Entertainment

Harriet Walter: Rubbing shoulders with aristocracy inspired Succession character

Harriet Walter based her Succession character on her experiences on the ‘foothills of aristocracy’ (Ian West/PA)
Harriet Walter based her Succession character on her experiences on the ‘foothills of aristocracy’ (Ian West/PA) Harriet Walter based her Succession character on her experiences on the ‘foothills of aristocracy’ (Ian West/PA)

Dame Harriet Walter says that growing up on the “foothills of aristocracy” helped her prepare for her role of Lady Caroline Collingwood on hit HBO drama Succession.

Lady Caroline is the cutting Roy family matriarch – the second wife of Brian Cox’s formidable Logan Roy, and mother to the three children Kendall, Shiv and Roman.

With shares in Waystar Royco, she is also a wealthy aristocrat, the likes of whom Dame Harriet says she “rubbed shoulders” with while growing up.

Speaking to the Brydon & podcast with Rob Brydon, she discussed meeting real life “Lady Carolines” and said her portrayal of the character was a “mixture of lots of people.”

“I’ve got a theory about when you can do something very exactly as an actor,” she said.

“It’s not that you’ve necessarily got it in you and you’re sort of bringing it out. It’s that you have closely observed those people for various reasons, either because they really scare you, or because you want to be them.

“I think that because I’ve been on the receiving end of cold, snooty, witty put down people… I’ve so observed it because it’s delved into your head because it’s so scary or something.”

Dame Harriet said that despite her mother and father coming from wealthy backgrounds, her family was “not very well off”.

“What happened was they knew people who had country piles so I always think of it as we lived on the foothills of aristocracy,” she said.

“We were very low down but we rubbed shoulders with people so I was aware of them, but I wasn’t one of them.

“We didn’t have masses of money, put it that way, but I was very aware of a certain type of behaviour… and it sort of rubbed off on my whole family, you didn’t ever say anything terribly serious.

Bafta Television Awards 2023
Bafta Television Awards 2023 Dame Harriet Walter (Yui Mok/PA)

“You didn’t get into the nitty gritty of your inner soul, you didn’t talk about yourself… everything was flippant, everything was glib.”

Acting success runs in the family for Dame Harriet, whose uncle is the late Christopher Lee.

She told Brydon that despite their similarities and successes, she took her career much more seriously than the Lord Of The Rings star had.

“He never took his career very seriously because he’d seen people die in the war. He’d cut people’s throats,” she said.

“He’d been to the death camps and liberated them. And he was in before he was 30.”

Dame Harriet recalled wanting to be an actor as a child, but had been “disappointed” when visiting Lee on the set of one of his movies.

Brydon & publishes weekly on Amazon Music and Wondery+, with podcast Terribly Famous also launching this week across all podcast services.