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Dame Harriet Walter

Danny Scott / 21 September 2021

Harriet Walter is proof that age needn’t be a barrier when it comes to love and ambition. Married for the first time aged 60, the Killing Eve and Succession star is more in demand than ever.

Dame Harriet Walter | Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

You finally got married at 60, to fellow actor Guy Paul. Is love one of those emotions that evolves as we grow older?

Absolutely! As we change, the idea of love changes. It still feels wonderful, but it’s different. There are lots of couples that stay together for the rest of their lives, but it’s becoming much rarer for someone to fall in love at 20 and then love that same person for ever.

How did you meet Guy?

We met when he joined the New York cast of Mary Stuart (on Broadway). I knew that when my partner Peter Blythe died [the actor died of lung cancer in 2004], I wasn’t going to look for someone who could fill his shoes. It took five years on my own before I felt ready, then Guy and I just hit it off. It needed others to point out that something deeper than friendship might be going on. I guess we had both lost touch with the signals that younger people are attuned to and it takes courage to embark on a relationship when you’re older. Neither of us had been married and it still feels like an adventure.

If you were Minister for the Saga Generation, what would you change?

All workplaces would have a mix of younger and older people. It’s one of the things I treasure about my job… people of all ages are thrown together, talking about our lives, exchanging ideas. The way things are now, age is just another one of those stupid things that divides us.

A longer version of this article appeared in the October 2021 issue of Saga Magazine: subscribe today

In Killing Eve (the BBC series starring Jodie Comer as a female assassin, Villanelle), you play Dasha, a vicious, psychopathic killer. Did you ever think you’d add that one to your CV?

Dasha’s behaviour is not a recipe for real life. It’s entertainment. Traditionally, women are supposed to be caring and empathetic, but that doesn’t happen on Killing Eve. Characters such as Dasha and Villanelle are breaking taboos, which is something audiences have always enjoyed watching.

Was it good to work with Jodie again on Ridley Scott’s new film, The Last Duel, out this month?

It’s always fun to work with people you get on with… even if we don’t do quite as much killing in this film! I celebrated my 70th birthday while we were making The Last Duel in Ireland. It was during lockdown, but the whole crew was living together as a bubble, so we managed to have a party at the hotel.

Does that mean you had Matt Damon – who also stars in The Last Duel – at your birthday party?

Sadly, Matt wasn’t there, but I did get a card and a bottle of wine from Ridley Scott. Matt actually celebrated his birthday a few weeks after mine. He was 50. Maybe he’ll start reading Saga Magazine!

TV hit Succession (a satirical drama about a family-owned global media company headed by Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox) is returning to our screens this month. Surely, your character, Caroline, deserves an award for once being married to the tyrannical monster that is Logan?

Caroline can be callous and evasive, but that’s what happens when you’re married to someone like Logan. Unfortunately, I think there are more Carolines and Logans out there than we’d like to admit. Sleepwalking into a marriage with the wrong person; having children for the wrong reasons. Instead of being good parents, Logan and Caroline use the children as pawns in their power game.

Is the quality and quantity of strong female characters getting much better these days?

One of the films I worked on recently, Herself, is completely female-driven. It’s about a single mum, Sandra, [played by Clare Dunne] who’s struggling to find a safe home for her and her two young children. I play Peggy, one of a group of women who find themselves drawn together by the sheer force of Sandra’s will to succeed. It was also directed by a woman, Phyllida Lloyd [Mamma Mia!]. When I was first starting out in my early twenties, films like that simply weren’t getting made. Money talks in this industry and men are only just beginning to appreciate the power of the female purse.

Does life feel better now at 71 than it was in your twenties?

It’s difficult to answer that because in my head I’m still 17. Every now and then, I have to give myself a reality check by looking in the mirror and seeing a face that isn’t 17. I don’t sit there like King Canute, trying to hold back the tides of time and I’m definitely not daunted by old age.

Any ambitions you still want to fulfil?

Loads! Learn Russian, play the piano, study astronomy and the history of Western philosophy. One of the main ingredients of a positive old age is curiosity and the main enemy of curiosity is fear. If I notice fear in myself or my friends, I will always fight it. Even at 70, 80 or 90, it’s important to retain a healthy interest in the world.

What’s the best thing about being a Dame?

You get invited to Buckingham Palace. Prince Charles presented me with my Damehood, but Her Majesty gave me my CBE. I didn’t get to have a long conversation with her, but it was a totally surreal and wonderful day. I just wanted to stay in the Palace for ever. If I’d hung around much longer, they would have had to throw me out.

Looking back over your 71 years, do you have any regrets?

No regrets. This road we’re all on only goes forward, so what’s the point of looking back?

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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