Interview: Julie Walters: Julie is a real character

Julie Walters is taking over our screens with a range of roles which fully demonstrate her versatility

Marjory is so house-proud she uses surgical gloves to clean up dog-hairs from the carpet. All the while compulsively folding tea-towels, she sneers at her in-laws' lack of refinement: "They've no culture at all. First time I went down there, they were having their dinner and there was a pan stuck on the table. When it comes to evolution, they're scarcely above the pig-sty level." Yet this apparently normal housewife is concealing a far from normal secret about her husband's nocturnal activities.

Welcome to the double-edged world of Talking Heads 2. Writer Alan Bennett has created a whole world peopled by characters who say one thing but mean another. "Double-meaning" could be the motto of Bennettworld. As Mark Shivas, the series' producer, puts it: "Very often, you realise that the character you are watching is not what you thought and they slowly emerge in a very different light."

Some people have wondered how Bennett, now a well-off writer, can continue to tap into these mainly lower-middle-class characters. But Julie Walters, perfectly cast as the obsessive Marjory in "The Outside Dog", this week's contribution to Talking Heads 2, has no doubt: "He still lives up north where he's in touch with a lot of these sorts of people. He must soak up their language like a sponge. Also, he gets a lot of deep inspirations from his childhood, which is such an intensive, formative time. Sometimes, when I'm acting, I think, `Oh, I've picked that up from so and so'. It's the same when Alan's writing."

Walters refutes the image of Bennett as a comfortable writer. "There is this image of him sitting in nice Harrogate hotels having tea and talking about cardigans, but it's wrong. He's not cosy."

In fact, she says, he is a writer of darkness and complexity, and Walters can only admire the levels of significance that lie beneath Bennett's apparently simple dialogue. "Marjory is not facing up to things. She is keeping people at bay with her cleaning. She's washing everything away. She can't allow herself just to sit down and think. She speaks in this parochial language which conceals layers of God knows what. The most awful fears must be going on, but she keeps everything suppressed.

"Alan has this fascination with ordinary folk. He has a genius for ordinary language with layers of intricate, psychological stuff underneath. He's a very intelligent man, brought up in a working-class background, so he can look at ordinary life very creatively. Viewers take it in because they see elements of themselves in these characters. He has a way of getting the extraordinary out of the ordinary."

Which, as it happens, also stands as a pretty good summary of Walters' own attributes. In whatever part she has played - from the self-improving hairdresser in Educating Rita to the misunderstood mother in Jake's Progress - she has elevated the mundane to the mesmerising. In her hands, the girl next-door becomes someone exceptional.

Sitting in the splendid surroundings of the tea-room at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, the actress says she is attracted to playing "ordinary women, because that's what I was surrounded by as a child, that's my family. If you are fascinated by life, you drink in these people because somewhere in them is an answer to your own questions. It sounds pretentious, but any kind of art involves self-expression. I don't mean I'm an artist," she adds hastily. "A piss-artist, maybe."

Walters has a deserved reputation for comedy - her collaborations with Victoria Wood over the years have produced many classic humorous roles such as the hopeless cleaner, Mrs Overall, in the "Acorn Antiques" spoof- soap sketches, and the snooty actress in Pat and Margaret. Another one is promised in Wood's fist sitcom, dinnerladies, to be broadcast on BBC1 next month.

"It's a situation comedy, but it's a funny one - which is unusual," Walters explains. "It's set in a works canteen, and I play Victoria's mother. I had her when I was 13. Now I live in a caravan on the forecourt of a petrol station and it's an absolute tip. I'm refined, but I look like a wino. I only ever appear when there's trouble in my life. In one episode, I come in handcuffed to a policeman, and all I can say to my daughter is: `If you look in the caravan on the chemical toilet, you'll find half a shepherd's pie under a cardigan. I don't think the mince will go another day.' That sums up the character."

Some of Walters' most memorable performances, however, have actually been in more serious roles - think of the downtrodden wife in Boys from Black Stuff or the woman with ME in Wide-Eyed and Legless. Why is she so drawn to sad characters? "The things you want to crack are disturbing. That's what fascinates us. We don't want to analyse happy things because they might go away."

In the coming months we are going to be treated to something of a Waltersfest. She is playing a Northern Irish housewife peace-campaigner in the feature film, Titanic Town, Mrs Mann in Alan Bleasdale's version of Oliver Twist, and the Fairy Godmother in Jack and the Beanstalk, adapted by Simon Nye for ITV.

For all her successes as one of our finest character actresses, however, Walters has never been tempted to hawk her wares around Hollywood. "I can't think of anything worse than that sort of existence," she grimaces. "I would have to have had at least two face-lifts by now, and they wouldn't know what to do with me. I'm not saying I wouldn't go if Jack Nicholson offered me a starring role opposite him. But he hasn't rung once. The fool."

`The Outside Dog', this week's `Talking Heads 2', is on Tuesday, BBC2 at 9.50pm. The video, CD, cassette and book of the series are released through BBC Worldwide. `dinnerladies' starts next month on BBC1

James Rampton

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower