The BAFTA-winning actress, 42, on marriage, the spotlight and being a role model to her children.
You’ve starred in commercially successful films like Harry Potter and The Queen but seem to keep your private life out of the public eye. Is that a conscious decision?
It’s the way I like it. You don’t have to be in the public eye if you don’t want to be, and both my husband Damian [Lewis, star of Life and Band Of Brothers] and I get the best of both worlds. When we make films we go out and do the red carpet thing – you know, put on frocks and suits and have our photos taken, but we also have a life in north London where we walk the kids to school in flip-flops and go to the local pub with friends.
How did you know Damian was the man you wanted to settle down with?
When I met Damian I felt very calm with him, and like I belonged. I still do. Although we’re very different, our impulses are the same. I’ve never looked at him and not understood why he’s done something, and while I may not like what he’s done, I understand where it comes from.
Does being married to somebody in the same profession as you make life simpler?
It’s much easier in the sense that our jobs allow one of us to be at home when the other is at work. I’m also very lucky that I married a man who is willing to be at home looking after the children. We support each other.
Has having children changed you?
I don’t think it has, really. I was very lucky that my own upbringing was very happy and my parents were confident parents. I think I’ve got a bit of that; it’s never really occurred to me that parenting should be complicated or neurotic. Of course the kids fall over and we have to make trips to A&E when they get buttons stuck up their noses [laughs] – but it’s all a part of life.
Does being a mother affect the acting roles you choose to take on?
Definitely. I would never justify it by saying, ‘Oh well, it’s a big studio film and they’re paying me loads of money’ if the only women portrayed in the film are victims. I can’t tell my children that something is bad and then go and do it myself. They’re still very young and I have to be responsible in my choices, but I’m also very lucky that I can choose my roles, to a certain extent.
You spent your early years living in Africa. How did that shape you?
We moved around a lot because my dad was in the foreign office and I think it had a huge effect on me. Africa was very different from growing up in London – I was very innocent and would do things like go out to the Serengeti and watch the animals. Moving back to England in my early teens was certainly different; I couldn’t understand why the people in my class wanted to smoke and drink.
After 18 years as an actress, do you have any career goals for the future?
Thankfully I’ve always found it quite simple to live in the moment. I don’t reflect a lot and I don’t worry about the future, but I am really happy with my next few choices… The final Harry Potter film was a fantastic thing to be involved in [Helen plays Narcissa Malfoy in the last three instalments]; I’ve also filmed a BBC drama called We’ll Take Manhattan in which I play US Vogue’s former fashion editor, Lady Clare Rendlesham; and I’ve been working with Martin Scorsese on The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, a set of three 3D films, which was an absolute honour and privilege.
Would you say you’re happy in your own skin?
I don’t know that I’ve always been confident and self-assured, but I’ve never been all that self-conscious. I find what’s going on around me far more interesting than my own navel.
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is in cinemas from 15 July
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