British Icon of the Week: Dame Julie Walters, the Brilliant Actress Who Always Keeps It Real
Dame Julie Walters is undoubtedly a British "national treasure." Whether you know her best for her award-winning TV work or as Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, Rosie in Mamma Mia!, and Mrs. Bird in Paddington, you'll surely have been charmed by at least one of her many and varied performances. Following a cancer scare, Walters revealed in a recent interview on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show that she's taking a back seat from acting, so we thought it only right to make her our British Icon of the Week. Without further ado, here are 10 things we love about the one and only Dame Julie Walters.
1. Her longtime comedy partnership with writer-actress Victoria Wood was one of most enduringly popular on British TV.
The two performers met and became friends in 1978 appeared together in numerous TV series written by Wood, including Wood and Walters (1981), Victoria Wood As Seen on TV (1985–1987), Pat and Margaret (1994), and Dinnerladies (1998–2000). When Wood died of cancer in 2016, Walters said she was "too heart-sore to comment," and added "The loss of her is incalculable," reports The Mirror.
You can watch her paying tribute to Wood with Maxine Peake at the British Film Institute (BFI) in 2017 below.
2. She's an advocate for working-class actors.
In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Walters bemoaned the fact that it's become so much harder for British actors from humble backgrounds to learn their craft. “People like me wouldn’t have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don’t know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think, I don’t know what to tell you,” she admitted. Walters also expressed dismay that it's so difficult for working-class writers to break through, saying: “Working-class kids aren’t represented. Working-class life is not referred to. It’s really sad. I think it means we’re going to get loads more middle-class drama. It will be middle-class people playing working-class people, like it used to be.”
3. She also appreciates that great comedy is just as important as great drama.
“It is ridiculous that we don’t hold comedy on as high a level as straight drama,” Walters said in a 2017 interview with The Guardian. “You can’t go to drama school and learn to be a comedian. It is in people. Comedians hear how people talk. The thing about Victoria’s writing, for example, is that you never wanted to change a line of it. And I am always wanting to change lines and rewrite speeches.”
4. After she received an Oscar nomination for 1984's Educating Rita, she turned down some disappointing Hollywood job offers.
"They were interested in me doing something over there, [but] they didn't know what to do with me, basically. They tried to write working-class parts, and it was, 'Cor, love a duck' sort of stuff," Walters recalled in a 2014 interview with Digital Spy. "The scripts were like 1970s romcoms and things that Glenda Jackson did brilliantly, but now it was 1984, and it just wasn't right. I just felt all the best writing and all the best work was here [in the U.K.]."
5. She's always up for a laugh.
Here she is on The Graham Norton Show reprising her iconic role as Mrs. Overall from Acorn Antiques, Wood's spoof of shoddy '80s soap operas.
6. She's adored by her castmates.
When Walters was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again cast surprised her with a heartfelt rendition of "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." Warning: this clip is almost too cute to handle.
7. She's won Leading Actress at the BAFTA TV Awards four times – more than anyone else.
She won for My Beautiful Son (2002), Murder (2003), The Canterbury Tales (2004), and Mo (2010). She’s also won two BAFTA Film Awards (for Educating Rita in 1984 and Billy Elliot in 2001), plus two BAFTA Special Awards, taking her overall haul to eight.
8. She dealt with unwanted attention from the British tabloid press in the best way possible.
When Walters' daughter Maisie was receiving treatment for leukemia as a toddler, the U.K. press began to speculate intrusively as to what illness she had been diagnosed with. Eventually, Walters decided to speak publicly about her daughter's illness and sold an exclusive interview to a London newspaper for £20,000 ($25,000). The fee went straight to the children's unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital, where Maisie was being cared for.
Happily, Maisie made a full recovery and is now in her early thirties.
9. She and her husband Grant Roffey run a livestock farm in Sussex, southern England.
According to the Lee House Farm website, it's a "small mixed organic livestock farm producing high welfare, non-GM, fresh free range eggs, beef, lamb, mutton, and special slow grown roasting chicken."
When chatting with Sussex Life in 2018, she said that she and her husband don't want the business to expand too much. "We have a couple of stalls in the local town and sell to some of the local hotels," she explained. "We have a lot of loyal customers; we can’t make it much bigger because it would become a factory."
10. She's drawn to roles that other actors might balk at.
In 2001, Walters received her second Oscar nomination for playing a strict ballet teacher opposite Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot. Discussing what attracted her to the role, she said to The Guardian at the time: "It was a diamond in the sand. Different from all the middle-of-the-road crap that I get sent. I loved the character, and the fact that she was disappointed on every level possible. She was so grim and jaded. Her relationship with the boy was so unusual: she was so unmaternal, and he's a boy without a mother. She treated him not like a child, but more like a lover, a man. I found that very interesting."
Do you have a favorite Dame Julie Walters role?