Dame Judi Dench talks revisiting India in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, working with good friends and eyeing-up Richard Gere.
Dame Judi Dench is one of the most beloved performers of her generation, and one of the most garlanded actresses to grace screens big and small. She is probably best known to blockbuster cinema-goers for her role as M in the James Bond films. Dench first inherited the part in Pierce Brosnan’s debut Goldeneye in 1995, and was the only Bond cast member called back when the series was rebooted in 2006, with Daniel Craig, for Casino Royale. From the set of her latest film, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 80-year-old Dench discusses returning to the role of Evelyn Greenslade in the follow-up to John Madden’s 2011 instant classic about a group of British retirees traveling to India to take up residence in a quirky and less than luxurious hotel.
Could you have imagined you’d be coming back for a sequel?
Oh, I don’t think any one of us would have said that we would ever come back, but we were all absolutely bewitched by it all the first time around.
Why do you think people responded so strongly to the first film?
I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s because it’s a story about a lot of people of a certain age. And perhaps because it also came out in the winter, and looking at it, it breathes heat, doesn’t it? Maybe it was very nice to see people in a hot climate, with wonderful colours, and to see everything about India, which is really wonderful.
You’ve just been shooting a scene with Maggie Smith’s Muriel. Where do we find these characters at the start of this film?
It is eight months on, and Evelyn knows Muriel so much better than she used to. There’s an ease between them, although she still calls me by my surname, and I still call her by hers. Certainly I have got an enormous respect for what she does, and I know how invaluable she is to the running of the place. And that’s, I think, where they are. They’ve grown into each other in a way, and understand each other. I don’t know that there’s any respect from her to me, but there is certainly from me to her.
You’ve worked with Maggie for so many years now, is there still a great energy between you?
I love working with Mags. I’ve worked with her mostly in the theatre, but of course also in A Room with a View, Tea with Mussolini and Ladies of Lavender. And, of course, the first one of these. I’ve worked with her probably more than anyone else.
You’ve worked a lot with John Madden, too.
I think that the more you work with somebody, the more you know them, and the more you understand. There is a kind of shorthand, I think. But you can’t get somebody more helpful, more full of energy, more inventive, more patient than John Madden. You know exactly where he is, and you know exactly where you are. He always is unbelievably patient.
What’s Evelyn’s story in this instalment?
Well, she’s offered another job. She’s working with textiles and stuff like that. She’s not in the call-centre anymore; she’s buying material and things. She’s offered a job to go on buying for them, and so she says, “Yeah, OK, I’ll do that.”
Is there a sense in the sequel that we’re seeing their lives in India for, really, the first time?
Yes, the first film was setting them all up, and the hotel. And now it’s here, it’s expanding. You get to know everyone and there are lots of stories about everybody. The common denominator is the Marigold Hotel, but they all have separate lives now.
Tina Desai said that she was the country’s ambassador on the first film – giving you tips about where to go – and that she feels a bit usurped by how well you’ve gotten to know the country now.
We’ve all taken over now. The first film was nine-and-a-half weeks here, and now I expect it’ll be eight before we go. What is lovely about working in a country, is that you don’t feel like a tourist. You actually feel a bit proprietorial about it and I’m almost living here. That’s what we’ve all felt and we’ve all lost our hearts to it, really.
How does it feel to have new people join the ensemble?
Tamsin [Greig] I’ve admired very, very much as an actress. I’m a huge The Archers fan, and I knew she plays Debbie. I want to get all the lowdown on The Archers from her. Richard [Gere] I didn’t know, and I don’t actually have any scenes with him. I sit at the back in a couple of scenes, but I’ve not really got anything with him.
Do you regret not getting a scene with him?
No, because you can still go back and boast about it. “I got to stare at Richard Gere, even though we hardly have a scene together.” It’s lovely, and for him, I’d have thought, it must be quite overpowering, getting into this lot. We’re very cliquey, because we know each other so well, but he’s perfectly able to handle it.
Is there a hope that this might become a trilogy?
We didn’t think there’d be a second, so no. We’re lucky we got a second. It was just wonderful that we’d done that. And, also, 80% of the crew is the same crew. That’s very special. It’s a family, in a way.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is out now in cinemas across Dubai.