In perilous times, even an interview with actress Judi Dench can be filled with intrigue.
After an extended series of overseas phone connection mishaps to Dench’s English countryside home, the Oscar winning actress, 84, is convinced there are sinister forces at work. “I think we’re being bugged,” she says. “This is like the climax of a spy movie.”
Dench would know, having played James Bond’s spy boss M in seven films. In “Red Joan” (opening in New York and Los Angeles Friday, before rolling out nationwide in following weeks), she abruptly switches sides to star as a suburban London woman accused of spying for the Russians during her Cambridge University days.
“It’s a bit of old stomping grounds here,” says Dench of her spy return. She opens up about her new complicated agent, why she never watches her old films and playing Old Deuteronomy in the upcoming “Cats” movie.
Judi Dench talks ‘Cats’ catastrophe: And triumph playing Old Deuteronomy in the movie version
Judi Dench (c) stars as unnoticeable Joan Stanley, who is accused of spying for the Russians during her Cambridge University days. (Photo: IFC FILMS)
Question: Unlike Bond’s M, you made accused spy Joan Stanley into her suburban London existence in “Red Joan.” Why?
Judi Dench: I wanted somebody part of the background. She quietly lived her life, adored her son, and never suspected for a moment that any of her past would ever come out. Joan is part of the landscape. So no one would say that strange woman down the road must have a past of some kind.
Q: Your hair is beautiful, so I’m almost afraid to ask if that’s a wild Joan wig. But is it?
Dench: That’s a very, very good wig and they were very good about NOT keeping it in pristine condition. You know you get the look of (Joan) right when you look in the mirror and you don’t particularly recognize yourself. It was very nice to take off the end of the day. But I haven’t seen the film since I’m so allergic to seeing myself.
Q: You don’t watch your own movies?
Dench: I don’t see myself on film. When I do, I’m terribly conscious of what I chose to do and not to do in a moment. And I always am irritated. I like to watch it quite a long time afterwards when I have forgotten all the questions I had to ask myself in the moment. So I can look at it much more dispassionately. I’ve never even seen a “Room With A View.”
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and M (Judi Dench) at a secret meeting in "Die Another Day." (Photo: KEITH HAMSHERE, UNITED ARTISTS)
Q: Are you up to viewing the Bond films yet?
Dench: I watched a bit of (1995’s) “Goldeneye.” That was lovely. That was the first one that Pierce and I did together and we were both frightfully nervous.
Q: So how does your M rate?
Dench: There were things I would have done differently. Which is why the theater is so wonderful. You do a performance, someone says something, so you change it a bit. You have a bit of a chance to get it a better. Once it’s up there in celluloid, it’s there forever.
Judi Dench stars as an ordinary woman who shocks the world when she is accused of spying for the Russians in "Red Joan." (Photo: 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved)
Q: In one ‘Red Joan’ scene, you’re really into cutting the shrubs…
Dench: (Interrupting) Are you going to ask me what the people who owned the house thought? I did it very carefully. I thought I nicely trimmed their shrubs.
Q: The owners no doubt now have a sign that says ‘These shrubs were trimmed by Dame Judi Dench.’ I aimed to ask if you had real garden skills or was that award-worthy hedge-cutting acting?
Dench: Do you think they are showing people around the garden now? You never know. But I’m frightened of worms, so I don’t do gardening. I have someone who does it for me. And I’m looking a huge magnolia right now. It’s wonderful.
Dame Judi Dench receives the Donostia award during the 66th San Sebastian Film Festival, in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images)
Q: The “Cats” movies cast trained together in groups to perfect their feline skills. How was that for you?
Dench: It had been groups. But by the time I came on board, I was private cat-trained. The cat trainer came down to the house which is wonderful. I was able to be a cat here in my own room.
Q: So can you do cat now?
Dench: Do I ‘do cat?’ That’s a terribly funny question. Like, do I speak French? No, you don’t ‘do cat.’ That would take years and years of practice and even cat school. You have to be very, very serious to ‘do cat.’
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