When actor Bill Nighy first heard that Fox Searchlight Pictures was planning a sequel to 2012’s sleeper hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” even he was shocked at the decision.

“I was quite surprised,” Nighy confessed to Variety on Tuesday night at the New York premiere of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at the Ziegfeld Theatre. “Every time I say the words ‘Marigold 2,’ (I think) maybe I’m dreaming. With ‘The Expendables 2,’ I get it, but I didn’t imagine a bunch of old people getting back together sounded like box office dynamo.”

The studio execs behind “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” seem to have made a wise choice in greenlighting a second installment. The sequel, released in the U.K. on Feb. 26, topped the U.K. box office chart, stealing the top spot from “Fifty Shades of Grey” on opening weekend. In the U.S. on Tuesday night, Nighy and his co-stars Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie and Richard Gere received a similarly enthusiastic reception when the film screened for the first time (star Maggie Smith was absent due to filming the sixth season of “Downton Abbey”).

“This cast of actors is kind of a dream,” Gere told reporters prior to the screening. “I loved the first one, and this was also a terrific script. It’s not like it was a particularly difficult film, but I thought it would be fun to make, and it was.”

Not only did Gere enjoy his time filming in India, but he appreciated the movie’s cross-generational message. “It isn’t about age particularly, but (about) people who are yearning for connection, yearning for love,” said the newcomer to the project. “People have been damaged, so we all understand that. We understand heartache, we understand relationships and moving on. So that’s what it’s about.”

Director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) felt determined to create another crowdpleaser for what marks the first sequel that Fox Searchlight is producing and distributing.

“I felt pressure to deliver something that wouldn’t disappoint an audience,” said the previously Oscar-nominated director. “I felt a responsibility to the studio. You are spending someone else’s money, and you want it to be good. The crucial thing was that I felt we had a story left to tell and actually to resolve. The second film really is a resolution of the first.”

The sequel takes moviegoers back to Jaipur, India, a few years after a group of charming British retirees first made a home of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — where they discovered that, although the place wasn’t as luxurious as advertised, it was full of life. To meet increasing demand, the manager of the Marigold (Patel) plans on buying a second hotel and hopes to expand. Meanwhile, a new visitor (Gere) professes to be a novelist, but may or may not be an undercover evaluator secretly considering the Marigold for a corporate franchise.

Nighy said that his favorite aspect of the film was reuniting with Dench, his longtime friend and collaborator.

“I’ve worked with her a great deal both onstage and on camera,” the “Love Actually” alum said. “I’ve been her love interest about four times, and it’s an ideal situation.” However, their palpable chemistry never translated to anything romantic in real life, and the two have never been more than friends. “I tried it a couple of times, and she wouldn’t have it,” Nighy joked. “She doesn’t like me in that way; she tried to explain and I don’t understand!”

Now that “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” seems to be a hit, does Nighy anticipate a third go-around?

“I don’t know if there will be three,” he said, “but if we are all still alive, yeah, I’ll be there!”

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Participant Media, opens in theaters on March 6.

(Pictured: Richard Gere at the “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” New York premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre)