An Interview with Julie Christie
Updated: Sep 25
Julie Christie is one of cinema’s most legendary and iconic actresses. Having won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1966 for her performance in Darling, Julie has provided us with some of the most memorable characters in cinema; aimlessly skipping through the streets of Bradford as Liz in Billy Liar; Constance Miller, a cockney Madame running a high-class brothel alongside a gambler in McCabe & Mrs. Miller; a political activist’s wife who embarks on an illicit affair with a Doctor during the Russian Revolution in Doctor Zhivago; the bereaved Laura Baxter, mourning the loss of her daughter in Don’t Look Now; a fireman’s suspicious wife and schoolteacher in Fahrenheit 451; a newlywed socialite in an abusive relationship in San Francisco during the summer of love in Petulia; the wilfull Bathsehba Everdene, who inherits her uncle’s farm and becomes romantically involved with a shepherd, a farmer and a soldier in Far From the Madding Crowd; Lady Trimingham, who is aided by a young go-between to exchange messages and letters with her farmer neighbour in a tale of forbidden love in The Go-Between; an environmental activist in Heaven Can Wait; Gertrude, Queen of Denmark in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet; Phyllis Hart, a former actress in Afterglow; a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s in Away from Her, and many, many more. I spoke with Julie about landing her first role, playing Laura Baxter in Don’t Look Now, collaborating with Robert Altman, John Schlesinger and Warren Beatty, and the best piece of advice she’s received.
Did you always want to pursue a career in acting, and how did you land your first role?
Yes, I did always want to become an actress. Heaven knows why, as my first five years were spent in Assam, India. I went to drama school and had acquired a very good agent, Philip Pearman, who was married to the actress, Coral Browne. He probably put me up for early TV stuff including a series called A for Andromeda, my first leading role.
Is there anyone in the industry who has particularly inspired you?
I am constantly inspired by the fantastic acting I am seeing, particularly in TV series. Early on it was stage actors - Peter O’Toole in the Long, the Short and the Tall, and Richard Burton in Hamlet, Paul Scofield in King Lear - all men until Glenda Jackson in Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade.
You won an Academy Award for your performance as Diana Scott in Darling. How did this affect the roles you were offered? Well, anyone who wins an Oscar is described thereafter as ‘Oscar-winning So-and-so’ which seems to impress everyone.
Don't Look Now is a harrowing portrayal of grief and loss. Was the role of Laura Baxter physically draining?
Not really. I had such a good time with Nick Roeg, the director, and Tony Richmond the DP, in Venice and loved working with Donald Sutherland. So, no hardship.
You also played a role in the 1977 horror film Demon Seed. What drew you to working in horror?
I don’t think of films as ‘horror films.’ My choice of film to make is based on the director, not the genre.
I particularly like your performance as Lara in Doctor Zhivago. Could you tell me more about your experience working on the film?
A year in Spain! Not bad. Nick Roeg as DP, Tony Richmond as ADP, the lovely Tom Courtenay and Geraldine Chaplin and the brilliant Rod Steiger - not a bad bunch to spend a year with. In the safe hands of David Lean, too.
You frequently collaborated with directors such as Robert Altman, John Schlesinger and Warren Beatty. What was the process like working with them?
Robert Altman was a wonderful man and broadened the life-experience of everyone involved. Schlesinger was my dear friend; we were a team. And Warren? When you know someone that well, you feel free to say exactly what you want!
How have the roles you've been attracted to changed over the course of your career?
I began to turn down roles if I felt the women fell into accepted patterns of womanhood.
What's the best piece of advice you've received, and would you give this piece of advice yourself to someone pursuing an acting career?
For me when I started it was “Don’t smile so much, Julie!” I had a great big mouth and a great big smile and obviously thought it could get me through anything!
© Oliver Webb 2020