|What directors would you like to work with? “I just want each time to do something different.”
How do actors balance commerce and art? “I don’t think about that at all. I think, here’s another film I’m going to do with a totally different part, that’s all. And how lucky is that?”
Up next: “The new Bond film in February. Then (Noel Coward’s play) ‘Hay Fever’ on the West End.”
Judi Dench knew about London’s Windmill Theater when she was growing up, although the actress experienced World War II well north of London in her home city of York. So when she was taken to lunch at west London’s elegant River Cafe and told of a proposed film about the Windmill, “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” she instantly said yes.
“I’d seen a treatment of it and knew the story of it,” recalls the legendary English stage actress-turned-Academy favorite, soon to be 71. “It seemed like this is the dream part to have — working with Stephen (Frears, the director) again and with Bob (Hoskins).”
Dench knew Frears from several TV projects: “Going Gently” and then “Saigon: Year of the Cat.” “We just hit it off straight away,” says the thesp, who shares the helmer’s mischievous sense of humor. “Stephen’s very anarchic and so dry, really dry.” By way of evidence, she cites a text message from Frears prior to the film’s unveiling at a Moroccan fest in early November: “He’d gone to the wrong airport, and I got this text: (A) Trying to find you. (B) Trying to find Morocco.”
Dench prepped for the role, meeting the granddaughters and other relatives of the real-life Laura Henderson, who returns to England after a lengthy period in India and takes over the derelict Soho venue. “She was an extraordinary woman, a real life force, and when the young men came in to see the performances, she was a real friend to them,” Dench says.
“It was a whole journey of discovery. I met some of the girls who used to perform at the Windmill, who are now extremely glamorous 90-year-olds. During filming, we had such laughs and got terribly fond of our Windmill. It was that thing Mike (her late husband) used to say: You run to work.”
As of mid-November, Dench had yet to see the film with a proper audience so she “can’t say how it works, though it was a headache to Stephen because you don’t know whether it’s a musical or what it is.”
What matters, she says, is that auds realize this story really happened. “It seems so far-fetched, but I hope people realize this is true.”