An Interview with Juliet Mills

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A presence on stage and screen for over 70-years, Juliet Mills tells us about touring with her husband, Maxwell Caulfield, in the stage adaptation of Hitchcock’s classic film The Lady Vanishes.

What’s The Lady Vanishes about?
One can’t say too much about a thriller without giving the game away! It’s set on a train and a station in 1938, just before Germany invade Austria. A group of people meet on this train and one of them disappears. A young couple make it their mission to find this missing person, but there seems to be a conspiracy amongst the passengers to hide what’s happened. It’s a real comedy thriller, which is actually my very favourite genre in the theatre. I think people love to be scared in the theatre and they love to laugh because they’re so scared. It’s very funny and I’m very proud of it.

Who do you play?
I play Miss Froy, an English governess who’s been working with a family in Austria for six years. She’s part of the puzzle. I can’t say much more than that!

What made you eager to be part of this production?
It was dear Mr Bill Kenwright’s [the producer] idea. He offered the job to my husband and me together, so that was a very big plus right away. The fact that it was a new play was another very big plus. Coming back to England and doing a tour together just sounded like a very good idea and a lot of fun.

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Juliet Mills (left) in ‘The Lady Vanishes’

“I feel very at home”

How do you find working with your husband, Maxwell Caulfield?
I love it. We’ve been married 38 years now and in the theatre we’ve worked together half a dozen times. We love working together, especially touring together, because it’s a great adventure going to different cities every week; packing everything up, getting into the car and off we go. It’s a real gift that Bill [Kenwright] has given us.

Are you excited about taking the show around the UK?
I am. I love playing the different venues in the different towns. It’s wonderful going into those old theatres that are in such wonderful condition, knowing that my father [Sir John Mills] definitely played there. It’s just a tradition that I feel very at home and comfortable with.

How will you spend your days when you’re not performing?
It depends where we are and what the weather’s like. We love to hike, so if we’re in the country we love to go on walks.

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The cast of ‘The Lady Vanishes’

“There’s nothing like live theatre”

Why do you think touring theatre is important?
A lot of people can’t get to London, or don’t want to get to London, and I think to take the theatre to them and to keep some of these beautiful old theatres alive is really important. At a time when we can get so much entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special? When theatre works, there’s nothing like it for excitement. To be able to see real people walking, talking, laughing and crying, and be drawn into that experience. It’s very different from watching a screen or a computer or even a movie. Sometimes young people don’t go to the theatre that much. That’s such a shame, because they’re missing out on a form of entertainment that is unsurpassable. There’s nothing like live theatre. To see people live on stage and to be caught up in their life or their drama or their experience can be extremely exciting.

You’ve had such a long and varied career. Can you pick any highlights?
On the first play I ever did, Five Finger Experience, when I was really young, I worked with John Gielgud. It was a very successful play that ran for a long time in London. We took it to Broadway when I was only 18. That was an extraordinary highlight. Broadway was thrilling. Avanti! with Jack Lemmon, directed by the great Billy Wilder, was a wonderful experience too. We shot the whole thing in Italy. I had to put on 35 pounds, so I never stopped eating. Billy used to take me out every night, with his wife and Jack and his wife, to make sure I had a good meal because I had to keep up my weight. And on television, Nanny and the Professor was a happy time for me. It took me to America. I never intended to stay, but work kept coming. I’ve lived there a long time now.

What can audiences expect from a trip to see The Lady Vanishes?
They can expect a really good evening in the theatre. Entertainment and escapism. I think that’s very good for people; it’s nice to go into the theatre and get lost in something.

‘The Lady Vanishes’ comes to Leeds Grand Theatre, 22-27 July


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