By Shelley Marsden
A characteristically giddy Julie Walters was awarded the Richard Harris Award for outstanding contribution by an actor to British film at Old Billingsgate on Sunday, at the Moët British Independent Film Awards, hosted for the eighth time by Ballymena-born Hobbit star James Nesbitt.
The West Midlands actress, who has starred in Mamma Mia! and the Harry Potter films said she worked with the late Richard Harris, an Irish World award winner, on a film called Mack The Knife which one review had described as a “turd of a movie”.
She said: “I have to say that his wit, his fabulous wit and wisdom and his Albert Hall size knowledge of just about most things turned that piece of something into gold dust for me.”
She added: “He was fantastic. He was just a lovely, really good fun bloke. That’s why it was so special to me to be given this award in his name. I thought yes, got to have that.”
Were there a few hangovers working with the famously hard-drinking actor? “Actually no – he didn’t drink when we were working together. I think he’d stopped, I don’t know. That didn’t really come into it.”
Walters, whose mother Mary was Irish, said one of her toughest but most memorable roles was in the title role in Channel 4’s Mo about the late Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland secretary, for which she won an Emmy.
“The script was a big shock, in that it was amazing. I wanted to do it, and asked my husband if he could remember how Mo Mowlam spoke and he said yes, she had a sort of high-pitched voice… I knew I had to get a voice close to hers. I felt it was who she was.
She added: “I didn’t want to do an impersonation but the voice, the way she moved was who she was. I rang the agency, ready to withdraw from it, I just didn’t think I had it in me; I thought I don’t look like her, nobody will believe me. My husband looked at me and said, ‘With respect, boll***. Put your wig and glasses on and get on with it.” And I did.”
She’s worked with some of the greats, but asked who’s still on her wish-list, the 63 year old said: “Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese… but I don’t look at it like that. It’s about the script, about finding some kind of truth. Then you look at the director – ok, he’s alright, then who’s in it, are they gits? No, they’re alright.
“I’m choosy because there are less thrusting roles for people my age, and I also don’t take everything I’m offered because I like my home life. I like putting my feet up with a cup of camomile tea.”
Captain Philips director Paul Greengrass picked up the Variety Award on the night (for an actor, director, writer or producer who has helped shine the international spotlight on the UK). Speaking of his career to date, he said his 2002 film Bloody Sunday, about the events in Derry in 1972, was a turning point in his career.
He said: “Independent film is the wellspring that drives the industry, and I remember very clearly being honoured at these awards with Jimmy [Nesbitt] for Bloody Sunday. That made a huge impact on me – it made me feel like I was part of a huge community of filmmakers, involved in a shared project.”
The Special Jury Prize went to Sixteen Films & Friends (AKA Team Loach), in recognition of their contribution in bringing the work of Ken Loach, an Irish World Award winner, to life. The team said two of the most challenging films to bring to life were those Loach has shot in Ireland.
They said of Wind That Shakes the Barley, the 2006 film about Republicans in early 20th century Ireland:“It was very difficult because it’s the perfect example of the way we collectively work. The good guys and the bad guys can’t see each other, so they’re working in two different places. That can get complicated. It was also fifty miles between each location. But it was a wonderful experience and we knew we were working on something special.”
For the full report, buy the next Irish World newspaper out this Wednesday, 11 December 2013.