild’ sort because I have what you might call ‘forthright opinions.’ I just believe in being honest, that’s all. I may be right, I may be wrong, but there are certain things that I believe in, and I am prepared to argue for them, and fight for them if necessary!
I think an important part of getting older is liking who you have become. And in the same way, on screen, I don’t ever think I could play someone who I hated. There has to be something inside every role that, if you don’t altogether like or admire the person, at least you can understand them.
That’s vital. I love playing the larger than life people; those who speak their minds like I do, or who are just downright eccentrics, like Petunia in Dinnerladies, or Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques.
After playing Mo Mowlam in 2010, I considered retiring. I’d reached 60, and I just wanted to stop and think about what I was doing. So I didn’t do anything for a year or so and then I realised, ‘okay, the profession is still there but it’s only for specific things.’ I wanted to keep on being challenged – we all should; it’s good for us!
I want to keep on being challenged - we all should; it's good for us!
I’m not bothered about my face being lined. I’m in my mid-60s; I’m meant to have lines on my face. I think I’m doing all right. I embrace age – I mean, you have to really.
The only thing that worries me about ageing is my physical health. I don’t want to be unable to walk, to get around. I would hate that. But that’s true of us all, really.
Being one of those people who has to feel like they’ve achieved something in each day has certainly kept me focused and happy. I hate those days where you feel you’ve done nothing. If nothing else, being busy disguises the aches, the pains, the palpitations, the hot flushes!
There’s no ‘secret to success!’ I just basically did whatever came along. You just have to do stuff that people will question, ‘what is she doing?’ I don’t want to do the same role over again, so that’s why I look further afield, see what’s out there.
I never actually had a huge amount of choice, down the years, so I kept it mixed.
Mo is the most significant role I’ve ever done.Mo was so important to me for a number of reasons – largely due to the huge responsibility. But the script was so light and funny, because she was such a light and funny person – that made it easier. Plus she hadn’t died that long before, so she was quite fresh in people’s memories. People felt so strongly about her, and knew about her, so at first I just thought I can’t do this. But then, in the end, I had to tell myself, ‘c’mon, get on with it.’ I think Calendar Girls was a similar emotion, albeit for very different reasons!
I was terribly embarrassed about undressing in Calendar Girls. I didn’t want to do it at all, although I knew the whole film depended on it. So I rang Nigel Cole, the director, and asked him what exactly would be seen. He said I had to do Angela’s pose at the piano, and I was so relieved – but I hadn’t realised that the camera was going to shoot me from behind!
Anyway, it ended up being very liberating. We are all of an age where you are proud and grateful of what you’ve got, and we should try to think like that in all aspects of our life – to accept and to embrace opportunities.
I’m past 60, and I haven’t got a single regret. Not one. That’s a pretty good place to be, don’t you think?