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A Life in Television: Julie Walters

4 December 2014

Find out more about Julie Walters' fascinating career in television. 

Event: A Life in Television: Julie Walters, sponsored by RathbonesDate: Wednesday 3 December 2014Venue: BAFTA, 195 PiccadillyHost: James RamptonBAFTA/Jamie Simonds

Watch highlights from the Event here 

Listen to the Event in Full

Download the transcript of A Life in Television: Julie Walters

BAFTA’s new strand of live onstage events was launched with the career celebration of the multi-BAFTA-winning actress, Julie Walters CBE.  Hosted by journalist and critic James Rampton and interspersed with highlights reels from Walters’ prolific career, the BAFTA: A Life in Television interview provided an entertaining and enlightening insight into the craft of the BAFTA Fellow.

Walters began by discussing her origins at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre Company in the 1970s, working alongside future industry stalwarts Pete Postlethwaite, Bill Nighy and Willy Russell. “The Everyman was a real community,” Julie explained, “it felt ground-breaking. Theatre was where I wanted to be; I wanted to be on a stage. I never thought about television at that time.” 

Strong women are the most exciting characters to play…they appeal to me.

It was when Lewis Gilbert asked Walters to reprise her stage role of Rita White in the cinematic adaptation of Willy Russell’s play that the actress was introduced to the silver screen. “The first big transition for me was Educating Rita. Gilbert came along and said, ‘I’ve seen the play and I’d really like you to play the part but you’re not a star, so that could be a problem.’” The producers had originally wanted Dolly Parton and Paul Newman to portray the student and professor, but after securing “a star” (Michael Caine) they finally asked Walters to be involved. Despite receiving international critical acclaim for her performance, Walters revealed that “I thought I was terrible in it and I still find it quite difficult to watch…it was a big learning curve that film.”

Continuing to reminisce about her varied and illustrious career, Walters spoke at length about the writing prowess of Victoria Wood and modestly assured the audience that their partnership was not a collaboration of equal measure: “In actual fact, she’s really really clever and writes it…and I just do it. I mean, I interpret it a bit, as you do as an actor.”

In a similarly self-effacing style, Walters recalled how she “went up to the end of the room and cried”, on the day of filming her dance number with Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot, and how she “nearly kicked [herself] to death” trying to learn the tap dance in Stepping Out, alongside the “sensational” Liza Minnelli. (Walters was BAFTA-nominated for both of these performances, winning the BAFTA for Billy Elliot in 2001.) 

Fame is misinterpreted…as if it’s something wonderful. People don’t realise how precious anonymity is until it’s gone.

As Rampton introduced a touching montage of tributes to Walters, featuring the likes of Hugh Bonneville, Victoria Wood and Rupert Grint, Walters offered her parting advice to budding actors: “It’s not an easy road. There’s a lot of rejection in it. Keep your feet on the ground. If you become famous, don’t believe the hype. And if you’re struggling, then keep your faith.” Julie Walters: A national treasure? “Oh yes”, she started, “I’d rather be viewed like that than people thinking I was an old bag.”

Julie Walters will be the subject of an hour-long in-depth TV special, which will be broadcast on BBC Two on 24 December 2014, at 9.30pm. The programme is co-produced by Whizz Kid Entertainment and BAFTA Productions.

Julie Walters' Biography

Julie Walters continues to impress audiences and critics alike with a breath of outstanding performances across television, film and the stage. Over the course of her career she has earned a multitude of awards including seven BAFTAs and a BAFTA Fellowship, a Golden Globe, an Olivier, two International Emmys and two Academy Award nominations.

Walters started her career in television with writer and fellow comedienne Victoria Wood. In 1982 they became the first female comedy duo to have their own television series with sketch show Wood and Walters. Their fruitful partnership went on to score success with the likes of Pat and Margaret (1994) and the BAFTA-winning Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV (1985). It also led to the creation of some of British comedy's most colourful characters including the iconic Mrs Overall in soap spoof Acorn Antiques (1987) and the eccentric Petula Gordino in Dinnerladies (1998). 

In 1983 Walters' exceptional perfomance in Willy Russell's Educating Rita opposite Michael Caine brought her worldwide critical acclaim, resulting in her first BAFTA win as well as a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. She has since become an internationaly recognised television and film icon whose warm, infectious spirit and self-deprecating sense of humour have captivated audiences around the world. 

Walters' versatility as an actress has been demonstrated by her ability to adapt her craft across myriad roles in some of Britain's most celebrated comedy such as Julie Walters and Friends (1991) followed by numerous raw and gritty dramas including her BAFTA-winning performance in My Beautiful Son (2001), Murder (2002) and The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath (2003). Her stellar performance in Billy Elliot (2000) as the strict yet encouraging dance teacher earned another BAFTA win and her second Academy award nomination. 

Other notable works include The Jury II (2011) and the dishevelled Mistress Quickly in The Hollow Crown (2012), a mini-series of adaptations of Shakespeare's history plays. A heavy contrast from fun loving Rosie in the smash hit Mamma Mia! in 2008, the same year Walters was awarded a CBE for services to drama. 

More recently Walters has delighted family audiences in films including Brave (2012) but it is undoubtablly the caring and moterhly Mrs Weasley in the global phenomenon Harry Potter films that has brought her wider audience recognition. Coming back to television, Walters has continued to deliver a range of compelling performances in hard-hitting dramas such as Ahead of the Class (2005), Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008), A Short Stay in Switzerland (2009) and her momentous portrayal of Mo Mowlam in Mo, which won her the Leading Actress award in 2010. 

This year Walters recieved the BAFTA Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding and exceptional contribution to the moving image industries. In early 2015, she will star in Channel 4's epic period drama Indian Summers, which tells the story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India. 

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