Julie Walters has been recalling her role in Willy Russell’s play Educating Rita, and in the subsequent film with Michael Caine, much of which was shot in Trinity College, Dublin.
She said: “I was terrified on opening night. Mark Kingston and I held hands backstage and took Valium.”
Talking to The Guardian, the actress recalls how she identified with Rita the moment she read the play, whose theatrical production would star Mark Kingston in the role of the kindly academic who takes Rita under his wing.
“I’d come from a working-class background and, in going to college to become an actor, had moved into a middle-class situation, so I understood all that. But rehearsals were challenging: I just didn’t feel I was finding her. By the time we opened, I still had no idea if the play was going to work.”
She recalls how Lewis Gilbert the director of the subsequent film adaptation wanted Walters for the Rita role. Walters had never done a feature before, only some TV, and they needed a star. Paul Newman and Dolly Parton were mentioned as possible leads in which case the film would have required relocation to the United States.
Writer Willy Russell has stated: "A more cynical and a more commercially-minded human being than myself might have said, 'What a great idea. Go down that route.'" However, Russell wanted Julie Walters for the role.
“But then Michael Caine came on board as Frank and I was in, “ recalls the actress. “I remember his wife saying: “You are very lucky it’s Michael.” She was thinking of other people of that ilk, who were starry and not that easy. But Michael was lovely, so generous to me.”