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PopEntertainment.com > Oscar Nominees > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews A to E > Dame Judi Dench

DAME JUDI DENCH

PRESENTS MRS. HENDERSON

by Brad Balfour

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 8, 2006.

Having won an Oscar, and been named a Dame (by becoming an officer of the Order of the British Empire), 70-something Judi Dench has achieved a status such that she never has to do another film like Mrs. Henderson Presents. Yet whether Dench is portraying M in the James Bond series or playing the irascible and wealthy Mrs. Henderson, she elevates any film she works on and immensely enjoys doing so.

You had a lot of fun with the character of Mrs. Henderson.

Yes, well she was a lot of fun! She was outrageous. Stephen [Frears, the film's award-winning director] liked her because she was so silly; I liked her because she was so mischievous and blatantly rude. I loved it.

It was a fine line between making her a flesh and blood character and not a caricature of the stuffy British upper classes.

I don't know about that. I would just have to believe in Stephen and he would tell me. But she was so much larger than life than anything we might know, so outrageously daring and actually very brave.

You had to play her up to capture a woman who introduced nudity on a stage in
England during the 30s.

Usually higher a bit. I got more joy out of it. You read Martin [Sherman's] script, and for instance when she walks in and sees Lord Chamberlain, you know from the moment that she walks in, that he doesn't stand a chance [with her]—she's going to get him to say something [she wants]. Which of course was a considerable thing, and why the whole thing happened, because of her relationship with him. Until then, everything we did was censored. You couldn't appear on stage naked, you couldn't have lines crossed.

You worked with [co-star/producer] Bob Hoskins before?

We did "King Lear" on radio years before, and I'd known him a bit. We had a kind of ongoing very funny kind of relationship because [comedian/actor] Billy Connelly told me that his first choice for Queen Victoria was Bob Hoskins [laughs]. They sent me this most wonderful photograph the two of them had taken. Bob looked staggeringly like Queen Victoria. So we've had that kind of ongoing thing. You know people say, "Did you work at the relationship?" No, we didn't work on the relationship. The relationship between us happened anyway, the kind of wanting to bounce off somebody. It's also wonderful to get somebody who's in kind of the same world frame as you.

Were you familiar with [Bob's] character from history?

No, I only knew about Vivian Van Damm presenting 'The Windmill' shows [at the theater in those days].

How did you and Bob choose director Stephen Frears?

Bob is the producer, so he and Norma Heyman and I met over lunch and I said yes to the idea [because he told me the story] and then Norma and Bob had a conversation and said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if Stephen did it?" and he said 'Yes' the next day. It was great. Then I wanted to start the day after.

Even before you had a script?

Yes, that was before the script came. It was just wonderful.

When you got the script, were you surprised with it, or was it as you expected?

It was everything I expected and more, really, because I knew a little bit about her – I asked around when it arrived – and Martin Sherman is very skilled. He doesn't leave you to do much. If you can learn that script, he's told the story for you. You don't have to embroider it in any way.

What steps did you take to get into character?

The script, of course, is the first thing you have to go by.  Then I talked to lots of people, found relations of hers, and I also talked to some of the women – the nudes – who are alive. They're in their 90s now. Fantastic! One of them, Miss Barry, is 91, and she takes a
ballet class every morning. It's so glamorous. And they said this woman [Mrs. Henderson] was actually like a mother to them. It was the kind of family that she'd lost after her husband and son, and she created another family for herself. And they said she used to behave unbelievably badly. But also, at the same time, used to come in and pay for weddings, pay for dresses, pay for all sorts of parties for them, and generally looked after them. She'd got the best makeup man in London and used to slip in – having been banned from the theater – just to check on how they were.

You find a fine balance between strong and vulnerable in Mrs. Henderson and a lot of the characters you play.

Well it's how it's written, and all you have to do is somehow understand the life she's had. She's been in India with her husband. She's had a very happy marriage with him, and loses her son in the first World War. You know, that would make you pretty vulnerable. In fact, I would have thought too vulnerable to embark on the project she did. And then suddenly you think, 'Christ, she must have been tough.' And indeed she was that too. She didn't sit back, but spent her money on a project she actually knew nothing about: buying a theater. As her friend said, "I didn't mean you should buy a theater; you can buy lots of jewelry and things." And she said, "Well I bought a theater and now I have no idea what to do with it!" "You should get someone to run it!" And then she's totally absorbed in it. She was really a very remarkable woman in her day.

It's an impossible love story between Mrs. Henderson and Vivian Van Damm; like that revealing scene when she has a jealous reaction to him after meeting his wife.

I think she wasn't told that he was married. It pissed her off actually, not to put too fine a point on it. She'd gotten deeply involved in him by then, in her own self.

You seem to enjoy doing period films.

I do, but that's my background, really, being at the Old Vic and at Stratford [The Royal Shakespeare Company]. All that Shakespeare… So I enjoy all that but it's really whatever comes along.

What periods do you find most interesting or enjoyable?

That's impossible to say, for me. I don't know, I just like to be involved in the thing at the time. Very rarely I've not been involved or not enjoyed the actual period it's in.

Besides the "Bond" films, you've done mostly period pieces [like the recent Pride and Prejudice]. Is there something more modern you'd like to do?

I've just done something very modern indeed. I've just done Notes on a Scandal, which will be out next year. It's Zoe Heller's book adapted by Patrick Marber and directed by Richard Eyre, and with Cate Blanchett.

You continue your role as M in the next Bond movie?

I don't know anything, except that I'm going to be in Prague and the Bahamas. That's all I know. I haven't seen the script.

Again you're being talked about for awards for this film...

I'm getting the gist of it, you can say; especially in this business, you've got to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and you must not believe things that are said or written about you, because everything gets out of proportion one way or the other. You've got to somehow stay in a very even keel. If that were to happen [for Mrs. Henderson Presents] that would be a very good thing. If it weren't to happen, it's not going to be any less of a good thing, it's just a fact. I just want people to see this and understand the story, and about this extraordinary woman. I feel very passionate about her.

Were you once not sure you were going to make it in film since you had such a strong theatrical background? Now you're one of the most distinguished screen actresses. Did you ever think it would end up this way?

No, I never thought it would end this way. It's entirely thanks to Harvey Weinstein, because Mrs. Brown was made for television. Harvey saw it and it was presented as a film, and then I came over here after a 38 year absence and people said apart from M, and Mrs. Brown, what have you done? And I thought, 'That's 48 years straight past me' [laughs]. The theater is the thing I love doing most.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2006. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.  All rights reserved.
#2 © 2006. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.  All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 8, 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 8, 2006.