“There’s no room for emotions when you’re recording the nominations, because it might sound as though you want someone to win.”
Former Olivier Award winner Julie Walters – the bronze Larry statuette is just one of the many prizes she has won in the course of an acclaimed career – has just finished her contribution to the Olivier Awards 2014 with MasterCard.
Far away from the glamour of the red carpet and the excitement-packed hustle and bustle of the Royal Opera House, in a tiny Soho studio, the actress has just recorded the all-important voiceovers for this Sunday’s glamorous ceremony. It was, she says, a “lovely” experience.
Though, ever the professional, she kept any telltale signs of favouritism out of her so easily recognisable voice, she does let slip to me that she’d be delighted if her The Last Of The Haussmans co-star Rory Kinnear picked up the Best Actor Award for his performance as Iago in Othello.
She hasn’t, however, seen any of the productions nominated this year. Living out in West Sussex, she says, is not conducive with regular trips to the theatre. It’s a shame, as she is passionate about stage performance: “There’s nothing like live theatre,” she says. “The whole experience, the audience are seeing something unique that night. It’s important we don’t lose it; there’s a relationship between the performer and the audience that’s unlike anything else. Audiences have to work a bit more in theatre than they do watching a film. Something is asked of you. I think that’s important.”
Walters knows a thing or two about theatre. While many may know her for unforgettable screen performances including Acorn Antiques’ Mrs Overall, Harry Potter’s Molly Weasley or Billy Elliot’s Mrs Wilkinson, it was on the stage of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre that she forged the beginnings of her successful career. Her BAFTA-winning performance in Educating Rita was first seen on stage; she received an Olivier Award nomination for it.
“I didn’t get into the business to win awards,” she tells me, “but it’s great to have them.” She has many, among them a Golden Globe, a clutch of BAFTAs, a pair of Emmys and, of course, an Olivier for her performance in All My Sons.
“That was a particularly special experience,” she explains. “That was definitely very very special for me. The writing was amazing, the actors and direction stunning. It was utterly moving, but so accessible. At the end of the evening you could hear crying from all around, people just sitting there in their seats. It was emotionally great. Draining, but very rewarding.”
Sadly for Walters, she couldn’t be at the Oliviers that year to collect her award. She was working. In her absence the show’s director Howard Davies collected it on her behalf. “He’s still got it!” she laughs. “I worked with him again on The Last Of The Haussmans. I kept thinking ‘I must ask him to bring my award in’, but I forgot!” Maybe she’ll get a replacement Larry for her sterling voiceover work instead.
“I’m not massively ambitious anymore,” she says. “I don’t want to work all the time.” Her on stage appearances, then, may become rarer and rarer. Three month runs don’t hold the appeal they used to when she was a younger actress eager to prove herself. Nowadays a run in rep at the National Theatre – a few days on, a few days off – is far more appealing. I get the impression it would have to be an extremely intriguing project to lure her in from West Sussex every day.
As for the Oliviers, she’s excited to see which of her peers walk off with an award on Sunday evening and she’s full of praise for the role this most prestigious of awards ceremonies plays in spreading the theatrical word: “It shines a light on the business, it glamorises it,” she concludes, “and it’s great for people to be rewarded for their work, for really good work.”
The Olivier Awards 2014 with MasterCard takes place on Sunday 13 April at the Royal Opera House. To follow the action live, join the celebration at Covent Garden Piazza where the ceremony will be streamed live to big screens or follow Official London Theatre on Twitter. Highlights of the ceremony, which features live performances from musical nominees, opera star Joseph Calleja, Broadway icon Bernadette Peters and ABBA’s Benny and Björn joining the cast of Mamma Mia! will be screened on ITV at 22:15.