A chat with Julia McKenzie

THE CASUAL VACANCY comes to Blu-ray™ and DVD from 15th June 2015


Interview with Julia McKenzie (plays Shirley Mollison)


How would you describe Shirley Mollison?

Shirley Mollison is the mother-in-law from hell and one of the village’s leading lights. She thinks she is the village leading light. Everybody in the village seems to want to be the leading player, and she certainly is. Her husband of course is wonderful, avuncular Howard, and everybody thinks good old Howard, but they’re Machiavellian really.

She’s so against the grain of the types of characters you’ve generally played.

It is such a different part for me, so this has been wonderful fun because she’s violently different.  You can see through this woman in a second; the whole front and the whole face, the outfits.  She thinks it gives the village tone. She’s a great social climber.

What I like about it, is that she appears to be in control. She lives on her nerves. She obviously manages Howard and this is her anchor. There’s obviously a great jealousy towards her daughter-in-law, Samantha (Keeley Hawes). That’s why Shirley grabs hold of Miles and Samantha’s children a great deal. Every time there’s a situation, Shirley can control it, before Samantha controls it.

Shirley’s relationship with Keeley Hawes’ character, Samantha, is a wonderful dynamic.  How was playing that together?

The pair of us laughed so much that we had to get that out of our systems. That anyone would have the nerve to say some of the things that Shirley says to Samantha. It’s very good comedy writing, but you have to put it well into context with the character of course, otherwise you’d be firing off one-liners here and there. You’ve got to be within the scene and who you’re talking to. They’re wonderful characters, we were very grateful.


How much do you draw on your experiences with other people to play this type of role?

It’s an excellent script and the character does jump off the page, there’s hardly any research to do.  I have to say, I have known a couple of people like this. What Sarah Phelps has managed to do is to make it quite funny, and also quite real, but there are some devastating lines.

There is a spectrum of narrative that goes on.  On the one hand it’s incredibly dark and then is populated by moments of humour. How important is that would you say?

It’s important to any viewer, this balance. This is enlivened a good deal. A very good description was given me by the director, Jonny Campbell, that it’s a sort of modern Dickens. I think that’s about the truest thing. Sarah has certainly given a great deal of life to the characters.


You and Michael have a wonderful on-screen marriage.  Have you worked together before?

Yes, I’ve done a couple of productions with Michael. The trouble with Michael is that he just makes me laugh so much. I was going to take the summer off because I’d been working pretty heftily.  Then the script came along and I told my manager that it looked very nice, but I didn’t want to work and wanted to take time off.  He said I’d be playing Michael’s wife and I said, well I’ll do it then!  He’s such a pleasure to be with and makes such a lovely atmosphere on set.

 THE CASUAL VACANCY, based on the global bestselling novel by J.K. Rowling, released on Blu-ray™ and DVD on 15th  June 2015.

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