Judi Dench: "I was told I would never make films because I didn't have the right face"
PalmaShe has played queens like Elizabeth I (Shakespeare in love ) and Queen Victoria of England (Victoria & Abdul ), but her name is also that of a queen: Judi Dench. The historic British actress has landed in Palma today to collect the Masters of Cinema award tomorrow, which is given every year at the Atlàntida Film Fest. She is also showing two films today, Blithe Spirit and Off the Rails. Happy to be in Mallorca - "We haven't been able to leave our house for a year and a half, spending three days here is fantastic", she says -, an island she fell in love with in the 1950s, Dench reviews her career and once again declares her devotion to Shakespeare. She will spend these three days accompanied by director Stephen Frears, who will also collect the Atlàntida award, as last year he was unable to fly to the island due to restrictions. Dench, at 86 years of age and dressed in white - an elegance that contrasts with the lightness of her friend Frears, who has turned up to the press conference in a swimming costume, red shirt and straw hat - answers questions with humour and irony, and makes clear the complicity she has with Frears.
This Sunday night you will collect the Masters of Cinema award at the Atlàntida Film Fest, but your career in this industry started late, when you were 30 years old.
My real passion is Shakespeare and my only ambition had always been to perform at the Old Vic in London. It was amazing when I came out of drama school and all of a sudden I was in the company of this theatre. I played Ophelia in Hamlet. I was at the Old Vic from 1957 until the end of 1961. Then I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. That was all I wanted. One day I met someone to talk about a film. He said it was nice to meet me but I'd never make a film because I didn't have the right face.
What's the difference between film and theatre?
In theatre, the audience informs you about what you do. The most glorious thing about it is that you can do better the next time. You know when you've done better or worse because they tell you. It's very much a team thing, and I like that a lot. I like being part of a whole. I remember I did a play with Anthony Hopkins, it was Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare, and it took me 100 performances to say one of the lines I had to say the way it was meant to be said: I had to make the audience laugh. I didn't manage it until the 100th performance. The great thing about theatre is that it's always changing, whereas in film you do it in a moment and it stays that way forever and ever. If it goes wrong, you can't do anything about it.
You are very fond of Shakespeare, the great English author.
I could recite all the lines of A Midsummer Night's Dream by heart, but not anything else. I had a brother who was an actor before me and, when we were very young, we used to do Julius Caesar. One of the goals I set myself during my lockdown was to learn all the sonnets, 154 of them. I would like to achieve it very much.
You've had a film career for many years. At this point, are you one of those who can choose the roles you play?
No, it's never been like that. You just have to wait and things come along, if you're lucky. A lot of people make really good movies, but then they never get a chance to do another one. Right now it's a bad time. I have three films waiting to be made, but they're getting postponed because the rules are constantly changing.
What has being a Bond woman meant to you?
It was surprising, and it was also a surprise to be asked. It's true that all my colleagues were shooting in fascinating places and I was put inside a room. I was complaining all the time, to be honest. Then we went to a little village in England, near London, and they had a caravan for me. Obviously, I didn't complain any more. I enjoyed the experience very much, always with a lot of respect.
Has feminism helped to improve the role of women in the film world?
Thanks to feminism, many more people now have opportunities, and that's excellent. Although it's clear that there have never been enough characters for women.
What is working with Stephen Frears like?
I have very fond memories of when we did Victoria & Abdul. I doubted they would take me for that character, but they finally did. Frears has a lot of things to say, and important things. It's very different working with people you know, you get used to the way they work and they make you feel comfortable. We worked well, even though I'm a bit bossy.