Bond, ‘Brown’ or Bard, Dench’s impact lingers

Showest supporting actress of the year

Judi Dench Filmography

Judi Dench is a rare combination of seemingly opposite character traits on- and offscreen.

She is assertive and humble, powerful and vulnerable, extraordinary and normal. One moment she can be the acting equivalent of a nightstick, dropping fellow actors to their knees in awe, and the next she can be quietly doing needlepoint in the corner, away from the commotion she inadvertently created.

During her multidecade career on the big- and small screen, and in theater, she has portrayed characters larger than life in adaptations of Shakespeare works.

She has played proper English royalty in films — such as “Mrs. Brown” and “Shakespeare in Love” — and was even made a dame of the British empire in 1988. But those who have worked with Dench know of her different professional and personal sides firsthand.

Whenever she was doing a scene on the set of “Chocolat,” for which she is receiving the ShoWest supporting actress of the year honor, all of the young thesps would crowd around the monitors, silently watching her craft.

“I asked (co-star) Hugh O’Connor if he enjoyed watching her,” recalls co-producer Kit Golden. “He said it was like watching a master class. They would just stand around watching her do her scenes. I was doing the same thing.”

Co-producer David Brown explains this phenomenon with a rather lyrical, poetic quality.

“She can bat an eyelid and arouse an audience,” he says. “Her whispers can be heard in the farthest reaches of every theater. Her intonations evoke emotions.”

“Judi is always well-prepared,” says “Chocolat” director Lasse Hallstrom. “Everything seems to be born in the moment. It has been a learning experience. I am looking forward to working with her again.”

Pierce Brosnan, who starred as the James Bond to Dench’s M in the last three 007 films, agrees with these positions.

“She makes the challenge of acting so seamless,” he notes. “She never takes her eyes off you. She has impeccable concentration with that wickedness beneath the surface that tells you she knows what you’re about and is in control.”

But alongside her strength and presence, is another more accessible, more usual existence. In real life, she is neither Lady Macbeth, Queen Elizabeth nor Queen Victoria.

“As an actor, she’s completely down to earth,” says Colin Firth, who appeared in “Shakespeare in Love” with Dench. “One could easily be in awe of her. She is a great actress, a great woman and a dame, but she really puts you at ease.”

“I had the great pleasure of having dinner with her numerous times while we were shooting in England,” says Golden. “I remember she had a great conversation with one of the waiters who recognized her and ended up talking to the guy for 15 minutes; just thanking him so much for saying what a fan he was.”

And, regardless of her stature in the entertainment community, she sometimes suffers from many of the same fears that all actors experience.

“The first time I met her, when we were doing a scene with six pages of dialogue, I asked her how she felt about acting on camera,” says Brosnan ” ‘I’m terrified,’ she told me. And I said, ‘Well, you’re probably more used to being in theater. Maybe you’re just more comfortable there.’ ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I’m terrified there, too. I prefer to be downstage, facing upstage, wearing a nice blond wig.’ ”

Dench Filmography*

Year Film
Domestic B.O.

2000 Chocolat (Miramax)

2000 Into the Arms of Strangers (WB)

1999 The World Is Not Enough (MGM/UA)

1999 Tea With Mussolini (MGM/UA)

1998 Shakespeare in Love (Miramax)

1997 Tomorrow Never Dies (MGM/UA)

1997 Mrs. Brown (Miramax)

1996 Hamlet (Sony)

1996 Jack & Sarah (Gramercy)

1995 GoldenEye (MGM/UA)

1989 Henry V (Goldwyn)

1988 A Handful of Dust
(New Line)

1987 84 Charing Cross Road (Col)

1986 A Room With a View (Cinecom)

1985 Wetherby (MGM)

Box office in $millions *selected films