Spotlight On… Julie Hesmondhalgh

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.
Favourite co-star?
David Neilson of course!
Favourite childhood memory?
Big walks with my Mum and Dad on a Sunday in the Lancashire countryside.
Favourite song?
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!
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Royal Exchange Theatre ~ Wit

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The naked ambition and witticism of this incredibly moving, informative and real play is to be commended. Written by Margaret Edson and produced by Raz Shaw, Wit brings a missing jigsaw puzzle piece to the line up of productions which are showing across the UK at the moment.

I think if a play forces you to sit back in your seat because its drawing you in so much that your own memories are triggered to such an extent as mine were – then someone’s doing something right! Any play dealing with Cancer may evoke emotions in members of the audience, sadly it’s too common an occurrence in people’s lives. That’s why this production carries such an important message.

Julie Hesmondhalgh takes the lead role of Vivian Bearing, a professor of metaphysical poetry who is arguably obsessed with poet John Donne and indeed her very existence seems to be fuelled by etymology. She’s isolated and diagnosed with stage four ovarian Cancer for which she is taking a particularly potent dose of Chemotherapy, eight doses to be exact and the full dose each cycle. Hesmondhalgh embodies the character, she has her own head shaved and looks every inch the part. The set creates the perfect clinical environment with the space that The Royal Exchange Theatre provides also playing its part in this element.

There is much hub-bub around the staff to-ing and fro-ing, while Bearing comes to terms with the illness that will take her life and reflects back on her life as an academic. I particularly noted that while Harvey Kelekian M.D. (played by Tom Hodgkins) delivered the diagnosis, his voice faded into the background and became a blur as Bearing took in the devastating information. An interesting turn of events develops when Jason Posner M.D. (played by Esh Alladi) who is conducting research into Cancer, reveals that he took Bearing’s course at University because it was such a difficult course. Posner has no bedside manner whatsoever, and indeed shares characteristics with Bearing, as she later considers. In contrast, Jenny Platt’s portrayal of Susie Monahan R.N. B.S.N is ditzy and bubbly, she is not motivated by the highfalutin. Julie Legrand took a superb part as Bearing’s Literature Professor and her latter appearance provides one of the most moving moments when she is the sole visitor to the hospital bed.

Kudos to Georgina Lamb for the movement in this piece, as this goes a long way towards setting each scene and brings the cast together as a team in excellent symmetry.

Wit is on award winning Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 13th February, Julie Hesmondhalgh gives the performance of her career, in my opinion – don’t miss it!

Link to purchase tickets is here: http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/wit

 

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