Dame Harriet Walter has revealed that she received more fanmail for a blink-and-you-miss-it Star Wars cameo than any other performance in more than 40 years as a stage and screen actor.
Walter, an award-winning British stage actor who has featured in TV dramas including The Crown and Downton Abbey, played a doctor tending to Chewbacca in a brief scene from the 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens.
“My strangest experience was my six words in Star Wars,” Walter said, in an interview published in the Radio Times. “I’ve had more fanmail from that than anything I’ve ever done.”
She also spoke about the pressures of playing three Shakespeare roles in one day, saying she nearly cracked and pulled “a Stephen Fry” by suddenly disappearing from public life.
Walter played three male leads in a trilogy of Shakespeare plays last year, as part of an all-female cast at a temporary location next to King’s Cross and St Pancras stations in London.
The productions – Henry IV, the Tempest and Julius Caesar – were hugely successful, and a film recording of the latter, in which Walter plays Brutus, is released in cinemas this week.
But the actor said she was at times tempted to throw it all in and jump on the nearest train.
“When it got really terrifying, I did think that I could just walk across the road and get on the Eurostar,” Walter said. “And I’d be in another country before they’d noticed I’d gone. A couple of times, I came close to doing a ‘Stephen Fry’.”
Walter was referring to an incident in 1995, when, while suffering depression and stage fright, Fry suddenly disappeared from the West End production of Cellmates, fleeing by ferry to Belgium. Years later, Fry said the anxiety he felt at the time had led him to contemplate suicide.
The all-female versions of Shakespeare – created by the Mamma Mia! and Iron Lady director Phyllida Lloyd for the Donmar Warehouse – were staged in a women’s prison, and the actors were encouraged to model their characters on real-life prisoners.
Walter chose Judy Clark, an American radical activist who was sentenced to 75 years in prison after a 1981 New York bank raid. “I met her twice,” Walter told the Radio Times. “And she gave me letters and diaries to use as background.”
Walter has previously called for artistic directors and playwrights to stage more plays with female lead characters, adding that the lack of strong parts drove her and others towards performing male roles.