hayley mills

Interview: Hayley Mills

Interview: Hayley Mills

Award-winning actor Hayley Mills talks to Holly Louise Eells about her long-lasting career, coming to Richmond Theatre, and why there is no place like Barnes

Hayley Mills has travelled all over the world. She has visited and lived in incredible places, but Barnes is the right spot for the Oscar-winning star. “It is such a lovely place to live,” says Hayley. “You have the common and the divine high street, which has everything you need.”

“Also, we have a pond with swans, cygnets, geese, and a river that floods regularly!” she laughs. “Everyone living here is grateful because it has such a great vibe and lovely community.”

“I have lived in south west London for many years, including Richmond. Growing up, I lived in Hampton, and this is where my boys, Crispian (frontman of a psychedelic rock band, Kula Shaker) and Jason, grew up. However, when I moved to Barnes, it was just by chance. I had an apartment in New York, but I wanted somewhere in London, and I found this sweet, little house in Barnes, which I thought was perfect.

“Then, later on, I sold my apartment in New York when my grandchildren started to arrive. Nothing gives me greater joy than having them here. Now, this darling house is too small for my five grandchildren.”

Since starting her career at the age of nine, Hayley was 12-years-old when she made her first feature film, Tiger Bay, and won an Academy Award at the age of 13 in 1961 for her leading performance in Pollyanna. The veteran performer has shot 33 feature films, including some of the era’s greatest coming-of-age family movies: The Parent Trap, Whistle Down the Wind, and In Search of the Castaways.

“I think being given a part in anything is a gift,” says Hayley. “Investigating another human being, you are becoming another person for a while and leading a different life. I always loved that as a child. Acting is playing games; it is an extension of our childhoods. I love acting!”

The iconic actor’s recent screen credits include Moving On and Pitching In for BBC One and Compulsion for Channel 5. On stage, Hayley most recently performed off-Broadway in a new comedy play, Party Face, directed by Amanda Bearse. So it seems there is no stopping the star, who will be back on stage with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The play is based on The Sunday Times bestseller, which later inspired the popular film about a group of retirees who travel to India in search of a new life.

“As soon as I heard about it, my heart leaped! I thought this is what I should be doing right now,” she says.

The film included famous stars such as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy, with Dev Patel as the put-upon owner of a past-its-best hotel for ‘the elderly and beautiful.’ The story is a tender look at the issues faced by many in their later years, including companionship, loneliness, frailty and who is responsible for care.

The tale will come to life on stage when the tour begins at Richmond Theatre (on September 5). Written by Deborah Moggach and directed by Lucy Bailey, Hayley will be joining actress Rula Lenska and Real Marigold Hotel star Paul Nicholas.

“Deborah is a marvellous writer. She writes about real people and real lives,” says Hayley. “It is a life-affirming piece that deals with a real situation and a real problem in the world about an ageing population and how different countries deal with the problem in various ways. I am not sure we deal with it very well in this country.”

“Life doesn’t get any simpler or easier. I thought it did when you got older, but it doesn’t,” she laughs. “I’m now in my 70s, but I don’t feel much different. I feel like I am 35 or something like that. To be told you have to go into a care home or a retirement home – you think, ‘What! I don’t want to do that.’”

She continues: “With The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Deborah deals with this situation very cleverly, and she is funny. There is a lot of humour; it is a very inspiring story. Everyone will enjoy and have fun; it sounds cliche, but it is true.”

The daughter of renowned actor Sir John Mills and playwright and novelist Mary Hayley Bell, Hayley says her life changed when she started working at 12. “I suddenly grew up. I wasn’t the child I once was. I was different and more aware. I feel lucky to be in this business and to have discovered it so young.”

Hayley is celebrating a year since the release of Forever Young: A Memoir, which shares personal memories from her childhood, growing up in a famous family in Hollywood. “I’m lucky, I’m very close to my brother Jonathan and sister Juliet; I have always been. Family is where you feel completely safe and can be yourself. It is always the place you go back to, and if we have that, we are fortunate indeed.”

Image credit: Johan Persson