Friday 18 January 2019

Carry On Blogging Interview: Juliet Mills

It was an absolute thrill to catch up with actress Juliet Mills this week for a chat about her long career on stage and screen. Juliet, based in the United States for many years, is currently in the UK touring with a stage adaptation of the classic 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes. More on that below.

Catching Juliet between performances on a matinee day at the Theatre Royal Windsor, there was so much I wanted to ask her about her life and career and the people she has worked with. Of course, this being a Carry On blog, I had to ask about her association with the series having made her one and only starring appearance as Sally in 1963's Carry On Jack. I started however, in the present day with her current theatre tour.

First of all, I wanted to ask how the play is going? It’s based on one of my favourite films, the 1938 classic starring Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood

Oh it's a lovely play. It's a really interesting adaptation of the original film and it's directed by Roy Marsden who's doing an excellent job. We're at Windsor at the moment and it's going awfully well. We've had a great reaction from audiences so far. They seem to love the mix of thriller mystery and comedy. There's a lot of very funny moments in the play as there were in the film. 

Linked to the film of The Lady Vanishes, back in the early 60s you worked with the star of that film, Michael Redgrave on No My Darling Daughter. What was he like?

Oh Michael was a lovely sweet man. He was also just a very good actor. He played my father in that film and that was really my first leading role on screen, I was about 18, 19 at the time. But I already knew Michael well as he and Rachel (Kempson, Redgrave's wife) were friends of my parents (Sir John and Lady Mary (Hayley Bell) Mills). I also knew Michael's children, the actors Vanessa, Corin and Lynn and we all sort of grew up together. He was a great man and as I'd known him so long already it was great to be playing opposite him in that film.

You starred in several films for Peter Rogers in the 1960s. You worked with Ronald Lewis in both of those. What was he like to work with?

Oh Ronnie Lewis was a charming man and I worked with him quite a bit in those days. There was Twice Round The Daffodils and then Nurse On Wheels. And then a few years later we worked together in a production of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in London. I was Lady Windermere and Ronnie was Lord Darlington. The cast also included Coral Browne and Wilfrid Hyde White. Ronnie was a very good actor and a gentle person to be with. I've been thinking about him recently as we've been staying near Windsor for the play and every time we drive past Datchett, he comes to mind as he had a house there for a long time. He was a nice man with a gift for light comedy. 

An actress I have to ask about is Esma Cannon. She played your mother in Nurse On Wheels, another classic. One of my favourite comedy actors…

Oh Esma! Didn't she do Carry Ons as well?

Yes she appeared in four of the films around the time you made Nurse On Wheels together.

That's right, I remember. Oh it was such a long time ago but wasn't she a wonderful actress! And such a sweet little person to work with, she just came on and did the scenes really. Just a joy to be with. I couldn't believe it was 60 years last year since the first Carry On. I know I wasn't in them at the beginning but I couldn't believe so much time had passed! 

On Carry On Jack you got to know Kenneth Williams and I remember he mentions you in his infamous diary. Was he fun to be with?

Oh I absolutely adored Kenneth. I got to know him quite well, as much as you could anyway. We saw quite a bit of each other when we made those films, going out to dinner and that sort of thing. He was also good friends with the actor Andrew Ray who we both worked with and Andrew became a good friend of mine too. Kenneth was probably the funniest man I've ever met. He could make you laugh so easily, the faces he pulled and his body language. Such a clever man. At one point I remember I was granted access to his flat, which at the time was near Madame Tussauds. He was quite solitary I think and didn't let a lot of people in, as it were. But he was a genius I think. 

I loved seeing you reunited with Bernard Cribbins for the Carry On Forever documentary. What was it like to see him again after all that time?

Oh that was wonderful! We went down to Virginia Water I think, where we shot a lot of the stuff for Carry On Jack! It was so incredible to see him after such a long time. I mean Bernie is a lot older now but he was still in such good form and as sharp as a tack!! I have such happy memories of making that film with him so to be reunited after all those years was wonderful. 

And he's just recently celebrated his 90th birthday…

Has he really?! Wow well he's doing well on it. He's still sharp and sounds exactly the same. Lovely man.

On the film Avanti you starred with one of my favourite actors, Jack Lemmon. What are your memories of working with him?

Well I think making Avanti is probably the highlight of my entire career. To work with Jack Lemmon and the director Billy Wilder was just unforgettable really. Jack and Billy had obviously worked together a lot and were the best of friends and as we spent a lot of time on location in Italy I got to spend time with them both. I had to put on 35lbs in weight for that part and Billy used to keep bringing me food onto the set or taking me out to dinner! Jack was such a wonderfully generous actor. He was very easy going, good to be with and good at reacting to you in a scene. So present in the moment and always with lots of enthusiasm. 

And I still do something to this very day that I saw Jack do when we were making Avanti. In fact I did it in the theatre this very afternoon. Before a take he used to rub his hands together repeatedly, very fast and say "Magic Time! Magic Time!" and apparently it helps to focus the adrenalin! It works for me and I've done it ever since!!

You worked with the legendary Maureen O’Hara on The Rare Breed – she was one of my dad’s favourite actresses. What was she like to work with?

Oh Maureen became such a good friend to me. I first met her when I went to New York in 1959 to transfer with the play Five Finger Exercise, by Peter Shaffer. I had played Pamela Harrington in the original London production. I went on to appear with her in a television version of the film Mrs Miniver in 1960 - Maureen played the title role and I was Carol. And then a few years later we starred in The Rare Breed with James Stewart. She also worked with my sister Hayley in The Parent Trap. 

I kept in touch with Maureen ever since and I think I last saw her at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in Los Angeles for a special screening of How Green was My Valley. She was over 90 by that stage but she still looked immaculate. Such a beautiful lady with an amazing complexion and that gorgeous red hair. We had tea in her suite and spent a couple of hours together. 

I know you’ve been based in America for a long time, so I wanted to ask what you think the main differences are of working as an actor in the US compared to here in England?

There's not a lot of difference really, Graeme. When you're in a television studio or on a film set you could be anywhere. It might just be because I was born here, but I always think the theatre audiences in England are more friendly! But the business has changed so much over the years and making television has changed an awful lot since I started out. I don't do as much television now but I still love the theatre. I still love the company of actors, I think they're a great breed. I was born into an acting family of course and it's all I've really known. And I love coming home to England to work. Working in the theatre here is wonderful, touring round new theatres and seeing places I've not been to before is great and I always love working with my husband (actor Maxwell Caulfield).

And with that I wished Juliet all the best with The Lady Vanishes and let her head off to relax before her evening performance. It was a joy to talk to Juliet, she was so warm and friendly. And what a thrill to hear her reminisce about her career and working and knowing the likes of Kenneth Williams, Jack Lemmon and Maureen O'Hara. You don't often get blogs that feature Maureen O'Hara AND Esma Cannon!

The Lady Vanishes is touring the UK right now, playing at Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday 19 January and then Southend Palace from 21 until 26 January. The production will then move on to Theatre Royal Bath from 28 January until 2 February and after that, Theatre Clwyd, Mold from 4 until 9 February. The tour will continue on until the Summer.

Full details of the touring dates and schedule can be found here

And you can read my blog on the production here: Juliet Mills Stars in UK Tour of The Lady Vanishes

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram


  1. I loved this interview, I just watched Twice Around the Daffodils, lovely drama/comedy, and my favourite actor is Ronald Lewis,and Juliet just gave me a beautiful insight into the lovely man I hoped he was, thank you so much.