For Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal” marked a favored reunion with long-time theatrical and cinematic collaborator Richard Eyre. Such an opportunity was actually one of the major selling points of the project for the five-time Oscar nominee.
“I’m entirely dependant on a director,” Dench says, “and there’s a shorthand if you know someone well. He has such wonderful instincts. You feel secure in his company because he knows what he wants, but within that parameter, he allows you to really breathe, and that’s exciting.”
Eyre directed Dench to an actress nom in 2002 for her perf in “Iris,” and the duo may turn the same trick again this year as Dench brings a touch of “Fatal Attraction” to one of the most unique portrayals of her career.
In the film, Dench stars as Barbara Covett, a schoolteacher who discovers a co-worker’s affair with a 15-year-old student. Holding the knowledge for the ransom of companionship, Barbara is a desperate, lonely sort — certainly a departure from Dench’s past performances as commanding, upright women of varied importance.
“I’d read the book some time ago,” Dench says of the Zoe Heller novel on which Patrick Marber’s screenplay was based, “and I was fascinated by the bleakness of it. It can be very lovely when you’re asked to play something so different.”
Then again, tackling a character so diabolical might seem a daunting task for any thesp, to dig into and portray tendencies so trying and pathetic. But Dench refused to judge her character too strictly. In fact, she drew upon personal experience with people of a similar stripe to aid in her understanding of the role.
“I’ve known several people like her,” she says. “A very, very lonely person who craves affection and to have any friend of some kind. I think there are a lot of people out there just like that who have been lonely all their lives and dream of friendship.”
Cate Blanchett stars opposite Dench. Describing her co-star’s work ethic as “tireless,” she relished the opportunity of working in many scenes together.
“Judi opened up so many windows in Barbara,” Blanchett says, “ones that I doubt another actress could have found.”
Favorite film of the last five years: “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Actor who impressed you greatly after working with together: Kevin Spacey
Next project: Theatrical production of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”