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Thursday 24 Apr 2014

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A Short Stay In Switzerland – Julie Walters

One of Britain's best-loved and most versatile actors, Julie Walters plays Dr Anne Turner in Frank McGuinness's powerful film inspired by her life – a role Julie describes as "one of the most challenging" she's undertaken in her career to date.

"A Short Stay In Switzerland was one of the most challenging things I've had to do," reveals the popular BAFTA award-winning actress.

"I said after Murder (a compelling BBC drama in which Walters played a mother wracked with grief following the death of her son) I wouldn't do anything like it again, but this was such a good script."

In 2006 Dr Anne Turner, who suffered from the debilitating illness progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), made headline news when she flew to Switzerland with her children to end her life.

Although currently illegal in the UK, Julie believes "the subject should be debated".

"It was difficult playing someone who was in constant pain. I can't say I wasn't glad when it was over but I was sad to leave the people. Having to cry constantly was really, really difficult.

"The scene I found most challenging was the one when she had to say goodbye to her children," says the Midlands-born actress.

"I read that part of the script only once and put it down. I couldn't read it again. I just could not imagine having to do it."

The former-nurse-turned-actor and mother-of-one, whose film credits include Educating Rita, Calendar Girls, Harry Potter, Billy Elliott (for which she received an Oscar nomination) and not forgetting last year's unmissable feel-good hit movie Mamma Mia!, as well as countless television and theatre appearances, Julie is a national treasure, and is highly regarded in an industry she has made her own for nearly 35 years.

She reveals that, during the making of A Short Stay In Switzerland, she was introduced to Dr Turner's children who, in the drama, are played by Stephen Campbell Moore, Liz White and Lyndsey Marshal.

"I met Anne Turner's children, Edward, Sophie and Jessica, when they came down during rehearsals. I'd seen them on film, in the Fergus Walsh (the BBC's Medical Correspondent) interview for BBC News.

"They were lovely and came across as honest, genuine and just so nice. I thought, 'Oh God, what is this going to be like for them?' Meeting the Turner children, in a sense, did add a bit of pressure, but it also kind of took it away because they were so supportive of us and the production. They were really generous and they told us anything that we wanted to know.

"There was that additional responsibility because I am playing their mother, whom they adore. I felt pressure in wanting to get it right. I told them that I wasn't going to try and do an impersonation or anything like that – I was going to be honest and true to the script because I didn't know her. I only saw Anne in photographs and in the BBC News piece which featured her right at the end of her life.

"What was interesting for me was seeing Nigel Dempster, the Daily Mail columnist, at the latter stages because he also died of it (PSP); it really gave me an idea because I knew what he was like before that."

Julie admits that she is full of admiration for Dr Anne Turner: "I think Anne Turner was incredibly brave and fiercely intelligent. Her children said they were never allowed to just laze about in bed or anything like that, she would say, 'Get up, there's things to be done,' and I think that's the way she responded to her illness. She took the reins, there was no way Anne Turner was going to be the victim of anything.

"The other thing she had was a great sense of humour, it helped her cope with the illness and it also helped others around her," continues Julie.

She also reveals that the role made her think about how she'd feel if she were ever in the same situation: "This film made me think a lot about Anne's situation, and would I have that amount of courage? Her critic in the film, a woman named Claire (Harriet Walter), called her friend a coward, but Anne's children disagree, they say she had massive courage.

"Lots of people turn up at the clinic in Switzerland and they don't go through with it – understandably. I don't know what I'd do in the same situation, but it made me think about that. And also how important family is – family is so important. I've always thought that anyway. This film is really about that – the strength of family and their support."

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