I Don't Believe In Regrets
With her delightfully raucous laugh and no-nonsense manner, Julie Walters’ wit and warmth have earned her huge public affection.
Glittering career aside, she seems, quite simply, one of us.She’s wonderfully honest about the ageing process, confessing that the menopause left her unable to remember a simple dance routine while filming Billy Elliot, and that she’d sneak away to cry in private as she didn’t want to upset young co-star Jamie Bell. She’s laughed, too, about the hot flushes that had assistants rushing on with tin trays to fan her while rehearsing at the National Theatre.In today’s ‘forever young’ climate of ‘60 is the new 40’, it’s refreshing to have a woman in the public eye telling it like it is.
Learning to adapt
Julie is on our TV screens again this year in the second series of Indian Summers, the Channel 4 period drama that enthralled viewers last year. She relishes her role as Cynthia, the scheming working-class widow with the colonial classes wrapped round her little finger. But she admits that filming in India is more draining now. ‘I’m too old to go out and just start shooting right away,’ she says. ‘I work out how many hours and days of jet lag and usually go a week before. Otherwise, I’d never learn my lines. ‘I have to learn things ahead of time now, which I’ve never had to do in my life,’ she adds. ‘The night before, I’d just have a look at the script and lie in the bath and think, “Oh yes, right.” The next day, I’d hardly look at the lines, and they’d be there. Now? I’m going through them, going through them…‘But I feel more able to say what I think,’ Julie adds. ‘People excuse us more when we’re older. And I don’t believe in regrets. We have a path we go along, you make decisions and you get on with them.’
That’s what Julie’s been doing since 1969, when she quit nursing training to enrol on a drama course at Manchester Polytechnic. Her decision caused uproar in the family home in Smethwick, with Julie’s Irish mother predicting her daughter would be ‘in the gutter’ before she was 20.
Despite the flack, Julie insists it was easier to become an actress then. ‘I was lucky,’ she says. ‘These days, it’s very hard for working-class kids to go to drama school. They can’t afford it; there aren’t any grants. When I was starting out, it was the thing to be from a working-class background.’ Sure enough, Julie soon found herself working with the likes of Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell and Alan Bennett. And it was her performance in Russell’s Educating Rita on stage (and later on film) that marked her out as a great actress. But it’s the sheer breadth of her talent that has enabled Julie to pick up countless accolades and have such a long and successful career – from the hilarious Mrs Overall in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques sketches to her stirring performance as politician Mo Mowlam in TV drama Mo, plus a string of hit films, including Calendar Girls, Mamma Mia!, Billy Elliot and the Harry Potter series. Hollywood beckoned but Julie wasn’t tempted. She lives with husband Grant Roffey on an organic farm in West Sussex, surrounded by cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. ‘It’s like coming home to The Archers,’ she says. They have a grown-up daughter, Maisie, and Julie says that, at home, the talk is about farming, not filming. ‘My husband never gets excited about what I do,’ she laughs. ‘He’ll say: “Oh, it’s just a television play.” I love the fact he brings everything down to earth. He’s great for me. ’Would she consider retiring and living in bucolic bliss? Not a chance! ‘I don’t think actors ever retire, to be honest,’ she says. ‘They might be forced to. But I never want to stop, unless I’m not well enough.’
When asked what advice she’d give her younger self, Julie’s response is touching and considered. ‘I’d say worrying doesn’t help – 99 per cent of the things you worry about never happen. And you are good enough; wherever you are and whoever you’re with, you are good enough. If you don’t feel that, nobody else will.’