The cast of the “Murder on the Orient Express,” including Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad, have plenty of star power between them. But there was one person they were all in awe of on set — Judi Dench.
Pfeiffer (who plays Mrs. Hubbard in the film) admitted she felt emotional when she first saw the British actress, who portrays Princess Dragomiroff. “I wept when I met Judi Dench,” she said at the film’s premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London. “The first day of filming was a little intimidating.”
Producer Judy Hofflund revealed Dench’s casting helped encourage other stars to sign up. “Judi was the first actress cast, and I think knowing Judi was in the movie made Johnny say, ‘I’m in.’” Hofflund was director Kenneth Branagh’s manager for 20 years before he coaxed her out of retirement to produce the movie.
British actress Olivia Colman, who plays Hildegarde Schmidt, joked about working with the acting veteran. “It was really tough,” quipped Colman, who will soon take over the role of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown.” “She’s not very professional.”
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Branagh, who both directed and starred in the movie, has likened being on set to “being in a group of elite athletes.”
The film is based on the 1934 thriller by Agatha Christie, the best-selling novelist of all time. It follows a group of passengers who are trapped on a luxury train during a snow storm after an oil tycoon is stabbed to death. Christie was traveling alone on the train in 1931 when it ground to a halt, which may have given her the idea for the plot.
Branagh plays mustachioed Belgium detective Hercule Poirot, and joked that he had tried “27 different Belgium accents.” He described his elaborate mustache as “a nice bit of face furniture.”
Branagh’s version is the first big-screen adaptation of the novel since 1974. Screenwriter Michael Green said he deliberately hasn’t watched the original film. “With my writer brain, I didn’t want to accidentally copy things,” he said. “And Ken was very careful about wanting to bring something new.”
Hofflund said Branagh was able to create a warm atmosphere on set, in spite of the storyline, which had some dark moments. “Ken is so much fun to be around,” she said. “Everyone wants to work with him again.”
British actor Tom Bateman, who portrays Bouc, said he was impressed by Depp (Ratchett). “He was the first to arrive on set on his first day, he had his lines down, he was creative, inventive,” Bateman said. “He could have sat back and phoned his performance in, but he tried really hard and that’s why he is who he is.” Depp actually arrived at the premiere straight from the set of another movie.
Bateman had previously acted alongside Branagh and Dench in the production “The Winter’s Tale” in London’s West End. He said Dench was the “biggest prankster.”
“She’d pinch your bum from behind the curtain as you’re about to go on stage, or send anonymous letters to people’s dressing rooms,” he added.
“Murder on the Orient Express” hits U.S. theaters on Nov. 10.