Seventeen years separate Julie Walters’ two Oscar bids to date — as the eponymous Rita, opposite Michael Caine, in “Educating Rita” (1983) and as the warm-hearted if determined Mrs. Wilkinson in “Billy Elliot” three years ago.
This year, she merits consideration once more for her quietly telling perf as the grief-stricken Annie in “Calendar Girls,” the Yorkshire widow who decides — along with the rest of the Women’s Institute — to pose nude for charity.
“She’s not the sort of woman I normally play,” says Walters, 53. “I’m much more extrovert than Angela Baker.” (Baker is the real-life prototype for Walters’ screen character, Annie.) “But what I loved about playing it was finding her stillness, which offered a bit of a lesson in life for me — to sit there and take things in rather than rushing in, like I normally do, and being scattered.”
Her director, Nigel Cole, liked the idea of casting both Walters and co-star Helen Mirren against type. “I’ve always loved Julie’s work when she’s being serious and always felt that Helen had a terrific sense of humor,” says Cole. “One was aware of what a superb dramatic actress Julie is: She always finds the reality in everything.”
Says Walters: “I think of myself as a strong person, (but) Angela’s is a completely different sort of strength. There’s a lesson in her for all of us in sitting still and watching: how wonderful it is to have a still center.”
Not, mind you, that Walters herself sits still. In 2004, she’ll return as Molly Weasley in the third Harry Potter film: “The Weasleys figure quite heavily in this one; it’s great fun, and I love my boys.” The job, she says, “is really nice because it’s not stressful in any shape or form.” And she and co-star Ciaran Hinds have finished the intriguingly titled “Jonjo Mickybo,” in which she plays Mickybo’s mum.
Coming attractions: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Jonjo Mickybo”