Juliet Stevenson, 57, is a stage and screen actor. Her best-known roles include the leads in the play Death and the Maiden, for which she won an Olivier award, the film Truly, Madly, Deeply, and TV series The Politician’s Wife and Accused.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be an air hostess – or a waitress.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Army schools for the first stretch; my father was posted abroad. After that, independent schools and then Rada.
Who was or still is your mentor?
My mum is a great mentor in many ways. Workwise, Hugh Cruttwell, the now-legendary principal of Rada when I was there. After Rada we became close friends. I miss him to this day. And Helen Bamber, who founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, now called Freedom from Torture. I met her when I had to play a torture victim in Death and the Maiden. She is the most inspiring person I’ve ever met.
How physically fit are you?
I run all the time, from A to B to C, because I have a packed day, so I fancy myself as fit – but if I have to run for more than 10 minutes I’m in big trouble.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I don’t know whether I’ve taken one per se. I passed my 11-plus.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
I’d say talent every time, though ambition does serve people extremely well. And training, application and craft – without that you can’t be versatile.
How politically committed are you?
I’ve always been on the left. I’m a passionate believer in equality and I loathe the present corporate culture.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I am environmentally aware and I am shamefully behind where I’d like to be.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
My daughter has very expensive tastes, much more than my son. And clothes are my big weakness. And family holidays, I so love travel.
Yes. We’re based in London and have a little cottage in Suffolk.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A dog. An exquisite operatic singing voice. Or a large garden in London.
In what place are you happiest?
Around the kitchen table with my family. Or skiing down a mountain on a sunny day with my family around me: perfect bliss.
What ambitions do you still have?
I’d love to direct a film.
What drives you on?
I have a strong need to be useful.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
My children, if I can call them my achievement. They’re their own achievement, really. And my relationship with Hugh [Brody, her partner], 21 years of loving someone and all that involves.
The collapse of any alternative political and economic system: the perception that there is no alternative ideology to capitalism. The erosion of some of those things achieved so painfully by the women’s movement.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Gosh. I never expected success as an actress or to find a great person to love and have children with.”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
Roll up my sleeves and see it as an opportunity.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Very strongly. I have joined Dignity in Dying.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
No. I wish I did but I can’t.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Juliet Stevenson is appearing at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, July 4-13; poetry-festival.co.uk
Photograph: Tom Pilston; Alamy