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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

From a distance

The work takes Shirley Henderson where it will: to an estimable resume.

March 28, 2004|Mark Olsen

Weaving between smaller, independent British films and roles in such high-profile movies as "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Shirley Henderson has quietly become one of the leading actresses working in the United Kingdom. After graduating from drama school in London in the late '80s, the Scottish-born Henderson, 38, spent a few years working in the theater and on British television before bringing her subdued, fragile presence to such films as "Trainspotting," "Topsy-Turvy," "24 Hour Party People" and "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands."

Her versatility is apparent in three films making their way to theaters -- "Intermission," "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" and "Close Your Eyes." That's not to mention the handful of films she has completed that are awaiting American distribution or a go on the festival circuit. Though she does not appear in the coming third installment of the "Harry Potter" series, she will be popping up in the fourth, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," as well as "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason." The meandering path is of her own design. "It's fine to let your own journey kick in," she says, "rather than copying someone else or what you think you're supposed to be doing."

Considering the breadth of your work, it must always be a bit of a surprise to find out roles people associate you with. When you get called into auditions, are you ever caught off-guard by what the director or casting agent knows you from?

I suppose so. Not so much off-guard, but they often see me in a different way than I expect. Like "Bridget Jones" -- I would never have imagined myself being in that. It just seems so slick, so big and not the kind of thing I'd ever done. But somebody along the line saw something and thought of me. It just depends. Everybody sees you differently.

Besides your work in "Bridget Jones" and smaller British productions, there's also your role in "Harry Potter." That must bring you to a whole different audience.

I get lots of letters.... To tell the truth I don't want to be recognized for Moaning Myrtle because she's only 14. Please. And I don't want to spoil it for the children. I hate it when someone introduces me to a child as the lady who played Moaning Myrtle. The child always looks up like, "No, that's not right." It spoils it. I like being anonymous.

Does the fact that you continue to live in Scotland instead of in London make you a bit of an outsider to the film industry there?

I've always felt like an outsider. It's like two lives. I've got my life back home and my life surrounding my job. It's always been like that. When I go away, I don't particularly want to be involved, talking films every day. That's the last thing I want to do. I like to go away and do other things, in my garden or something.

But are you concerned that your distance holds you back from getting bigger parts and such?

I probably should be, for my age and for the unwritten rule that you've got to make it by a certain time. But I kind of like the way it is. I don't know what you're meant to be aiming for, as such. I used to. When you leave drama school, you've got a whole list. And then one day you're not even aware of it. The list -- what was on it? You might have done certain things, not done certain things, maybe you're meant to be in American films, maybe you're not. You've got to get rid of the rules in your head, and it's hard to do. One can easily think, "I'm not being ambitious enough." But you must be, to some point, to keep going, to keep trying.

Does Hollywood represent something of a siren song for actors in the U.K.?

Well, people always ask you about it -- "When are you going to America?" But there's no obvious path. I'm happy with the things I get, the size of them. I get home occasionally. I find the older I get, the sort of gloss of it wears off and it's actually hard work. Once you've been given a part in a film it's fantastic, but then you've actually got to do it. So if you get a great big American film, you've got to pull it off. And that's a lot of work.

-- Mark Olsen

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