She was cast as a fat, ugly villain in Harry Potter. But Imelda Staunton wants you to know she's tall, blonde and glamorous

Imelda Staunton, 52, has been a stage and screen star for more than 30 years. She won a Best Actress Bafta for the film Vera Drake and played Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

She lives in London with her husband, actor Jim Carter - who was her co-star in the BBC series Cranford - and their daughter, Bessie, 15. Imelda will next be seen on the big screen alongside Burt Reynolds, 72, in the British comedy A Bunch Of Amateurs.

Imelda Staunton's TV persona is an illusion, she jokes, she's really tall, blonde and very glamorous

Imelda Staunton's TV persona is an illusion, she jokes, she's really tall, blonde and very glamorous

How did you find working with Burt Reynolds?

Burt plays a fading Hollywood star whose agent tells him he can get a job in England, playing King Lear at Stratford. Unfortunately, when he comes over to England, he discovers that he's not playing Lear at Stratford-upon-Avon, but with an amateur company in a place called Stratford St John.

I play the landlady of the bed and breakfast where he stays, and, sad to say, he's not impressed by my full English breakfast. My character is very flustered when he walks in, with lots of 'Ooh, that's Burt Reynolds', and I must say, I felt a bit flustered myself.

What inspired you to become an actor?

I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher at school. She started off teaching elocution and then became a drama teacher, and she taught me to act. I was in a lot of school plays, and then, when the time came to leave school, she absolutely insisted that I audition for drama school. So I did an audition for RADA and got in. Then I did six years in repertory theatre playing everything from Saint Joan to Edith Piaf - all the great stuff. It really made me hone my craft and, well, here I am.

Imelda Staunton with husband Jim Carter

Imelda Staunton with husband Jim Carter

Did you enjoy school?

Very much indeed. Actually - I loved it. I went to a convent school in north London, La Sainte Union, and when you say 'convent' to people, they tend to think, 'Oh my God, it must have been so strict.' But it wasn't Draconian at all. In fact, it was really nice.

There were a lot of lay teachers as well as nuns, and, granted, you had to stand up when the teachers came into the classroom, and keep to the left when you were walking down the corridors. But there was nothing too ludicrous, and I had a very good time there.

The school is still going and I go past it all the time. Sometimes I walk past girls wearing the uniform, and it's lovely to see them. I have very happy memories.

Do you still live in London?

Yes, not too far from where I grew up. I have a very nice house with a really lovely garden - for which I am happy to say I have a very good gardener! It backs on to a cricket ground, so it almost feels like we are in the country. But then I can hop on the Underground and, five stops later, I'm at Bond Street, so I have the best of both worlds.

Who's your favourite neighbour?

I live two doors down from Emma Thompson so we're in each other's pockets all the time, which is heaven. We've known each other for years and years and, whenever she's in a film, she's always happy to give a mate a part, which is lucky because I'm always begging her.

We last worked together on Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, where she played Sybil Trelawney and I played the awful Dolores Umbridge. I got to sack her, which was wonderful, as it's something I'd been waiting to do for years.

You were obviously having a lot of fun making Harry Potter

Well, let's put it this way, when the book first came out, a friend called and said, 'You've got to read the new Harry Potter book, there's a part in it that's perfect for you when they make the film.' I thought, 'Oooh, how lovely'. Then I read the description in the book of a short, fat, ugly woman who was like a toad! Perfect for me, hmm? Thanks a lot. But she's a great personality. I never care what my character looks like as long as the role is good. That's why they call me No Make-Up Staunton!

Has it won you a new fan-base among the under-ten set?

Well, actually, they're a little frightened of me. But if they don't like Miss Umbridge, that means that I've done my job well playing a villain. I'm really not like that off the screen and when I do meet kids, they realise that within about eight seconds. Thank goodness.

Who are you calling an ugly toad: Imelda Staunton was told she would be 'perfect' as Dolores Umbrage in Harry Potter

Who are you calling an ugly toad: Imelda Staunton was told she would be 'perfect' as Dolores Umbrage in Harry Potter

What's the biggest public misconception about you?

That I look like the person that you see in the film or on TV. This is all an illusion - in real life, I am tall, blonde and very glamorous.

You have been married for nearly 25 years to an actor. How does it work to have two performers in the family?

Very well, thank you, and I think that is partly because we both understand what the business is, we're both doing fairly well in the profession - touch wood - we're both happy in our work. And we very rarely go up for the same part!

Does your daughter talk about going into acting, too?

Bessie's already done some acting. She had a small part in Cranford as the girl Lady Ludlow, played by Francesca Annis, interviewed for a job, and did very well. She is showing some interest, but I think she's been given a slightly unrealistic view of the profession, just because her father and I are so very happy doing it, which is not really the norm at all. So we'll see what happens. She's very keen to go to university first, so we have some time yet. She's beautiful, my daughter.

What do you do when you're not acting?

Go home and do the laundry, I'm afraid. It's back to life as we know it.

What keeps you stable in life?

I had a very nice childhood. I grew up working class in the 1960s - it was a time that was not so long after the War, nobody had very much in material terms, but people were grateful that they were still there, they were usually cheery, and they just got on with things. That's a very working class attitude that I grew up with - you just get on with it.

A Bunch Of Amateurs is in cinemas nationwide from 19 December.

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