Julia McKenzie is known to Masterpiece audiences for her role as Mrs. Forrester in Cranford and Return to Cranford. She's had an active career on stage, television and in film. Highlights include her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett in London's National Theatre production of Sweeney Todd, and appearances in movies such as Shirley Valentine and Notes on a Scandal.
Now in her second season as Miss Marple, Julia McKenzie took a break from sleuthing to answer questions from Masterpiece's Facebook, Twitter and discussion group fans about Agatha Christie, the quick-witted Marple, and the character's more subtle traits.
Were you a fan of Agatha Christie before taking the part?
McKenzie: I must admit, sadly, that I had hardly read any of Agatha Christie's books before being given the iconic role of Miss Marple. I had seen the play The Mousetrap back in Noah's day, but can't remember that it made any distinct impression on me. But now I've read all of her work and have even made a pilgrimage to Christie's house in Devon called Greenway.
Of all the Miss Marple mysteries you've done so far, do you have a favorite one?
McKenzie: I've enjoyed them all and don't really have a favorite one, but Why Didn't They Ask Evans was particularly enjoyable. It was a little crazy, but Miss Marple was enlivened by the young couple, destined to be Tommy and Tuppence.
How would you compare working on Miss Marple vs. Cranford and Return to Cranford?
McKenzie: Cranford and Return to Cranford were exceedingly wonderful to work on. They were great scripts and all my fellow actresses were amiable colleagues of long standing. Dear old Mrs. Forrester was a complete contrast to Miss Marple in the brains department, so it was fun to play her, quite opposite to the brilliant deductions of Christie's creation.
Do you have any involvement/input with the screenwriters?
McKenzie: I don't have any input with the writers. Indeed the first ones I filmed were scripts that had been written for the great Geraldine McEwan. But I feel they are now writing for me.
Have you watched the other famous portrayals of Miss Marple on film and television? If so, what do you think you're uniquely bringing to the role?
McKenzie: Of course I have now avidly watched all the other interpreters of Miss Marple. All quite fascinating to watch and admire for their individuality within the realm of Christie's creation. I have tried hard not to imitate or be intimidated by the other portrayals, but have tried to make Miss Marple a creature of her time, even though some of her attitudes are quite equal to modern life. She says, like Christie herself, that wickedness must be punished, and to that end pursues the crimes.
Are there any subtle traits of Miss Marple that you try to portray and why are they important to your understanding of the character?
McKenzie: Jane Marple has lived through a strict upbringing and has lived many years as an unmarried woman. This has made her strong, but I feel a little retiring until she gets the smell of the chase in her nostrils and nothing will stop her.
There seems to be a constant array of talented guest stars in Miss Marple. Why are the Miss Marple mysteries so attractive for actors and who have been some of the most memorable guest stars from your perspective?
McKenzie: How fortunate we are to have the display of talent in other roles in the series. I often don't know who is cast until we have a read through of the script — then I find it hard not to shriek with delight to discover I am going to work with actors I have admired for so many years. A real treat for me.
Do you know of any plans for future adaptations of Miss Marple stories?
McKenzie: I never stop reading all the Miss Marple short stories, hoping they will be chosen for the next episodes, but the producers keep these things under their hats to surprise us all. I am so grateful to have been given the iconic role and hope it goes on for many more years.