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`MIDDLE-AGE’ ROLES ARE JUST FINE FOR ENGLISH ACTRESS

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American movie stars may complain that reaching age 40 is the show business kiss of death, but English actress Julie Walters doesn't worry about getting older. And, despite the floundering British film industry, she has no desire to try and crash Holly-wood.

Best known in America for her Oscar-nominated title role in "Educating Rita," Walters enjoys and prefers "middle-age-character" parts."They're the most interesting," Walters said in a telephone interview from a Boston hotel. "I've never gone for any kind of glamorous or romantic roles. I've always gone for interesting people, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances."

She acknowledges, however, that it might be different for actresses in this country. "I don't know if they (the public) are so much in love with youth in England and Europe. And for the moment at least, the parts are just as good - if not better - than they were in my earlier days. I've always been all right. There are a lot more women writers now, and women producers and directors."

Walters has been traveling around the United States to promote her new film, "The Wedding Gift" (opening at the Cineplex Odeon Broadway Centre theater on Friday, Aug. 26), in which she plays Diana Longden, a real-life character in a true story - a woman suffering from an unknown disease who uses her quirky sense of humor to survive.

"The reason I took the film was because I loved the humor of it," she explained. "That was unusual. It was very moving, and reading it was very moving. The two things were very finely balanced and that's hard to achieve without being in bad taste. It worked.

"And the other thing was that the character was somebody who was completely exhausted but the dialogue came from this huge energy, and that was a challenge - to be exhausted but to have that spirit."

There were elements of the script's first draft, however, that seemed to use a bit too much humor, given the dark nature of the story. "It did scare me a bit and we did take out some of the humor. Do you remember the `Carry On' films (a silly, off-the-wall and often tasteless slapstick comedy movie series). I remember thinking that this is like `Carry On Dying.'

"And some jokes had to go because there wasn't, realistically, room to act them. She was a very funny woman, Diana, and (her husband) Derek was a funny man. But sometimes you felt there was one gag too many, and you can't crack a joke after she's choked in the bath. But after (the script was reworked), it was very well-balanced."

That attention to detailed characterization is also something that distinguishes European cinema, Walters said. "We love American films. But we also like character movies. We're sort of interested in people. We're more interested in one another."

Unfortunately, the British film industry is not what it once was. "It's hard to describe films in England anymore. There's the BBC and Ch. 4, and they make films and hope that some will be distributed theatrically. Some aren't, of course, but the BBC was so pleased with this one that there was no chance it would not be distributed."

As for the lure of Hollywood - Walters says it isn't for her. "No. I'm sent things from time to time and I could have stayed (in America after `Educating Rita'). But I have work - and I'm English, basically. More work is going to be in England - and the most interesting work is going to be there. The best American roles aren't going to be offered to me. Meryl Streep took all my parts."

Walters said she liked the mix of comedy and drama in "The Wedding Gift," a unique opportunity to blend the two in one film. "I'm still known for comedy but I've done quite a lot of straight roles. I can tell when I meet people in the street in England that they know the comedies, though - they want to crack a joke."

And though Americans might not know Walters, she is quite well-known in England. "I don't mix in the high society social circles. I live in the country in a small community - I'm the actor, the local celebrity. I don't go to premieres and such. You know, at every premiere it looks like they drag out the same old people. I'd much rather go and see the film on an ordinary night in the cinema.

"I am recognized there, and people are usually very nice. But you know what I hear quite often? I'll overhear people say something like, `That looks like Julie Walters.' And then the other person will say, `Oh, no - not dressed like that!' "