18 Feb 2018

Imelda Staunton: finding her feet

From Sunday Morning, 9:40 am on 18 February 2018

Imelda Staunton is one of the most celebrated English actresses, and her role in Mike Leigh's Vera Drake won a Bafta and an Oscar nomination.

Her latest starring role is in Finding Your Feet with Timothy Spall.

When she spoke to Wallace Chapman she was being served a glass of champagne by a very famous butler.

“I’ve just been served a glass of champagne from Carson from Downton Abbey.”

Staunton has been married to Jim Carter, the actor who plays Carson, for more than thirty years.

They both recently visited New Zealand which, Staunton says, is her second home.

“Oh my god, we loved it.  Every place was better than the last place. It was absolutely stunning.”

She and Carter have had a successful and happy marriage simply because they love each other’s company, she says.

“I think our secret is humour, we make each other laugh all the time.

“He is something that I think is quite rare these days, he’s a really honourable man.”

Her latest role pairs her with Timothy Spall who she has known since drama school.

“He’s always been utterly brilliant …It’s great to look into his eyes and know you’re looking into the eyes of a character.”

Her work with Mike Leigh in Vera Drake changed everything, but more changed the way she approached a role, she says.

“He makes you keep your own counsel. When you’re doing your character, that’s all you think about, you don’t think about anything else but your character. Don’t worry about anyone else, what those actors are doing, you just do your character.”

The role did, though, bring her professional opportunities.

“I don’t think I'd have got Harry Potter [playing Dolores Umbridge] without having had Vera Drake.”

Staunton has always worked, and for woman of her age that would not necessarily be the case in the United States.

“I’m lucky living in this country [England], because our history is theatre. America’s history is film.

"We make character actors here, and I’m a character actress.”

She says she is one of a number of female British actors such as Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench with thriving careers.

“All these actors of great stature and great talent, it has nothing to do with the way they look, whereas in America it seems to be everything to do with the way you look.”

Finding Your Feet also shows Staunton’s skills as a dancer.

“I can dance, and I’ll fight anyone who says I can’t!"