Julian Fellowes was suddenly propelled into the international limelight when his Gosford Park screenplay won an Oscar. He's made Dorchester his home, and BBC Radio Solent's David Allen spoke to him about his remarkable career.
A few years after picking up an Oscar for the country house murder-mystery Gosford Park, Julian is still surprised at the sudden rise in his fortunes: "I still can't really believe it - I'd been plugging away for 30 years, I had a pleasant career, but the last few years have been extraordinary."
However a love of film was in Julian's blood from an early age. As his parents were in the diplomatic service, he lived in various countries including Egypt and Nigeria.
"I always loved movies and the cinema, we always used to go to see films as a family. I remember watching a Michael Winner film with Oliver Reed in it.
"I saw it 8 or 10 times and it was it was then when I came to believe it was possible to work at what I loved most - and that film, which I probably wouldn't recognise if I saw it again, was the trigger."
Julian Fellowes in Monarch of the Glen
Acting on the West End stage was where the young Julian made a living, although being a jobbing actor, attending endless auditions without any lucky breaks, was hard graft: "The hardest thing is not taking it personally when they don't want you - holding onto belief in yourself and the thought that you are any good at it."
The Oscars weren't Julian's first foray into the American movie business: "When I was 30 I went to Hollywood, I wasn't terribly successful - I made it to being second replacement dwarf on Fantasy Island. But it meant I rediscovered my love of film - and realised that's what I loved and I wanted to make my living in film."
Julian went on to play a government minister in Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies and was a Scottish laird in BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen.
But to prove that a lucky break can come at any age, in 2001 American director Robert Altman contacted Julian about the embryonic Gosford Park project:
Gosford Park director, Robert Altman
"Robert Altman wanted to do a country house murder mystery to explore that way of life which came to an end with the Second World War.
"He wanted to find someone who knew how these houses worked and I got a telephone call out of the blue asking me to come up with some characters and stories.
"All the way through I thought this can't be happening - a 50 year old fat balding actor is phoned up by an American movie director - but I did work as if it was going to happen.
"By July 2000 I was in California with Bob - only then did I think it would actually happen. By March 2001 we were on the set - which is lightning speed for the film industry."
The finished film stared Maggie Smith, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Kelly MacDonald and Clive Owen. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2002:
"It was the most marvelous evening - I, like everyone else, have pretended my shampoo bottle was my Oscar - like using a hairbrush for a microphone - but suddenly there I was giving my Oscar speech for real!"
The world of maids, servant and well-to-do families in Gosford Park, and his novel Snobs was not unfamiliar to Julian:
"I went to a house party at the age of 17 in a grand house in Cheshire. I got lost in the house and went through the wrong door and could hear a huge row going on between 10 or 12 people.
"It made me think how all of these peoples are living lives with the same weight and importance as ours, but we're just living in two separate universes which are not interlocking."
Julian admits his career has been "changed completely" by his Oscar win: "Suddenly you become desirable and get offered lots of interesting thing to do."
He took his first foray into directing with the thriller, Separate Lies. The British film starred Linda Bassett and Rupert Everett and has Julian's hallmark of strong characters:
"The main character, Tom Wilkinson is a man completely in control, his life unravels for a series of reasons, and he has to come to terms with that. By the end of the film, it's so moving because you are so on his side and the tears are welling up - I love that!".
Add to that writing the screenplay for a new Mary Poppins stage musical, a TV series dramatising unresolved murder cases and continuing to rebuild his house in Dorchester and it's not difficult to see why Julian's Oscar has meant he's never been busier: "I've got a very full dance card at the moment!"
last updated: 03/04/2008 at 14:20