British actress Dame Harriet Walter, DBE, enjoyed an acclaimed four-decade career on the English and American stage, netting a Tony nomination in 2009 for "Mary Stuart," while also bringing her commanding presence to numerous film and television roles, including "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), "Babel" (2006) and "Law and Order: UK" (ITV 2009-14). The London native began her theater career in the 1970s while also making sporadic appearances on UK TV. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980, which provided her with numerous stellar showcases in classical and modern drama, while her television career blossomed in the 1980s with "A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery" (BBC/WGBH, 1987), among other shows. Walter's long and storied stage career led to increased film roles in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as the Tony nod in 2009 and two honors from Buckingham Palace, including her DBE in 2011. Walter's profile continued to rise in the 2010s with appearances on "Downton Abbey" (ITV 2010-16) and "The Assets" (ABC 2014), which underscored her status as one of England's most respected acting talents.
Born Harriet Mary Walter in London, England on September 24, 1950, she was inspired to pursue a career as an actress at the age of nine after seeing a performance by child star Hayley Mills. She attended the Cranbourne Chase School, a prestigious girls' boarding school, until she was forced to leave at the age of 13 due to her parents' divorce. The split left her so psychologically distraught that she required medical attention for a period, after which she poured her energy into acting. Walter initially turned down an offer to study at Oxbridge, only to be rejected by to five different drama schools before earning an acceptance from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After graduation, Walter worked regularly on the British stage scene for several companies, including the Duke's Playhouse in Lancaster. Her screen career began in television dramas in the early 1970s, with her feature film debut coming in 1981 with "The French Lieutenant's Woman," though her scenes were deleted prior to the picture's theatrical release. In 1980, Walter began her long professional relationship with The Royal Shakespeare Company, which made her an associate artist in 1987. The following year, she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a trio of productions for the Company, including "Three Sisters" and "Twelfth Night."
During this period, she also enjoyed high-profile turns on UK TV productions like "The Price" (Channel 4 1985) and as Harriet Vane, mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers' author-turned-amateur sleuth, on "A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery." Walter continued to balance stage work with appearances in films into the 1990s and 2000s, most notably in "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) with Emma Thompson, the Oscar-nominated "Babel" (2006) and "The Young Victoria" (2009). On television, she continued to tackled demanding roles, including Lady Macbeth opposite Antony Sher in a 2001 filmed version of "Macbeth" with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and an key uncredited turn as an informant in a 2004 episode of the spy series "MI-5" (BBC 2002-2011). In 2009, she began a lengthy run as a detective on the popular "Law & Order: UK," the same year she earned a Tony nomination as Queen Elizabeth in the acclaimed Broadway production of "Mary Stuart." Two years later, Walter was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her long service to the arts in England. She continued to impress viewers and critics alike with turns on "Downton Abbey" (ITV/PBS 2010-16) and as Brutus in director Phyllida Lloyd's 2013 production of "Julius Caesar," in which the male characters were all performed by actresses. The following year, she made her American television debut in "The Assets" (ABC 2014) as famed CIA officer Jeanne Vertefeuille, who helped to uncover spy Aldrich Ames. In addition to acting, Walter authored three books on acting while also maintaining a popular public speaking career on the challenges faced by older actresses.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Television debut in a TV production of "Rebecca"
First feature film appearance in "The French Lieutenant's Woman"
Top billed in "The Price"
Plays Harriet Vance in "A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery"
Olivier Award for three performances, including "Twelfth Night"
CableACE nomination for "Ashenden"
Supporting role in "Sense and Sensibility"
Made Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Tony nomination for "Mary Stuart"
Plays Queen Adelaide in "The Young Victoria"
Series regular on "Law & Order: UK"
Made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Guest appearance on "Downton Abbey"
Series regular on "The Assets"