Words: Alison James Pic: REX
It’s fortunate that Juliet Stevenson enjoys the challenge of playing characters vastly different to herself, as The Village’s haughty, matriarchal Lady Clem Allingham is her polar opposite.
With the second series of the ITV show set to be released on DVD, Juliet says: “It would be so boring playing various versions of myself – that’s the last thing I want. I feel it’s my job to get inside Lady Clem’s head and try to humanise her – as it is with every character I play. I don’t judge her, but try to understand her and why she does what she does. Having said that, she’s patently not always likeable and very much a product of her time and class. I can’t imagine she and I would ever be friends were we to meet!”
Friendship is of enormous importance to Juliet (58). “Loyalty is probably the quality I value most in friends,” she says. “And I like to think that I’m a good, loyal friend myself. I’m still in touch with people I was at school with and I’ve known my best friend since I was 18. She is godmother to my daughter and I’m godmother to her son. I take friendship very seriously.
“I didn’t have many serious long-term relationships until I met my husband, Hugh, in 1993, so throughout my teens and 20s, I relied on my friends for my ‘heart life’, if you know what I mean – my emotional support. All friendship is precious, but female friendship especially so.”
There’s one thing Juliet has in common with Lady Clem though and that’s devotion to her children, Rosalind, 20, and son Gabriel, 14 – although Juliet’s is based on unconditional love rather than ambition.
“Being a mum means everything to me,” she reveals. “It’s this all-consuming, unflinching, overwhelming, unconditional passionate love that absolutely nothing can dent or dim. Becoming a mother is such a deep, intrinsic part of human experience and, to be honest, I don’t know how I would have managed without it. Your children’s welfare becomes your priority, your focus – everything else is secondary. I feel my kids rescued me in a way. You stop being so self-obsessed when you’re a parent which is, I feel, a very good thing when you’re in this profession.”
‘I’m still in touch with people I was at school with and I’ve known my best friend since I was 18’
Would Juliet be worried if either of her children followed in her thespian footsteps? “A bit,” she admits. “Rosalind enjoys acting and is good at it, and for while it was what she wanted to do but now she seems keener on pursuing a more academic career. She’s studying English Literature at Oxford and, yes, it’s a relief in a way that she’ll probably do something rather than act. My son’s done a few plays on the radio but he’s only 14 so who knows what he’ll do eventually.
“Of course, if they really want to act, I’ll support them every step of the way but it is incredibly hard. I have been so lucky but I have many very talented friends who haven’t worked enough or done stuff they’re worthy of. It’s so sad to see all this talent and intelligence not getting what it needs. There’s too much of that in this profession to make a parent blissfully happy about their children going into it. Of course some young actors do incredibly well but as a mum or dad, you’re bound to worry – especially these days. It seems now that those who are successful become successful incredibly quickly. That’s great but will they still be working at 42 or 64?”
Would she still be an actor if she were starting out now?
“That’s an interesting question,” she muses. “I guess I would because it was as if I had very little choice in the matter. Acting was a compulsion. It still is and I passionately believe the arts have a huge part to play in life – they help us to understand why people do what they do. But there are times as I get older when I think I should retrain as a midwife and go and help deliver babies in war-torn areas or something equally essential. Life is so horrific for so many of the world’s population I sometimes think my time would be better spent entertaining children in a refugee camp. That would be a really good use of my time.”
Next for Juliet is the second part of the latest series of Atlantis, due to air some time this Spring on BBC1, where she plays The Oracle. She also stars alongside Timothy Spall in a spooky three-part series called The Enfield Hauntings, also due to air this Spring on Sky.
The Village: Series 2 is available now, courtesy of Entertainment One.
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