Things They Told Me #3: Dame Judi Dench



As Dame Judi Dench turns 86 this week, I’m paying tribute to one of the best, most well-loved and warmest of British acting legends with a few bon-mots from an interview I did with her for Mrs Henderson Presents where, when I let it slip that the day we met in a London hotel was my birthday, she gave me a heartfelt kiss that made me love her even more.

On hating being labelled a national treasure…

‘Too dusty, too in-a-cupboard, too behind-glass, too staid.’

On being considered formidable…

‘I don’t like that word at all. It sounds rather strict and uptight to me. I don’t think that’s me at all. The people who say that are the people who don’t know me very well.’

On being shy in real life…

‘I think a lot of actors are very shy people and you can only properly express yourself if you are endeavouring to be another person. It is like those moulds for gingerbread men, I sometimes think. You have to inhabit another body in a way, to make yourself another shape.’

On being a chameleon…

‘I always want to do the most different thing I can think of next. I don’t want to be known for one thing or as having done huge amounts of Shakespeare and the classics. I remember someone who saw me in Juno And The Paycock saying I was completely unrecognisable. How marvelous!’

On what gets her goat…

‘Lots of things make me angry. Apathy makes me angry and people who are rude for no reason make me angry. I’m always sounding off about things. My daughter [actress Finty Williams] has gotten used to it. She’ll be like “Oh, she’s off again”. When I get angry I have to shout at the television or the radio, really shout at it. I know they can’t hear me, but I have to get it off my chest.’

On cosmetic surgery…

‘I’ve considered it, but I’m too old now. Every time I go to America I wonder if there is some process where it could all be sucked out and I could be out of there in time for dinner, but I’m frightened it would all drop off under the anaesthetic.’

On staying on set for Bob Hoskins’ nude scene in Mrs Henderson Presents

‘You don’t think I’m going to step away from the set to preserve his modesty when the men on the film had the delight of seeing all these naked women, do you? He did the scene without a murmur. He just took his clothes off and stood there without us noticing. We were all looking at the girls on stage and then I glanced to one side and there was Bob with absolutely no clothes on. Exquisite and very brave.’

On doing nudity herself in the 1978 TV drama Langrishe Go Down in 1978… ‘Was it daunting? You bet it was, although at least the camera was right up a tree and it wasn’t at all erotic. Eroticism is caused when you have a garter or a pair of gloves on. I was completely naked and there’s something very vulnerable about that.’

On Hoskins saying Laura Henderson was ‘charming, cheeky and an absolute cow’ and that only Dame Judi could have played her…

‘I know. Charming, isn’t he? But I like that. I’m delighted. Can I be an absolute cow? Oh yes, of course I can. You see that side of me in Notes On A Scandal, which I’ve just done. If you think I can be that person too you’ll be running for the door.’


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