She played Roy Cropper’s wife, Hayley in Coronation Street for 15 years and departed in 2014. Since leaving, Julie Hesmondhalgh has moved on to play a multitude of joyous roles and I had the great pleasure of watching her in her latest project, playing terminal Cancer patient, Vivian in ‘Wit’ at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. I caught up with Julie to find out what ever happened to Hayley’s famous anorak and all sorts of other gossip!
The most important things I want to know first is, did you get to keep Hayley’s famous coat from Corrie?
Yes. I’m waiting for the right opportunity to auction it for charity, but till then I have it.
How does it feel now that you’ve left Hayley behind, do you miss The Street, at all?
I’ve honestly not looked back! It’s been 25 months now and 30 jobs. I loved Hayley, I loved the cobbles, I loved all my mates there (I still do) but it’s been such a lovely rich time for me, work wise, I’ve loved it.
You’ve taken a step into theatre work, now and speaking from experience, you’re doing an amazing job – what was your opinion of your latest character in Wit?
I was very nervous about playing someone so tough and isolated, so in her head and not her heart. I was nervous of the accent (American), the last moment of nudity, of shaving my hair off, of being on stage for the whole 100 minutes…it was probably the most challenging role of my life, but I loved every minute. Vivian in Wit is such an interesting woman, and a female protagonist you see very rarely in culture: a lone wolf, in love only with her work (and even then in quite a dry and joyless way)…I loved playing her. And the ending was incredibly exciting and redemptive and joyful, after all my worrying.
Did you find the role challenging and draining or have you found that playing a character with terminal Cancer comes as second nature having played the storyline in Corrie?
Vivian literally could not have been more different from Hayley, in her relationships, her priorities and her approach to life and death, so it was really different. A lot of people asked me if I found it draining but not at all… as I say, the ending left me high as a kite!
Did you do any research for your role of Vivian in Wit?
Loads. Medically, academically, in every way. I had to study the life and poetry of John Donne and the anatomy of Ovarian cancer, and I had a lot of lines to learn. I started in April last year.
What are the main differences you’re experiencing between working on in front of the camera and working on stage?
I love both. I love the immediacy and seat-of-the-pants terror of theatre, as well as the world of going in to rehearsals and collaborating, and meeting the audience in the bar after the show. I love the world of theatre. But telly is always such a great experience. Always brilliant crews, make up, runners, extras, catering, drivers…it’s a little gang. It always breaks my heart when a job ends. They practically had to carry me off the Cucumber set on the last day. I love radio as well. I’ve done loads this last year and it’s a real joy. I’ve not had a job I’ve not loved. I’ve been so lucky.
Is there a role that you have an ambition to play?
No, I love new writing the best, so I don’t know what the next one is.
Staying with the theatre related questions, is there a particular Director you’d like to work with or a specific theatre you’d like to play?
I’d love to work with Katie Mitchell. I’d love to do something at the Everyman…and The National of course. I did a play upstairs at the Royal Court last year with Vicky Featherstone and that was a dream come true. I loved it there. The people I met in that bar! But I love Manchester the best.
I’m loving your performance in Happy Valley, what was that like to film and how did you enjoy working with Kevin Doyle from Downton Abbey?
Oh, I hardly do anything in Happy Valley but it was such an honour to be offered a part in it and to work with Sally Wainwright and with lovely Kevin. We have some great rows coming up and had a right laugh. Our screen kids were wonderful too.
Would you take a part in another soap opera in the future or do you feel you’ve done your ‘bit’?
I think so! I think I’d be hard pressed to find a part like Hayley again.
What drew you to an acting career in the first place?
A series of fortunate events. A primary school teacher, Mrs Mulderigg, who saw something in me and encouraged me to do English Speaking Board exams, which set me on the path. Then some great teachers at secondary school, then the most inspirational teacher at FE College who made us feel like it was possible to be from Accrington and to be an actor. He opened up a whole world of possibility for us and scores of us from that course went on to Drama schools (there were 5 of us at LAMDA at the same time!) and loads of us are still acting. Seeing loads of theatre with school and college made me fall in love with it all, particularly seeing stuff at the Royal Exchange.
What projects have you got coming up now that you’ve finished your run in Wit?
I’m running an Intergenerational Masterclass at the Exchange next week, I have some radio in the pipeline and a BIG telly in the summer that I can’t tell you about yet! Watch this space.
Favourite Things (give me your first reaction to these questions, please):
Favourite memory from Corrie?
Probably Amsterdam at the start of it all, or Blackpool towards the end, when it felt so precious and special.
David Neilson of course!
Favourite childhood memory?
Big walks with my Mum and Dad on a Sunday in the Lancashire countryside.
Reach by S Club 7 (a family classic)
Favourite way to spend your time off?
On a windy beach with my family and my dog, walking towards a cafe where they sell big mugs of tea.
I’d like to thank Julie for sparing the time to chat with me, she really is an inspirational lady!