Julie Walters: “it’s harder for older actresses in America”

The recipient of this year's Bafta Fellowship says things are changing in the industry with more women in prominent roles...

Julie Walters is one of a crop of female British actresses we like to call our “national treasures”. Along with Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, she has the pick of juicy roles and a mantlepiece heaving with silverware. 

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All are household names and twice Oscar-nominated Walters was awarded the Bafta Fellowship earlier this year. This Christmas she’ll be the subject of Julie Walters: A Life on Screen on BBC2 but it’s only during her 40-year career that women have come to prominence behind the cameras as well as in front.

“It takes time for things to change,” says Walters, “but I think they are. There are more [parts] for women in television – more women my age. We were the baby boomers so there are lots of women in high places in television now and lots of women writers and directors so that is changing. The writers are going to be writing about themselves in a sense.”

But Walters is all too aware of the privileges afforded to older actresses over here in the UK compared with that on offer in the US.

“It’s harder for older women in America – there’s much more plastic surgery over there than there is here. But I suppose it’s all changing, isn’t it? I haven’t had any. Youth seems to be more important in the States – people don’t want to age. 

“I remember when I was doing a film – I was about 40 out in Canada – and one of the actresses two years older than me was going home to have a facelift. I said why? And she said, ‘god, look.'” 

Does she think the alteration to actress’s looks affects their acting? “It must do.”

The first of her two Academy Award nominations – for Educating Rita (below) – came in 1983, but Walters, 64, has chosen to spend the bulk of her career this side of the pond, avoiding the temptation to relocate to Hollywood. “I was out there when Educating Rita came out and I was taken round by the head of Colombia Pictures to meet this new agent. They introduced me to lots of people and I got a few scripts but all the best writing and the most interesting work was here.”

And despite American television being “fantastic at the moment”, the actress has chosen an epic Channel 4 period as her next project. “I’ve just done this series called Indian Summers which is coming out in January. The woman in that – I love her. She’s very Machiavellian and people say, ‘God, she’s a bitch’ but I don’t see her as that. It’s just her morals are based on practicalities to do with her. It’s really interesting to look into it and why she’s like that – I don’t see her like that any more because I’m playing her.”

As for other roles on Walters’ bucket list, a part in James Bond wouldn’t go amiss, something she’s been especially vocal about in the lead up to Sam Mendes’ Bond 24 announcement this morning, albeit to no avail. 

“When I say I’d like to be in Corrie, I get a call almost straight away,” she jokes. “Bond? No.” 

Bafta Productions’ ‘Julie Walters: A Life on Screen’ is on BBC2 at 9:30pm on Christmas Eve

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Yesterday Walters took part in a Q&A event at Bafta to mark the launch of a new live strand to celebrate successful careers in TV: ‘A Life in Television’