There is no such thing as a weak performance from Dame Judi Dench. Nor, it seems, is any character out of her range. Her role in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a far cry from Bond’s M.
There is no such thing as a weak performance from Dame Judi Dench. Nor, it seems, is any character out of her range.
Look at what she did with the Alzheimer’s-plagued Iris Murdoch in “Iris,” or the stern and powerful M in a half-dozen James Bond films, or the kind and patient Sybil Thorndike in “My Week with Marilyn,” or her brief but riveting portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in “Shakespeare in Love,” for which she won an Oscar.
In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Dench plays Evelyn Greenslade who, recently widowed, finds out that her husband spent all of their money, forcing her to sell their home and start over. Her decision is to begin living life to the fullest, an idea that brings her, along with six other British seniors, to the rundown hotel of the title, in Jaipur, India.
“Evelyn is an independent soul who feels that she still has a bit of life in her,” said Dench, 77, last week in a New York hotel. “So she’s prepared to take a chance.” The role in the dramatic comedy attracted Dench because it actually provided her, not just her character, a chance.
“If you play one kind of a part, what happens is you get scripts rather similar to that part,” she said. “What you long for, of course, is a script which isn’t remotely like the last thing you’ve done. That’s what I would like to do next. Something that isn’t in my ken.”
In “Marigold,” she not only gets to play a quietly independent yet charming woman, but she also manages to fit in some adventure. There’s a wonderful scene of her and Bill Nighy tearing through the bustling streets of Jaipur on a small motorbike.
“That was most nerve-racking,” she said with a laugh. “On the back of that motorbike, sitting sidesaddle, without a helmet on, being driven by Bill, who was holding on with three fingers and waving with the other hand.”
There was also the adventure of just being in India, a place she had never visited.
“My character says it’s an assault on the senses,” she recalled. “I’d never even had a desire to go to India. But within 24 hours I was completely fascinated and bewitched by the country. The beauty of the people was outstanding. The color, the noise, the smell – everything about it is completely staggering. And I can’t wait to go back there. I could retire in India. I’d be off there tomorrow and put my feet up the chimney.”
Page 2 of 2 - Of course, it didn’t hurt being there with a stellar cast – including Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson – all of whom she had worked with before. She was reminded of her early stage days, being a member of different theater companies.
“If you’re in a theater company, part of the job is your interaction with everybody else,” she said. “You learn how another person acts. What was so good with this film is we all knew each other. Being in India for nine and a half weeks, it was like being in a theater company. We were all together in the evenings, relaxing. So there was that interaction. It’s not that you copy what you do in the evening, because that’s nothing to do with the characters you’re playing. But it’s something you carry inside you.”
Dench has been such a prolific actor over the past half-century, she’s used to being recognized. But she really gets a kick out of being stopped by younger moviegoers.
“If you play M in James Bond films, you get approached mostly by people of my grandson’s age – sort of 15 and up,” she said. “His friends are inclined to come to our house and imagine that it’s a bit like MI6.”
Dench has been Bond’s boss in every film since “GoldenEye” in 1995. People used to ask her late husband, Michael Williams, if she was as bossy at home as she was when playing M, and he would say, “If she was as bossy as that, she’d be off down the road, with her bag packed.”
“But it’s good for street cred, for young chaps” she added. “That’s very nice, indeed. Because that’s the way you get an audience for tomorrow. If I can get them to maybe come and see something else – not necessarily ‘Marigold’ but something else – then that’s our audience for the future.”
Dench, who says she has no plans to retire, would love to work again with “Marigold” director John Madden. The next one would be her fourth with him.
“He’s a man who does his homework and knows exactly the way he’s going to shoot something,” she said. “So you can feel safe and put yourself entirely in his hands. And he won’t settle for something if he hasn’t got it. He’ll go on.
“I did ‘Mrs. Brown’ with him. After I’d done that, I sent him a letter and said, ‘John, if you have the part of somebody sweeping up the street behind a scene, I’ll come and do it.’ And a few years later, he wrote and said, ‘I have got a part that means you just virtually walk across the back.’ And that was ‘Shakespeare in Love.’”