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Harriet Walter has been popping up all over the place in recent years. She was Dasha in Killing Eve, Veronique in This Is Going to Hurt, and she's picked up Emmy nominations for her guest spots in Succession and Ted Lasso. We're celebrating this purple patch by rounding up 10 things you may not know about this wonderful English actress – whose full title is Dame Harriet Walter, don't you know.
1. She is a descendant of the man who founded The Times of London.
Her great-great-great-grandfather John Walter founded the iconic British newspaper back in 1785. Her family may be illustrious, but Walter told the Evening Standard that her grandfather "lost a fortune" between the wars, which left her parents with "more style than money."
2. She is also the niece of legendary actor Christopher Lee.
Lee, who died in 2015, was well known for his roles in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Wicker Man, as well as for portraying Count Dracula in numerous Hammer Horror films.
"To me as a child, my uncle was a roving, exotic bachelor figure who swanned in once in a while. The heart rate went up when he walked in the door," Walter told The Times of London. "Perhaps it was his wonderful deep voice but he seemed to have an extraordinary power over you. He was a great raconteur and a flamboyant dresser and had glamorous girlfriends and a bachelor pad off Ebury Street [in London's Belgravia] before he married my Aunt Gitte."
3. And her grandmother was an actual Countess.
Her full title: Countess Estelle Marie Rose. Walter has described her grandmother as "frightening" and said she channels her when playing formidable characters like Dasha in Killing Eve and Veronique in This Is Going to Hurt. "When I'm asked to play scary people, I go to my grandmother," she told The Times of London.
4. She met her husband on Broadway.
Specifically, while performing on Broadway. When Walter starred in Mary Stuart in 2009 – a performance for which she earned a Tony nomination – her future husband Guy Paul played one of the courtiers. They married in 2011, shortly after Walter celebrated her 60th birthday.
5. She starred in a trilogy of all-female Shakespeare productions at London's Donmar Theatre.
Walter, an Olivier Award-winning stage actress, played Brutus in Julius Caesar (2012), the title role in Henry IV (2014), and Prospero in The Tempest: all roles traditionally portrayed by men. You can get a feel for Walter's Shakespearean technique below.
6. She spent a year as a "debutante."
In times past, young women from an upper-class background would be presented as "debutantes" on the London social scene; it was, in effect, an anachronistic way for privileged young people to find a husband or wife. "It's funny, because I just look back on that as a year lost. It was just incredibly boring," Walter told The Sunday Times, adding: "Quite a lot of my past I think of as being as distant and as weird as a Jane Austen novel."
7. She turned down a place at Oxford University so she could audition for drama school.
After being rejected by drama schools on no fewer than five occasions, she eventually won a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Walter told Cherwell that she has "never regretted it, really" because acting satisfies her thirst for knowledge. "Quite often you have to research a period of history or learn a lot about one particular discipline for the job, it’s very eclectic," she explained. "It's not years of studying one field, which of course that's a wonderful thing, I just don't think I was cut out for that."
8. She has a theory for why her screen career didn't take off until she was a little older.
Walter was 29 when she landed her first TV role, and 34 when she first appeared in a movie. "It’s just a fact: I didn't have the youthful beauty that does help in a film career," she told The Guardian. "Let's face it, there is a very above-average percentage of beautiful people who star in films. It's a medium that loves beauty. And I didn’t have that beauty. I don’t mean I was horrible-looking, I just didn’t have that camera-friendly perfection that is easy on the eye and draws people in."
9. After reading Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, she felt comfortable "not quite conforming to people’s notions of femininity."
Asked to explain how the seminal feminist text inspired her, Walter told The Independent: "I never quite conformed in terms of being decorous and dainty. I was always more interested in getting somewhere fast than wearing high heels that would stop me running for a bus. Just things like that. Quite trivial things, but reading something like The Female Eunuch really spun my head round and rearranged everything, and I was at exactly the age when you were trying to do that anyway."
10. And finally, she uses villainous roles as an extremely productive form of revenge.
In the AMC+ miniseries This Is Going to Hurt, Walter plays Veronique, the emotionally distant mother of Ben Whishaw's highly stressed junior doctor Adam Kay. Asked about portraying this far from sympathetic character during an appearance on The One Show, Walter said: "Yes, you get your own back on all the people who’ve ever been mean to you, I think. You sort of imitate the people who’ve scared you, or crushed you, or been snarky to you. It sort of embeds in there [your head], all those things you've been pained by. You can spew it back out."
Do you have a favorite Harriet Walter role?