'It's Harder to Swear Wearing a Wimple' British Film Icon and Star of TV Megahit Call the Midwife,Jenny Agutter, 66, on Childhood Fame, Habits, and Loving Rap

Sunday Mirror (London, England), March 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

'It's Harder to Swear Wearing a Wimple' British Film Icon and Star of TV Megahit Call the Midwife,Jenny Agutter, 66, on Childhood Fame, Habits, and Loving Rap


Byline: Jenny Agutter

'I s that Jenny Agutter?' a rather refined older lady whispers to me, having not seen her face but simply heard the sound of her voice, as the actress disappears offto buy us coffee in London's National Gallery. We're in highly salubrious surroundings, and Jenny and her distinctive, terribly well-spoken voice, fit in perfectly. At 66, the actress is still the ultimate English Rose and yet while we might think of her as rather jolly highbrow, she couldn't really be any more mainstream, currently starring in the massive hit TV drama Call The Midwife, the last episode of which goes out on BBC1 tonight. Jenny has spent the past six years rocking a wimple of a Sunday evening as Sister Julienne, while being watched by an astounding 10 million viewers, the highest ratings currently on British TV.

The actress, a lovely lady who utterly charms the pants offus, has, of course, been in the public eye most of her life, having starred in the classic kids' movie The Railway Children as a teenager. And despite going offto make Hollywood blockbusters, remained more famous for waving that hanky about on a train line than anything else she ever did. Until now.

Jenny, who is married to hotelier Johan Tham and has a 27-year-old son Jonathan, talks to us about behaving herself in a nun's habit, delivering a baby in a tenement block toilet, and finally growing up...

Did you ever think Call The Midwife would become the most popular show on TV? I never imagined. I thought, 'Will people want to watch something about nuns and midwives in the 1950s?' But it is family-oriented and it touches people from all different ages and backgrounds. It covers social issues, and everyone can identify with the joy and possibility and anxiety that comes with a new child. It's gone to hundreds of countries - I even get letters from China, and every time I'm stopped in the street now it's for someone who wants to talk about Call The Midwife.

What's it like playing a nun, someone who is good all the time? It's harder playing a person who is consistently good than to get into a nasty character, and to show someone who has a kind of faith I could never understand. She isn't like me at all. I'm very impatient, stupidly so with myself and with other people. I'm not tolerant in the way Sister Julienne is. I get cross about things. She'd rather look after the problems that exist. You must have to lose all sense of vanity in that wimple...

The wimple and habit help a lot with becoming her. It's harder to swear in a wimple, I behave a bit differently as soon as I put it on. Even the shoes help. I've had the same ones for the last six years. They're clumpy and falling apart, but we keep them together and polish them - I even got some new laces recently. And no make-up, except for covering shine, I'm not allowed mascara or lipstick. But I win because I get more sleep in the morning as I don't have to go into make-up. There's something freeing about not thinking or worrying about the way you look.

Joan Sister Does it make you desperate to glam up? It does make you want to put some lipstick and a dress on. Someone came and did make-up for me recently and I was like, 'Yes, go for it! Ooh, lashes!' I've never been able to put too much on, though, or I look like a doll face. So has CTM finally taken over The Railway Children in terms of what you're most famous for?

The Railway Children has always had a huge following. It came out when I was 18 and I went offto Hollywood when I was 21, but it kept being shown on TV and the generations grew up with it. It was odd to come back from America where no one had spoken about it at all, to everyone mentioning that before anything else. Logan's Run, An American Werewolf In London, no, always The Railway Children. I was 30, 40 and 50, yet still 16 and in The Railway Children. It has a continuum, which Call The Midwife has finally taken over, so Bobby has now turned into a nun. …

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