Julie Walters nearly quit playing Mo Mowlam in new Channel 4 drama
Published 20/01/2010 | 08:54
Julie Walters has disclosed that she considered quitting playing Mo Mowlam in a new Channel Four drama based on the former Northern Ireland secretary because she feared she could not do the job properly.
The 59-year-old Mamma Mia star, who has also played real-life roles including Cynthia Payne and Mary Whitehouse, stars in new drama based on her battle with cancer as she fought for peace in Northern Ireland.
The drama documents how Ms Mowlam lied to Prime Minister Tony Blair about the severity of her condition to keep her job.
Speaking at a screening of the TV programme at Bafta in London, Walter said that after studying footage of Ms Mowlam she worried she would not be able to portray her accurately.
"I looked at acres of footage but I was very scared of it because she doesn't look anything like me, so I was very worried that physically I was nothing like her," she said.
"She's got these big, open eyes, I've got tiny, dark, deep-set eyes.
"She was a big woman, she's got a big open face, so I was very scared. But arrogantly, when I read the script, I just said 'yes!'"
She added: "Then I looked at the footage and I thought 'I can't play her. Will people remember her accurately?'
"So I said to Grant, my husband, 'Do you remember how Mo Mowlam spoke?', and he did. He said, 'Yes she's got a much higher pitch, it's much higher than yours', and I thought 'People are going to remember her, I can't do it.'
''And I rang the agent and I said, 'You're going to have to get me out of it, I must be mad to think I can play this. It's like asking Daniel Craig to play Gerry Adams, it's just impossible.'"
She continued ''And there was a big silence on the other end and then he said, 'With respect that's bollocks, get the wig and glasses on and get on with it.'
''But it was fabulous to do because it was a wonderful script, she was just alive in that script.''
Asked why she thought Ms Mowlam had lied, Walters replied: "Exactly why she said. First of all it would be political suicide, and secondly it was what fuelled her life, so it was like holding on to life. She knew what her amazing talent was, connecting with the people, and she had a massive drive and ambition, and she was right in the end - history tells us that."
But writer Neil McKay said it had been wrongly reported that Ms Mowlam chose not to have life-saving surgery when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, so that she could keep working.
"She couldn't have had an operation because the tumour was diffuse - that meant the edges of the cancerous tissue overlapped into the healthy tissue," he said.
"It wasn't true that she opted for radical radiotherapy to keep her going.
"The words in the scene are literally the words that were said .125to her doctor.375. 'What can you do?', 'I can give you radiotherapy and steroids', 'Okay, I trust you'."
The screening was also attended by Ms Mowlam's sister and stepchildren, Labour MPs Harriet Harman and Adam Ingram and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke.