For a national treasure – no, make that an international treasure – Julie Walters doesn’t take herself very seriously. “Well, I’m not a Dame, am I?” she grins. “I don’t think I’m posh enough. I just love acting.”
With an illustrious career on stage, television and the big screen – think everything from Educating Rita, Mamma Mia! and the Harry Potter movies to her new starring role in the drama series Indian Summers – she has plenty to be proud of. But what matters most to the actress, who recently turned 65, is her family – her husband of 28 years Grant Roffey (57) and daughter Maisie (27).
“I went to Hollywood but they didn’t know what to do with me,” she shrugs. “They wanted me to move to LA. I’ve got a family here and I value those relationships more than going to LA. It is hard to turn down offers when they’re good but it’s only what lots of mothers and wives deal with – balancing life and career.”
Life with Grant means an organic farm in Sussex, surrounded by pigs, cows, chickens and veges. They met in a bar when Julie was several bottles of Champagne to the good and he walked her home. “I said, ‘Come iiiiinnn! I’ve got a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau!’ He moved in and never moved out. It was instant for me,” Julie recalls. “I remember saying, ‘Do you want my children?’ That first night – it was driven by alcohol. I was shy like that. Who’d have sex without alcohol? Especially the first time. He was really sweet about it.
"Before we were together, I don’t think I’d ever done it sober. I’ve been with Grant since 1985, but you never know what’s going to happen in life. You’ve got to go from day to day and talk about things. All relationships have their ups and downs and if people pretend they don’t, they’re in for a shock.
"People don’t realise you have to work at a relationship. They think it’s got to be romantic all the time and that’s mad. What I appreciate about our relationship is the groundedness. Obviously, love is the basis of it. He’s a good man. He never gets excited about anything I do. He has always said things like, ‘Oh, it’s just a television play.’ I love the fact he brings everything down to earth. He is great for me. I don’t think of myself as a star.”
Nor, despite her cheeky prettiness, does she think of herself as a looker.
“It’s always been about the characters that I’ve played, not how attractive I am,” she explains. “I’m not saying I want to look unattractive – I make efforts to do my hair and make-up – but I haven’t had any plastic surgery or Botox because I feel I’d be letting myself down. I hope I’m growing old disgracefully in the right way and gracefully in the right way. I think you’ve got to be yourself and not worry about it. But there’s nothing wrong with slowing down a bit. I say, ‘Look, I’m 65. I am not going to do that now – I need to sleep.’ I don’t believe in trying to be 30 – I find that really embarrassing. Older people: please, get over it.”
Even so, the advancing years have had an effect. At 60, she took a year off. “I thought I could give up work if I wanted to. I could have white hair. I was quite happy on the farm, growing tomatoes.”
But then a good script came in and Julie was back in the limelight. “I realised that acting is what I do. It’s the texture of my life and I’m not just a farmer’s wife. I’m aware that I may be forced to give up one day. My health is generally fine but my mother has glaucoma and my brother has it. Will I be able to see? So I seize the good stuff while it’s there.”
She has also been diagnosed with a yeast allergy that makes drinking alcohol an unpleasant experience, finds learning her lines a chore and has spent the last 15 years suffering menopausal hot flushes.
“Doing Harry Potter, I was in a wig and padding, and they had to put this big tube of air conditioning in my face,” she laughs.
The heat could have been an issue when she was on the Malaysian island of Penang, which doubles as the town of Simla in TV One’s Indian Summers – Julie plays Cynthia Coffin, a working-class girl who came to India with her husband and now runs a club for the officers and memsahibs.
But Julie relished every minute. “Time speeds up as you get older because you don’t experience as many new things. Travelling gives you new experiences and broadens your imagination,” she explains.
The irrepressible Ms Walters has just one major acting ambition left – to appear in Coronation Street.
“It’s the only thing I ever watched with my mother when I was about 11. It’s got a real humour,” she says. “I don’t like people being snobbish about soaps. They miss the point – there’s a lot of very good acting and lot of issues are addressed. They have asked me but the timing’s never been right. But one day... It will be a dream come true.”