Eye on the Oscars: The Actress - Supporting Actress Contenders

The blow when Judi Dench discovered her character would not survive was softened by the “Skyfall” storyline that almost entirely pivots around the relationship between James Bond and his steely boss M.

So did Dench approach the role differently, knowing this was her swan song?

“She is the least strategic actress I know,” says director Sam Mendes. “If there was a big plan, she would never tell you. She doesn’t articulate, she demonstrates.”

Dench broke barriers in her major film debut in “GoldenEye” (1998) as the first woman to play M. “Skyfall” is her seventh outing and marks the first time M has been the focal point.

Increased screen time allows Dench a satisfying vehicle to explore her seemingly cold character’s complexities.

Mendes, who directed Dench in three plays in the 1990s, says he provided little input because she knows the role intimately. She doesn’t pick up where she left off, he says, but rather takes M to places not seen before.

And in this film, those places are often action packed.

“She loved every second of it and couldn’t wait to get her hands on a gun,” Mendes says. “She handles herself brilliantly.”

The celebrated stage actress came to film late in her career, earning an Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and landing four nominations following that. Her late husband loved her becoming a “Bond Girl.”

“She understood why time was up,” Mendes says of the decision. “She said ‘Of course she’s got to go. I’m just sad because I’ve had such a marvelous time.’ ”

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