Written by Alison James
Julie Walters is the first to admit that she and her late mother, Mary, didn’t always get on. “Nothing was ever good enough for Mum,” she wrote in her 2008 autobiography, That’s Another Story. “I always felt I’d disappointed her. My brother told me she was jealous of me, of my relationship with my dad.”
But mother and daughter also shared a great love, which Julie was poignantly reminded of while filming her latest movie, Brooklyn (released on November 6). The film, based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín, is set in 1952 and tells the story of a young Irish girl who leaves her native Ireland to begin a new life in Brooklyn, New York. Julie plays Mrs Kehoe, the Irish-born, boarding house landlady who provides her with a home.
“The film had extra resonance for me because of my mum,” Julie explains. “It’s very much her era and, being Irish, she always hankered after going to America which was very much seen as the Promised Land. She always toyed with the idea but ended up coming to the UK instead. She had many friends and relatives who did go to the USA, though, and making the film brought back memories of both them and her. It was a very touching experience and, yes, really reminded me of my mother.”
So did Julie base Mrs Kehoe on her mum? “Not really,” she replies. “I took inspiration from all kinds of women I have known. There’s a bit of my mum in there but also lots of my mum’s friends and some family members. The young girls who come to lodge with Mrs Kehoe are her substitute family and, although she’s quite strict, she’s also very fond of them. Family is so important, isn’t it? It’s where love is and that’s the most important thing in life.”
Fifties’ Brooklyn looks incredibly authentic in the movie but, interestingly, it was filmed in Montreal, Canada, rather than in New York.
“Montreal made a better Fifties’ Brooklyn than today’s Brooklyn would,” Julie explains. “I wasn’t there for long but I really enjoyed it. Getting to spend time in different parts of the world is definitely a bonus where my work is concerned. I mean, here I am now speaking to you on the phone from Malaysia where I’m filming the second series of Indian Summers, which will be out next year on Channel 4. I’d never be in south-east Asia normally. I’m having a fantastic experience here and it feels a bit like I’m on my Gap Year!”
Family is where love is, and that's the most important thing in life
While Julie (65) enjoys being on location, she also loves coming home to the Sussex farm she shares with her husband, Grant.
“Being away always make you appreciate home more, doesn’t it?” she says. “I like having the balance of going away for work and then coming home again. I wouldn’t like it to be all one or the other, although I must say that these days I do like being home more and more. I like my home comforts. It’s not like the old days when I felt I should be working all the time. I don’t want to do that anymore. I have to really, really want to do something in order to take it on. When I get home, I’m going to have a bit of time off and I’ll be cross if something great comes up straightaway. I’d have to think very carefully about whether I’d want to do it or not.”
What with Brooklyn being a film and Indian Summers a TV series, perhaps a meaty role in the theatre is what Julie would like to do next?
“Hmmm, maybe not the West End,” she muses. ‘Eight shows a week is too tiring plus you’re so busy, you never get to see your family. I love working at the National Theatre because you get to do great stuff plus it’s in repertoire so there’s a break in the run and the production stays fresh. There are so many things that would have to be right – the script, the director, the cast... But, yes, perhaps a production at the National would be good.
“I’ve been so lucky throughout my career to have been given some great parts. Parts for older women do tend to be smaller but I really think that's beginning to change. There are more older women in television now – there are more women writers, more women producers and directors in high positions. It is changing. Slowly. But these social changes take time, don’t they? I’m part of the baby boomer generation, though, and we’re still booming! There are more of us which means there are more meaty parts for older women than ever before.”
Long may it – and Julie – continue.