Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

In conversation with Jenny Agutter

She made her debut in Seventies in The Railway Children and has recently won a new army of fans in TV's Call The Midwife. We quiz her about her new blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and a film project with Nicole Kidman

Movie star: Jenny Agutter
Movie star: Jenny Agutter
Jenny Agutter and Judy Parfitt

What's been the most interesting element of filming Call the Midwife: series three?

It's been fascinating delving further into that period of time, the late Fifties, just seeing the changes that were coming about, especially the medical changes – very particularly discovering Cystic Fibrosis, and also dealing with Down's Syndrome. It was a world that was very different, and Sister Julienne (Agutter's character) faces everything; all the difficulties of the East End and peoples' lives.

How has Sister Julienne changed over the years?

I'm not sure that she's changed in herself. I always refer back to what Heidi (Thomas) [Call the Midwife writer] has created in the character, and the notes I had from the niece of Sister Jocelyn, who's the person that Julienne is based on. Those are a guidance in terms of who she is.

What is different in series three is there's much more confrontation for Sister Julienne with things that touch her more emotionally. Sister Bernadette losing her desire to remain within the order, and then marrying, and how that touches her. The whole thing of having to move from one place to another. She's piled with much more work too (laughs), which makes it harder for her. The thing that underlines everything, though, is still her sense of enjoying people and that gentle humour of just seeing the best in everything.

Aside from the childbirth element, why has Call The Midwife touched a chord with so many people?

You have a community, a very specific community.

I remember watching a Satyajit Ray film; it was about a family in Calcutta, and what struck me was how I totally identified with this family and their problems, even though they were culturally completely on another side of the world with a whole different background. It was their nature that one looked at, and their emotional struggles, not necessarily the political, religious and all the other things one thinks of.

Centrally, one's also got the babies and that extraordinary hope; every time a child is born, you are moved by it because you feel for them... 'Maybe we can make it better'. There's always that sense of joy.

There's a lot of humour in Call the Midwife as well. Not outrageous humour but the human element of seeing things through by taking them lightly at times.

Tell us about the ripple of controversy you caused on Avengers Assemble.

Oh my God! People picked up on me saying something about names on Winnebagos, which went completely viral, because they thought I'd said somebody (Spider-Man) was in it (the film) that wasn't in it (laughs).

It's good to see your World Council character return for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

What I've done is played the same role, but she's not a shady character. World Council members are described as 'shadowy', as they are when you look at them in the cartoon strips; they are literally shadowy – they literally create these shadowed characters that you can't quite see; you don't really know about the background.

I guess it's sort of like a futuristic United Nations; a global group of people who were meant to be guiding the future. And it's a tiny role, but it was just lovely to have the chance to go back and play the same character again in Captain America.

Will we see more of you in the movie instead of on a video screen, as in Avengers Assemble?

Actually a lot of it will be on screen, but it's 'as flesh' on screen, and I think there's a moment or two in the actual flesh.

Would you like to see your Marvel character in a 'one-shot' short film?

Of course! It's great fun to do that. Absolutely.

Can we expect an autobiography one day?

No, I've kind of steered away from it, partly because of the time and also investing one's mind in the past as opposed to the present. I'm also a very, very slow writer (laughs).

You're currently soaking up the sun in Tobago, but what are you working on next?

I've got to get back to England immediately. I'm playing Nicole Kidman's stepmother in Queen of the Desert. It's a nice role; a cameo part in a film by Werner Herzog. He's a terrific director, so it's very exciting from that point of view. So I get back (to the UK), go straight to a costume fitting and go filming the next day.

Finally, many think you're worthy of a Bafta fellowship. What would be your response if it was offered?

That's a very nice suggestion. I would accept (laughs).

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