This likely won’t make any other actors feel too great about their prospects, but even Judi Dench says that finding work is tough. And that’s after winning an Oscar, becoming a dame and appearing in seven James Bond films. So what hope does the rest of the acting community have?
“I take what’s offered. I don’t think it gets easier,” Dench offers. “It’s the same thing with everybody, I think, that you play something, and very often after that you’re sent something that is very, very similar to what you’ve just done. It’s the last thing you want to do. I keep saying to my agent, ‘Can’t you find this play where it’s about an Afghan woman who learns to walk the tightrope and then in the last act gets turned into a dragon?'”
While she waits for some enterprising young playwright to craft that exact work for her, she’s revisiting some previous work for a sequel to the 2011 surprise hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” And while it might sound surprising for a woman who has played some fairly terrifying and challenging roles, aging expat Evelyn proved to be one of her most difficult — because the character is so close to herself, while she prefers to play people as much removed from her as possible.
“Four years ago, the one thing that worried me was that I used to be made up and get into my clothes and they’s say, ‘OK, you’re ready.’ And I’d look into the mirror and I’d think, I don’t know where this person is because all I see is me looking exactly like me wearing clothes that I would wear,” she admits. “We tried lots of things, like dying my hair, but none of it worked. I just looked ridiculous. So I did find that very, very difficult indeed.”
The discomfort clearly paid off, though. Dench admits the success of the first “Marigold Hotel” was something of a surprise, but she has a theory as to why it resonated with audiences so strongly. “I think it was probably the last thing people thought it was going to be,” she says. “It was about a lot of people over a certain age who didn’t give up, who were all prepared to take on a risk of some kind and had a bit of life left in them — which you know, after a while people don’t think you should have. People think you should be sitting nicely in a chair and watching television all the time, not getting up to learn something new. It’s appalling. Or not falling in love again, or not getting cross or angry. Somehow the older you get the more blanked out it should be. And I think all these people have a different attitude to that.”
So, then, how about a third installment, continuing on the surprise franchise? “Oh, a third one. Wouldn’t it be heaven? Wouldn’t it be? I’m up for that,” she says. And she even has an idea of how the casting department could top to addition of Richard Gere in this film. “Johnny Depp. Especially playing with me,” she says, giggling uncontrollably. “What’s the magic in Johnny Depp? Sex, of course.”
Judi Dench admits that tackling “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” — as well as the original film — felt a bit like a con on her part. “If you’re paid to go to India for eight weeks one year, and four years later you go back? Bewitching,” she says. “And with a per diem! Paid for being there, just learn the lines, get on with it, do it as well as you can.”
But doing as well as you can is difficult sometimes, like when director John Madden has her riding on the back of a motorcycle with co-star Bill Nighy — a key image from the first film that’s repeated in the sequel. “That was pretty hairy,” Dench admits. “You know he has this thing, Bill, where he has that carpal what’s-it’s-name? So he has to drive it [with two fingers from each hand]. And I’m on the back thinking, ‘Oh well, it’s all right,’ but then John says, ‘And now wave!'”
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick