Congratulations on the damehood. Did you practise your curtsy before meeting the Queen?
No, I never really thought about it. I have been there before [she has an OBE and a CBE], so I know you just have to bob down and not do anything elaborate. Being a dame is nice but I don’t feel any different.
When you reunited with your Billy Elliot co-star Jamie Bell on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, were you tempted to say, ‘My, how you’ve grown’?
No — physically he’s bigger but he looks much the same! He’s such a lovely bloke. Often child actors don’t turn into really good adult actors but he has.
The film is about Gloria Grahame, a widely forgotten Hollywood star. What was she like?
She won an Oscar for The Bad And The Beautiful and in many ways that describes her — not just her acting roles but her life. She was a bad girl in all her roles and then, when her career faded, she did tours in Britain. That’s how she met a young actor called Peter Turner, who Jamie Bell plays, and that’s where the story begins.
Did you ever have any #metoo casting couch moments as a young actress?
I was lucky to start in Liverpool and work with a lot of very decent people so there was never a question of that. I felt equal with everybody I worked with. I never felt like I was the little girl and they were the big, powerful men.
You live on a farm. What colour are your wellies?
Green, of course! But I am not hands-on at all, my husband is the farmer. We talk about the machinations of the farming endlessly but he’s the one up at 4am working it. Living in the country was like a holiday to begin with. What now takes an adjustment is going back to London to work. I am so used to complete blackness outside because there are no street lamps, and also the silence — apart from owls and foxes. London seems so noisy and so full of everything. I do love it but I wouldn’t want to live there again.
Were you eager to play Mrs Bird again in Paddington 2?
I don’t do a huge amount in the film but I love it, the bear and everyone involved in it — it is great fun and so unstressful as a job. Paul King [Paddington’s writer/director] is a bit of a genius. He understands Paddington’s innocence and, my, how they managed to bring the emotion into that bear’s eyes. People cry watching the film and you forget that Paddington is just a computer animation. I don’t know how they manage to make it so clever.
You must have got used to filming opposite nothing in Harry Potter…
Yes, not just the imaginary creatures but also the children. When they were little they wouldn’t be there either, so we would have to act with a cross on the wall or on the camera. In Paddington they would occasionally put a stuffed bear in front of you for the dimensions of how he would look.
What’s your favourite Harry Potter instalment?
The last one, because that’s where I get to kill Bellatrix and to say: ‘Not my daughter, you bitch!’ I can’t believe Mrs Weasley would say that but she did. And good on her!
You’re also in the new Disney remake of Mary Poppins…
I play Ellen the housekeeper. I get to sing and fly! It’s fabulous. Emily Blunt is amazing as Mary Poppins and, of course, we had Dick Van Dyke play the old bank manager, who he played in disguise in the original film. He is amazing — 91 but so full of energy, dancing all day. He did say he was a bit stiff the next day but we all are if we’ve been dancing all day. A lovely man.
And you’re in Mamma Mia! 2.
I’ve just finished filming that. We were on this beautiful island in Croatia. It was like heaven, not like work at all!
What can you spill to us about the plot?
I get to sing I’ve Been Waiting For You, a gorgeous ABBA number. And I do get some love action in this one but I keep my clothes on, you’ll be glad to know. I am sure the nation will be sighing with relief.
Tough question: what is your favourite biscuit?
Oh my God, that is very difficult, but McVitie’s do a chocolate biscuit that has caramel in it. That has to be the one.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is in cinemas now