Julie Wal­ters:

At 66, Julie Wal­ters leads a busy life – but that’s the way she likes it, whether she is glammed up for the red carpet or wear­ing mud-spat­tered track­pants on her farm. With a new se­ries of her lat­est TV drama In­dian Sum­mers soon to be re­leased, the much-l

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

why re­tire­ment didn’t last and how she loves be­ing down on the farm

They say don’t meet your idols. But it turns out there’s ab­so­lutely no need to be afraid of meet­ing Bri­tish trea­sure Julie Wal­ters. Be­cause she is ex­actly as you would imag­ine: kind, funny, in­dis­creet, no-non­sense, gig­gly. She some­how man­ages to be soft and hard at the same time, hon­est without be­ing in-your-face, self-dep­re­cat­ing without be­ing falsely mod­est. She is friendly and gos­sipy, and talks as if you’re sit­ting next to her in the GP’s wait­ing room, in black jeans and a re­ally nice grey sweater from lux­ury la­bel Mint Vel­vet.

What’s not so or­di­nary about Julie? An un­usual mix of in­fec­tious self-con­fi­dence and touch­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Although per­haps that mix is not at all sur­pris­ing for some­one who was nom­i­nated for an Os­car for her first ever ma­jor role ( Ed­u­cat­ing

Rita in 1983), and who has gone on to win eight BAFTAs. From Acorn An­tiques and The Se­cret Di­ary of Adrian Mole to Harry Pot­ter and Padding­ton via Billy El­liot and Mamma Mia!, ev­ery role she has played has been mem­o­rable.

Now 66, she had a short break from act­ing a few years ago and even con­sid­ered re­tir­ing com­pletely. She loves “nor­mal life” and the farm she runs in West Sus­sex with her hus­band Grant Rof­fey, with whom she has a daugh­ter Maisie, now in her 20s. But her re­tire­ment was short-lived and the past few years have been busier than ever. Her

lat­est role? Cyn­thia Cof­fin in TV One’s block­buster pe­riod drama In­dian Sum­mers. Owner of the Bri­tish Club, Cyn­thia rules over the cock­tail nights of the last days of the Bri­tish Raj as if she were the Empress of In­dia.

With a fast-paced, ad­dic­tive sec­ond se­ries start­ing here in Oc­to­ber, Cyn­thia’s one-lin­ers are enough to give Dame Mag­gie Smith in Down­ton Abbey a run for her money. Re­tire­ment will def­i­nitely have to stay on hold.


I think the abil­ity to act is ge­netic. I re­mem­ber my mother telling me that my Ir­ish grand­fa­ther used to re­cite fa­mous court cases. And my un­cle used to di­rect plays in the west of Ire­land. My broth­ers are teach­ers and there’s a very close link between act­ing and teach­ing – stand­ing at the front, hav­ing to con­vince the kids that you’re telling the truth and try­ing to make it in­ter­est­ing.

Act­ing is where I got my con­fi­dence from as a child. I didn’t have be­lief in any­thing else so I pro­tected it very fiercely. But the crit­i­cism in this busi­ness is hard. If I’d lis­tened to ev­ery­one, I’d have given up.

I was lucky be­cause when I started it was trendy to be a work­ing-class ac­tor. It would be much harder for some­one like me now. There aren’t any grants for a start and my mother would have ter­ri­fied me about get­ting into debt. Other ac­tors like Vic­to­ria Wood and Alan Ben­nett couldn’t have done it ei­ther. But these things go in cy­cles and I think work­ing-class drama will re­turn. Peo­ple will get an­gry and start writ­ing about their ex­pe­ri­ences again.

I had no idea I’d end up with the ca­reer I’ve had. After I’d done Ed­u­cat­ing Rita, I thought, “I liked that, it would be fun to do a film ev­ery year.” But I didn’t dare pre­dict any­thing more than that. All I hoped was to be able to keep go­ing and do roles that I thought were good, whether it was in a film or in the theatre. Theatre was al­ways my big love – there’s noth­ing like it, stand­ing in front of an au­di­ence and telling the whole story.

I can count on two fin­gers – maybe three – the jobs I didn’t en­joy. I’ve loved my roles – my favourite was Mrs Over­all. Oh God, how we used to laugh do­ing Acorn An­tiques.

My char­ac­ter Cyn­thia in In­dian Sum­mers is com­pli­cated. In the way that peo­ple are com­pli­cated. I love the dark­ness of her and the fact she’s not de­fined by age. I get so many scripts that say, “There’s a group of OAPs [old-age pen­sion­ers]…” and I think, “Why can’t they just be peo­ple?” Cyn­thia is who she is and I love that.

There was a rea­son I felt I could re­tire and take some time off. I just thought, “I’ve done this for 35 years. I’m 60 now and I don’t have to go on.” So I took a year off. I was still do­ing things like Harry Pot­ter but that was a cou­ple of weeks at the most. At the time some­one said to me, “Would you feel sad if you never acted again?” And I hon­estly thought, “I’m not that both­ered.” Dur­ing that time, even when things came in that were nice I’d think, “I’d rather be at home.” But then a script came from the Na­tional Theatre, for The Last

of the Hauss­mans, and I im­me­di­ately knew, “I have to go and do this.” And I was back on. Although when I look at the roles now I still think, “Do I want to watch that, let alone be in it?”

I like be­ing busy. But I’m busy with lots of things. Not just work. Now I’ll wait and see what comes along. That’s ex­cit­ing. But there’s more to my life. It’s not that I don’t want to work again. But I only want to do what I re­ally want to do.


