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Dame Harriet Walter discusses the role of women in Shakespeare plays as part of the RSC's "Stand up for Shakespeare" programme in January 2009
Harriet Mary Walter
24 September 1950
|Alma mater||London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art|
Guy Schuessler (m. 2011)
|Relatives||Christopher Lee (maternal uncle)|
John Walter (great-great-great-grandfather)
Dame Harriet Mary Walter DBE (born 24 September 1950) is an English stage and screen actress. Her film appearances include Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Governess (1998), Villa des Roses (2002), Atonement (2007) and Man Up (2015). On television she starred as Natalie Chandler in the ITV drama series Law & Order: UK (2009–14), as Lady Prudence Shackleton in four episodes of Downton Abbey (2013–15), and as Clementine Churchill in The Crown (2016). She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2011 for services to drama.
Walter began her career in 1974 and made her Broadway debut in 1983. For her work in various Royal Shakespeare Company productions, including Twelfth Night (1987–88) and Three Sisters (1988), she won the 1988 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival. Her other notable work for the RSC includes leading roles in Macbeth (1999) and Antony and Cleopatra (2006). She won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth I in the 2005 London revival of Mary Stuart, and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play when she reprised the role on Broadway in 2009. She reprised her roles of Brutus in Julius Caesar (2012) and the title role in Henry IV (2014), as well as playing Prospero in The Tempest, as part of an all-female Shakespeare trilogy in 2016.
Walter was born in London, England. She is the niece of renowned British actor Sir Christopher Lee, being the daughter of his elder sister Xandra Lee. On her father's side, she is a great-great-great-granddaughter of John Walter, founder of The Times. She was educated at the Cranborne Chase School. After turning down a university education, she was in turn rejected by five different drama schools before being admitted into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Following her training she gained early experience with the Joint Stock Theatre Company, Paines Plough touring, and the Duke's Playhouse, Lancaster. Her partner, until his death in 2004, was actor Peter Blythe. On 21 May 2011 she married Guy Schuessler, an American actor (whose stage name is Guy Paul).
She has worked many times throughout her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in productions including Nicholas Nickleby (1980), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981), as Helena in All's Well That Ends Well (1981), The Castle (1985), Dasha in A Question of Geography, Viola in Twelfth Night (1988), Masha in Three Sisters (1988), The Duchess of Malfi (1989), Macbeth (1999) and Much Ado about Nothing (2002). She returned to the RSC in 2015 to play Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, directed by Gregory Doran.
She was made an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987. Her other theatre work includes Three Birds Alighting on a Field (1991), Arcadia (1993), Hedda Gabler (1996), Ivanov (1997) and Mary Stuart (2005).
In New York, she made her Broadway debut in 1983, when the RSC production of All's Well That Ends Well transferred there. In 1993 she starred as Biddy in the Off-Broadway production of Three Birds Alighting on a Field, for which she received a Drama Desk Award nomination. She returned to the Broadway stage in 2009 when she and Janet McTeer reprised their roles in Mary Stuart. In 2014 Walter starred as Brutus in an all-female production of Julius Caesar Off-Broadway and received her second Drama Desk nomination.
Her films include Sense and Sensibility (1995), Bedrooms and Hallways (1998), The Governess (1998), Onegin (1999), Villa des Roses (2002) and Bright Young Things (2003). On television, in 1987, she portrayed Lord Peter Wimsey's love interest Harriet Vane for three instalments of the BBC's A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery, played Detective Inspector Natalie Chandler from 2009–12 in the ITV drama series Law & Order: UK. Other TV roles include Mrs. Gowan in the 2008 BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit Clare in A Short Stay in Switzerland (2009) and Lady Shackleton in three episodes of the series Downton Abbey (2013–15). In 2016, she played Clementine Churchill on the Netflix series The Crown, and in 2017, appeared in two episodes of the BBC drama Call the Midwife as Sister Ursula.
She is also a patron of several notable charities; the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres, Prisoners Abroad, a charity that supports the welfare of Britons imprisoned overseas and their families and Clean Break, a charity and theatre company dedicated to sharing the often hidden stories of imprisoned women, and to transforming the lives of women offenders and—through theatre education—of women at risk of offending.
Walter played Brutus in Julius Caesar in 2012, and the title role in Henry IV in 2014, in all-female productions at the Donmar Warehouse. Both productions transferred to Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse in New York. She is set to reprise both roles, as well as playing Prospero in an all-female production of The Tempest, as part of director Phyllida Lloyd's Shakespeare trilogy at the Donmar's temporary, in-the-round, 420-seat theatre next to King's Cross station in 2016.
She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2000 New Year Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to drama.
|1988||A Question of Geography / Twelfth Night / Three Sisters||Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Revival||Won|
|1994||Three Birds Alighting on a Field||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play||Nominated|
|2001||Life x 3||Olivier Award for Best Actress||Nominated|
|2005||Mary Stuart||Evening Standard Award for Best Actress||Won|
|2006||Mary Stuart||Olivier Award for Best Actress||Nominated|
|2009||Mary Stuart||Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play||Nominated|
|2014||Julius Caesar||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play||Nominated|