Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench talks career, self-importance and her ‘bond’ with Bond.
Dame Judi Dench has been a doyenne of the British stage for nearly four decades, a stalwart of the Old Vic Company, earning adulation and praise for portrayals of Ophelia, Juliet and Lady Macbeth.
The UK’s National Theatre Company, the Old Shakespearean Company… she was, and remains, the first lady of them all while sporadically punctuating her career with BAFTA-winning performances in A Room With a View and 84 Charing Cross Road.
It’s funny then that before 1995’s Goldeneye – her first appearance as head of MI6 – and despairingly, even after, Dench still gets asked, ‘Have you done anything else other than M?’
“Well that’s Bond for you,” she smiles broadly. “Bond has universal appeal. Everyone and their grandmother goes to see these films, twice. Why on earth would I expect some young fellow to be aware of my body of work, most of it on stage? It’s normal really.”
For a record seven-time Olivier Award winner, isn’t it somewhat insulting? “I can’t be insulted? Am I that self-important a human being? No chance!”
What remains true though is that, as the character of M, Dench will always remain a shining beacon in the Dench legacy. “It’s been a true honour and privilege, really,” she says of the role that was made famous by the late Bernard Lee. “You can sense that some people just feel very, very precious about Bond, and all those around him, so you want to keep those diehard fans happy. But you also want to bring something of your own to the table, and the simple fact that I’m a woman has helped, I think, move the Bond franchise forward a little.”
“And Daniel and I had such a lovely working relationship,” Dench tells, fondly. “There’s always so much upheaval, so much going on when it comes to a Bond movie, but to have Daniel there was a constant I really admired. And that’s rare as an actor. You often spend so much time building a rapport with someone, then it’s all over. It’s broken and then comes the time to make new friends, which is wonderful but can also be somewhat disorientating.
“But Daniel and I are very good pals and will continue to be; we’ve been through a lot. Mind you, he failed to mention to me about his little Olympic Ceremony stunt with the Queen; he kept that to himself!”
After a frantic global criss-cross for Skyfall, taking in Shanghai, Istanbul and the Scottish Highlands, the 77-year-old Oscar winner – famously awarded for a 12-minute appearance as Queen Elizabeth in John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love – has found herself out in the Swedish fjords for film Italian Shoes with close confidante Sir Anthony Hopkins, before a three-month shoot in Louisiana for Geoff Moore and David Posamentier’s debut feature, Better Living Through Chemistry.
Does the Dame believe she’ll take her foot of the accelerator anytime soon? “As long as there is a possibility of working, I’m not going to retire. I’m very conscious that I’m in the minority in that I love what I do. How big is the number of people who are running to work to do a job that they like? And how lucky to be employed at it – how incredibly lucky.”
Duly frank and honest, Dench – living with daughter Finty, and teenage grandson Sam in the Surrey countryside since her husband, renowned actor Michael Williams passed away from lung cancer in 2001 – saw her open nature burned by a rather sensationalised account of an ocular disorder she currently suffers from, called macular degeneration. Here, she admitted failing sight was resulting in scripts being read to her.
“Oh yes, that was rather overblown. This condition is something that thousands and thousands of people all over the world have to contend with and it’s something I have learned to cope with and adapt to — and it will not lead to blindness. The press had me with dark glasses and white cane by the end of the week, but I’m okay, and nothing will stop me from doing what I love.”
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