Julie Haggerty
Ohio Life

Actress Julie Hagerty on Becoming Disney’s Mrs. Claus

The Cincinnati native gained fame for her role in the 1980 hit comedy “Airplane!” You can see her as mrs. Claus in the Disney+ film “Noelle.”

When it came time for her solo performance for Indian Hill High School choir’s Christmas concert, Julie Hagerty sang exactly three words before passing out on stage.

“I knew that I was going to sing in front of the entire school, which terrified me,” says Hagerty. “I fainted, and that ended my singing career.”

Hagerty, who signed with the Ford Modeling Agency at age 15, would go on to find success in another career: acting. Her role as the spacey flight attendant in the 1980 film “Airplane!” turned her into an overnight success as the movie became one of the biggest comedy hits of the decade. Hagerty went on to appear in films such as “Lost in America,” “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” and “What About Bob?”

Airplane!’ was my first film after I had been working off-off-off Broadway with my brother,” says Hagerty. “When I got on the set there were more people in the crew than I had ever seen in an audience. When the movie came out, I was flat broke ... I was living in my girlfriend’s grandmother’s alcove, washing dishes in the bathtub.” 

A fan of Disney movies, Hagerty can be seen in the new Disney+ film “Noelle,” portraying Mrs. Claus, whose children are entrusted to save Christmas. She talked with us about her hometown, her new film and the role that kick-started her career.  

What was it like for you growing up in Cincinnati?
I grew up in a musical household. My mother was a singer and my father played saxophone with the Bruce Brownfield band that appeared on “The Paul Dixon Show.” I can play three notes on a guitar but that’s it. 

You grew up loving Disney movies and now you’re appearing in one. What was it like filming “Noelle”?
It was super magical. It’s Disney, it’s Christmas and it has an amazing cast. My clothes were out-of-the-ballpark gorgeous and the set was like walking into a Christmas painting. In this movie it’s a different kind of Mrs. Claus than we’re used to seeing. Her children are outrageous, and it was really fun listening to Shirley MacLaine telling stories while she was wearing elf ears.

Why do you think “Airplane!” is still a comedy classic? 
New kids are watching it for the first time. One of them asked me if I was the lady from the movie. People recognize my voice — the voice hasn’t changed but the body has [laughs]. Every hero I had growing up watching TV was in the movie. It was a comedy, but I had to play it seriously. Bob Hayes was delightful to work with and we are still great friends today. It opened up everything for me. I was able to work with Noah Baumbach, Woody Allen and Peter Bogdanovich. 

For more information about “Noelle,” visit disneyplus.com.