Monday, 30 November -0001

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: DAME HARRIET WALTER

…is an English actress. Her career started on the stage, starring in numerous productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has also appeared in film and on television. London with her actor husband Guy Paul.

What are you working on at the moment?
A new play called Boa by Clara Brennan. It’s a portrait of a marriage between a British woman and an American man, played by my American husband Guy Paul – so nothing like life at all!

When are you at your happiest?
When I am not looking for it – when I just look up and realise, ‘there it is!’. Happiness is usually a nice surprise.

What is your greatest fear?
Wasting time – or wasting my life. I’ve always been very driven.

What is you earliest memory?
I remember being wrapped in a blanket and put in my pram for an afternoon sleep, outdoors. I can still feel the Petersham edging on the pram hood.

What do you most dislike about yourself?
My impatience. I’ve got a very short fuse.

Who has been your greatest influence?
My grandmother – she was also driven. She had my sort of ambition without my opportunities, and therefore, wanted me to go as far as I could.

What is your most treasured possession?
My stuffed monkey – I’ve had him since I was little.

What trait do you most deplore in others?
Fundamentalism, of any creed. A focus that excludes all other lines of thought.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My ankles: I haven’t got any.

What is your favourite book?
Little Dorrit. Dickens is a genius. He combines social anger with dark humour and his sense of character is extraordinary. He is a perfect actors’ writer. His illustrations of people: ‘postbox mouths’ or titling them ‘Aged Parent’.

What is your favourite film?
Don’t Look Now. It’s a treatise on the psychology of grief. Its structure, the flashbacks and flash forwards remind me of Boa. The play shows us a whole marriage – the audience sees 30 years in an hour and a half.

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And your favourite piece of music?

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

What is your favourite meal?
Paella with just fish. I gave up eating meat 30 years ago.

Who would you most like to come to dinner?
Ellen DeGeneres: she makes me laugh and she’s never mean. I nearly said Dorothy Parker but I think she’d eat me alive – as well as her dinner.

What is the nastiest thing anyone has ever said to you?
‘You’ve got no ankles.’

Do you believe in aliens?
I wouldn’t rule anything out – it’d be a mad coincidence if we were the only intelligent life in the universe.

What is your secret vice?
Supermarket tabloids if the cover story makes me curious – but then I have to wash my hands in case their mean mindedness rubs off on me.

Do you write thank-you notes?
Yes: I’m very good that way and I get upset if other people don’t. I have been known to write a thank-you letter four months late, because my conscience will suddenly shout at me ‘you never wrote to so-and-so!’. I’m a great believer in better late than never.

Which phrase do you most overuse?
‘I dunno’.

What would most improve the quality of your life?
Reminding myself every day how little my life needs improving. I am very lucky; it’s always a good thing to remember that and feel grateful.

Tell us one thing people might not know about you.
That I giggle and behave like a six-year-old a lot of the time. Many people think I’m quite serious until they meet me.

What would you like your epitaph to read?
‘She gave it her best shot’.

Dame Harriet Walter is in Boa at Trafalgar Studios until 7 March. For tickets: 0844-871 7632.


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