Friend­ship, fame fun and

TV Times - - Cover Story - Na­tional Trea­sure Ben Lawrence

Julie wal­ters on her con­tro­ver­sial C4 drama, the loss of Vic­to­ria Wood, and look­ing for­ward to a train ride…

DRAMA of Na­tional Trea­sure, the C4 drama that has dished the dirt on fic­tional celebrity Paul

Finch­ley (Rob­bie Coltrane).

The much-loved star of a 1990s sit­com, Finch­ley has been ar­rested for sex crimes dat­ing back 25 years. Julie plays Marie, his tough, long-suf­fer­ing, Catholic wife.

Writ­ten by Jack Thorne, whose Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child is draw­ing crowds in the West End, Na­tional Trea­sure is an un­set­tling piece that has put some view­ers in mind of Op­er­a­tion Yewtree and al­le­ga­tions of abuse in­volv­ing high­pro­file en­ter­tain­ers that fol­lowed the Jimmy Sav­ile scan­dal.

‘It’s noth­ing like Sav­ile,’ in­sists Julie. ‘It doesn’t have a mes­sage – it just looks at the im­pact of this hap­pen­ing when you’re a celebrity. It doesn’t try to say any­thing di­rectly about the cli­mate.

It’s more sub­tle than that.’

The na­ture of fame has also come un­der scru­tiny in Na­tional Trea­sure. Julie’s char­ac­ter, Marie, is, very much at her own choos­ing, liv­ing a life in the shad­ows. It’s a sit­u­a­tion that Julie can re­late to: her hus­band Grant Rof­fey runs an or­ganic farm in Sus­sex and has lit­tle to do with show­busi­ness.

‘He has ab­so­lutely no in­ter­est in it. For me, that’s won­der­ful… and it puts your life in per­spec­tive. But at those award cer­e­monies, you know, he’s there with me and that’s nice be­cause they’re nerve-rack­ing; you’re stand­ing in front of the whole in­dus­try and the whole na­tion.’

Her work with Vic­to­ria con­sti­tuted an al­most par­al­lel ca­reer. Through­out a part­ner­ship of over 30 years, Vic­to­ria wrote a bril­liant range of roles for Julie, pro­vid­ing the ideal show­case for her in­stinc­tive comic tim­ing.

‘They called it a part­ner­ship but it was all Vic re­ally,’ says

Julie. ‘She wrote me fab­u­lous stuff – com­edy sketches are re­ally hard to write but ev­ery­thing she did was like a tiny comic play; her characters were so in­sight­ful, never cruel and so sensitive about peo­ple’s fragility.’

Of all the characters Julie played for Vic­to­ria, Mrs Over­all, the teal­ady from Acorn An­tiques, is the one that made the most im­pres­sion.

‘Mrs Over­all has been with me for­ever. I think it’s partly be­cause I’m round-shoul­dered. God knows what it will be like if I live much longer. I’ll be like this’ – she hunches over so she’s nearly bent dou­ble, her face screwed up like a can­tan­ker­ous geri­atric – ‘with a lit­tle head on the end’.

What was the ba­sis of her friend­ship with Vic­to­ria? ‘I made her laugh and she made me laugh. We found the same things very funny and a lot of what we saw to­gether in­spired Vic’s com­edy.’

Julie says it’s hard to look at other com­edy scripts when you have worked with such a ge­nius, and that part of the tragedy of her friend’s pre­ma­ture death – Vic­to­ria died from can­cer in April, aged 62 – was that she was mov­ing in new di­rec­tions. She had writ­ten straight drama – House­wife, 49; Lov­ing Miss Hatto – with ter­rific re­sults.

‘What was great with Vic was that, while most peo­ple would hold on to the thing that made them suc­cess­ful, she would get bored and move on to some­thing else.’

While there’s no com­edy on the hori­zon for Julie, there is talk of her repris­ing the role of Mrs Keogh, the strict land­lady from this year’s hit film Brook­lyn, in a BBC spin-off.

Be­fore that she is tour­ing Bri­tain’s coast­line by train for a trav­el­ogue to be shown on C4.

Some ac­tors might find play­ing them­selves too ex­pos­ing, but Julie has no such fears. ‘Oh God, no.

I’m fine with that. It’s in­ter­est­ing and I love talk­ing to peo­ple and find­ing out what they do.’

She darts a mis­chievous look: ‘It’s go­ing to be fun, fun, fun.’

is pre­viewed on pages 58-59

In­no­cent or guilty? The Finch­ley fam­ily’s angst is played out in public

Julie with hus­band Grant

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