Fiona Shaw Takes a Look Back at Petunia Dursley
Olivier Award-winning actress Fiona Shaw has had an incredibly varied career since her early on-stage roles and films like Three Men and a Little Lady. Harry Potter fans, of course, know her best for portraying Petunia Dursley, Harry Potter’s cold aunt, alongside on-screen husband Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths) and son Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling).
In a new interview, Shaw reflects on leaving Ireland for London to pursue an acting career and returning to the country where she was born to discover its long and varied history. Shaw is currently taking a step back from acting after the frenzied time of appearing in Harry Potter and taking on intense stage roles. But that doesn’t mean that things are slowing down – the actress is currently directing an opera and has plenty of film roles lined up, as well as a play.
Despite her busy schedule, the actress still takes time to reflect on the impact that Harry Potter has had on her life.
Lots of kids approach me and can’t quite believe they can touch the person in the book and the film; it’s really very sweet. Other than that, my life is just a life and better than most celebrities in that I get to exist under the radar but still get invited to nice things.
Shaw also shares an amusing anecdote about being mistaken for her character.
Speaking of disapproval, and she’s on a passionate pique about an air steward on a recent flight who mistook her for Harry Potter’s Aunt Dursley and gave her the cold shoulder. Shaw couldn’t figure out what she’d done wrong until the lady returned sometime later and confessed that she had forgotten she was just an actress playing the awful Aunt Petunia and had felt very protective of her children. Testament to her realistic performance, I offer. ‘I think that woman needs to get another job,’ she says, laughing.
Outside of Harry Potter, Shaw has worked with fellow cast members on stage, including Harry Melling (playing his on-stage mother again in Mother Courage and Her Children) and Alan Rickman in John Gabriel Borkman by Ibsen.
Oh, poor Alan, that was such a sad funeral […], but we should never have done that play; it wasn’t his [Ibsen’s] best work; Hedda Gabler, for example, is much better.
While Shaw has taken on several roles that have marked her out as a talented actress, she admits that she wasn’t always so keen to take on more serious roles.
I sought out comic roles initially. I was very Irish in thinking that I had to be funny all the time but soon realised that behind the wit is another garden to be explored. Humour is too often a defence, but beyond it is tragedy, and that’s more important, as it tells us how to live.
Moving away from Harry Potter, Shaw reflects on her passion for acting, a path she was glad she followed after considering becoming a nun.
I think you’re born with it. Who knows retrospectively what career you’re going to have – I certainly didn’t – but in some ways I have the career I’ve always wanted. It was about speaking language for me, about words, which I’ve always loved.
You can read the full interview here. You can catch up with where you can see Fiona Shaw next in our Role Call.
What’s your favorite role that you’ve seen Fiona Shaw take on? Have you ever seen the actress on stage? Let us know in the comments!