When some­one says, “You’re up for a BAFTA,” you im­me­di­ately think, “Oh God, what am I go­ing to wear?” Be­cause it’s such a mas­sive part of it. Ev­ery­one is pho­tographed on the red carpet and their dresses are judged. If you don’t get it right, the papers print a big red cross un­derneath your pic­ture, which is so hu­mil­i­at­ing. It’s more like the fash­ion BAFTAs than the film BAFTAs.

There’s no com­par­i­son with how I dress for the red carpet and how I dress at home. On the farm I’m usu­ally in muddy track­suit bot­toms and I don’t even bother wash­ing them any more! We live on clay so they’re solid with mud from the an­kle to the thigh. One pair, which were given to me by the Mi­ami Po­lice Depart­ment, I’ve had for 25 years! I did a pro­gramme about be­ing a po­lice­woman in Mi­ami called Julie Wal­ters is an Alien. So they gave me them when it fin­ished.

I do quite en­joy dress­ing up some­times – and have loved wear­ing the fab­u­lous clothes on this shoot. If I go out shop­ping on my own I rarely find some­thing I like so it’s great to get ideas from ex­pert stylists!

My favourite red carpet look was the Adri­anna Papell dress I wore to the 2015 BAFTAs. It was long and fit­ted per­fectly. And it got a tick in the papers rather than a cross – phew!

I don’t worry about what peo­ple think about me like I used to. I think that goes with get­ting older. I’ve let go of that self-con­scious­ness.

I only started us­ing mois­turiser when I hit the menopause at 50! I do en­joy pam­per­ing my­self a bit more now.

I’m never go­ing to mess with my face. I’ve al­ways felt, “This is who I am.” I think that it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to see the real thing. I love to see women who haven’t had any­thing done, which is un­usual in my busi­ness. There are lots of peo­ple who have had “work”, yet the na­tion thinks they haven’t – I say just be bloody hon­est!

We should all be aim­ing for more wis­dom – not a face without wrin­kles.


I looked after my sis­ter-in-law after she had a hip-re­place­ment last year. It went wrong and she was in a lot of pain so I went to take care of her be­cause her son was away work­ing. I was sur­prised by how much I en­joyed it – and the fact that I was quite good at it! I just in­stinc­tively knew what she wanted & and needed. She felt very safe with me and wanted me to come back. And I thought what a great thing to be

ABOVE: Julie Wal­ters in her favourite Adri­anna Papell red carpet dress at the BAFTAs in 2015.

able to have done that for her. Clearly I should have been a nurse!

To un­wind I read and talk about farm­ing! It’s a great re­lief to be away from act­ing and Lon­don and all that goes with that. It’s like The Archers [the long-run­ning BBC ru­ral ra­dio drama] most of the time on our farm. We dis­cuss what’s wrong with the lambs or start a con­ver­sa­tion say­ing, “There’s some­thing up with the tur­keys.” And I’m con­vinced The Archers are based on us – they only started mak­ing or­ganic sausages on The Archers after we did!

I’ve read some great books this year: The Nar­row Road to the Deep North by Richard Flana­gan, The Pay­ing Guests by Sarah Wa­ters, Pu­rity by Jonathan Franzen and H is for Hawk by He­len Macdon­ald. They’ve all been rec­om­mended to me.

I do get recog­nised on the street and it’s a lovely feel­ing. Peo­ple smile at me and it’s very sweet. But so many peo­ple also want to take selfies with me now. I feel re­ally bad be­cause I was walk­ing up Guild­ford High Street the other day with about eight bags of shop­ping and this teenage girl, who was very sweet and well-man­nered, came up and said, “Can I take a selfie with you?” And I just went, “Er, no,” be­cause I was strug­gling with the bags and just think­ing about get­ting back to my car. In hind­sight I feel ter­ri­ble. I should have said, “Yes. If you will carry my bags to the top of the hill for me.” In fact, next time I want some­one to carry my bags I might just stand around for a bit and ask, “Any­one want a selfie?!”


I haven’t had in­ner con­fi­dence all my life – and it still goes up and down. Some­times I think, “I don’t know how to do this.” And some­times I look back at what I’ve done and laugh at how dread­ful my act­ing was.

Ac­tors in­spire me be­cause that’s what I do. There’s my good friend Vic [Vic­to­ria Wood], of course. Vic was so clever. I’ve never known any­one to write a sketch so quickly. She’d go off and write one in lit­er­ally five min­utes. And it would be ab­so­lutely bril­liant and ev­ery­one would be in stitches. I also ad­mire He­len Mir­ren be­cause she’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent to me and we get on well. I love the way she ap­proaches things. I’m all over the place… I’m scat­tered. But He­len goes right in there and is brave. Meryl Streep is a phe­nom­e­nal force of na­ture too. I know it’s a cliché but she is. I found her so in­spir­ing.

As I’ve got older I’ve let go of want­ing to be loved. Be­cause all ac­tors suf­fer from that – or at least I think they do. I’ve let go of it be­cause I do feel loved. The most im­por­tant thing is to love your­self and even­tu­ally you learn how to do that.

ABOVE: Julie as Cyn­thia in In­dian Sum­mers (left), as Mrs Over­all from Acorn An­tiques (top, with the show’s writer Vic­to­ria Wood), and as Harry Pot­ter’s Mrs Weasley.

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