There are actresses that need no introduction and Dame Judi Dench is one of them, as she’s been appearing on television and in movies for five decades, yet in that time, she hasn’t talked much about playing M in the James Bond series, starting with GoldenEye in 1995, which introduced Pierce Brosnan to the role, and continuing through five other movies.
Skyfall will be Dench’s seventh James Bond movie, so she probably would have some more insight into the way the movies have changed in the last 17 years, although she knew that she could only say so much and she shot down a number of questions asked of her by visiting journalists.
Question: This is your seventh Bond movie, which means you’ve tied Roger Moore for the number of Bond movies you’ve done. Do you feel like you have to see a script at this point or is it just a foregone conclusion that you’ll return as M? Dame Judi Dench: No, I just wait to be asked, and then my agent came down and read me the script, which was simply wonderful, and that was it.
Q: You’ve played the character so often that you feel you have enough insight into her that you can throw out ideas if you think she’d say something different than what the writers have written? Dench: Yes, I think, like every part you play, you make a background. You know exactly what that person would do in certain circumstances. I think there was only one line in this that I thought was a bit foreign for her to say, a very short line of no consequence really, but it wasn’t necessary, actually. It was explanatory and you didn’t have to over-egg that moment, but they’re very well-written, and it’s very, very exciting to be asked to do it. I’ve enjoyed it hugely because my grandson is 15, and he and his friends just love it.
Q: There was a very long gap after “Quantum of Solace” because of the studio problems. Did you think that maybe they’d never be coming back with another Bond movie? Dench: Yes, I did think. I did think we would never get back.
Q: How did you feel when they said, “You’re coming back and Sam Mendes is directing?” Dench: Terrific, because he’s an old friend of mine, so that was very good indeed. I had worked with him on about the second thing I think he ever worked on in the theater, on “The Cherry Orchard.” He was much more bossy then. (Laughter) He was young and very bossy, much more bossy then. He’s not so bossy now; he’s much calmer and he’s clever.
Q: Are there any references to the other movies? They said this is a standalone movie rather than being a continuation of “Quantum of Solace.” Does it reference things that happen in the other movies at all or not really? Dench: No, it’s another story.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between M and James Bond in this film? Dench: Well, there’s much more of me in this film, and so you naturally got to be just more to do with each other, more to show of how you feel and your past.
Q: The film revolves heavily around M this time, so can you tell us a little more about that? Dench: No, no, no, I can’t. There’s more lines to learn, many more lines to learn, more days filming, more work with Daniel and work with Javier and with Rory Kinnear, and that’s very nice because he was my husband’s Godson, so we’ve known him since he was a really tiny boy. It’s very nice that we have a relationship where he is working anyway with M, we work together, so we have that relationship. It’s built-in because we know each other so well.
Q: Do you discover any new things about M that you didn’t know before with more backstory that’s going to come out in this film? Dench: Yes. (Laughter) A few.
Q: We’ve heard that M might get into some kind of trouble, so can you tell us what kind of trouble? Dench: No, I can’t tell you which kind of trouble. She gets into trouble.
Q: I feel like in the other movies you haven’t had much interaction with the villains, so that’s one thing that seems very different in that you might be interacting more with the villain. Dench: It’s more exciting to me. Much more, especially when you get Javier Bardem. Yes, it’s very exciting, but there’s just more story to tell.
Q: We’ve never seen M in action and we’ve never see her shoot guns, so do we get the impression that maybe she has those skills we haven’t yet seen? Dench: I expect she didn’t get to the head of MI6 if she couldn’t do that. (She wouldn’t answer our follow-up question whether she’d done any gun training.)
Q: It’s been 50 years, so where you always a follower of the series? Dench: Well, like people here, the Bond films are iconic. You waited for the new Bond film and you went to it. I remember going years and years ago, years ago, and my husband was a huge Bond fan, and was right excited to think he had a Bond woman in his family. They’re not called “girls” anymore, is she? And especially as (M) had never been played as a woman. M had always been a man. A lot of people said it was because of the influence Dame Stella Rimington, who is the head of MI5, but as a matter of fact, I think this script was written just before she was appointed. I’d never met her, but I’m going to meet her a week after next–there’s going to be a Dame’s Lunch–and I’m thrilled. There’ll be a lot to talk to her about. She’ll give a few tips to me a bit too late.
Q: Maybe for the next one? Dench: Who knows?
Q: What’s the benefits of being a female M? Dench: Well, I think the plus is because then it’s a very different angle on Bond. It’s not a man putting another man to do it. There’s a woman, and add into the fact that she is his senior, it puts another angle on it. It puts a certain strain on it.
Q: In what way would you say Silva is a good villain for James Bond? Dench: Why is he a good villain? Well, you look at Javier Bardem. (Laughs) He’s terrific, terrific, I think.
Q: You’ve been playing alongside both Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig as Bonds. Can you describe the differences and the likenesses of those two as Bonds? Dench: Well, it’s Bond, but the difference between the two is very extreme. Daniel’s much more a kind of Bond of today, but both of them have a self-mocking quality about them, which is essential for him too, much like the ironic thing of being able to say something outrageous and be very relaxed about it. British phlegm, stiff upper lip, you know, you can mock that at any time.
Q: How did you rationalize the change from Pierce to Daniel? Usually, when a new Bond comes on, everyone just assumes it’s the same character and everything’s just carried on. Dench: In a way, that is what has to happen, but by nature of the fact that they’re different people, how I would treat Pierce with one line or two lines would be different from the way I would (talk to Daniel), simply because of the way they would react. If we’re doing “Hamlet” tonight and I was playing Gertrude, if you were playing Hamlet tonight (she says pointing to one male journalist) Is that okay? We would play the closet scene one way, but if tomorrow night you were playing Hamlet (she points to another journalist), the way we would play the closet scene, although set exactly the same way, would be quite different by nature of the fact that people, if we were all to say something in one way, it would all be different. Nobody would say the line the same, so therefore, it’s like something you slightly adjust, you know? I don’t really like to say it in here. Are we in a theater? No, but Shakespeare’s Scottish play, which we don’t name, but when Ian McKellen and I were doing that, he used to change ever so slightly, and by nature of what he changed, so did I. It’s a reflective thing, so therefore, you might be called James Bond, and you say something, but probably my reaction if I were to do this whole film with Pierce, it will be slightly different from the way I would’ve done it with Daniel.
Q: But in terms of “GoldenEye,” for that movie, you were the new M and the new boss. Dench: He was the new Bond.
Q: But you treated Bond as he was the same character as previously, but the fact you were the new M was stated. In “Casino Royale,” you were the same M, but there was a new Bond, and it was a different dynamic. Dench: That’s right. Yes. Well, that’s more to do with the writing. I treated it much like this is a new up and coming jumped-up person that I’d then have to watch, a tad younger.
Q: In that sense, how do you think Daniel Craig has affected Bond as a character? Dench: Well, I don’t know. He’s played it his way. He’s made it a Bond much more of today. I don’t know. It’s difficult for me, because I’ve been in close contact with them both and they’re both very different kind of actors, but nevertheless, they’ve both taken on the mantle of Bond. God, that can’t be easy, I think. Once you do that, I think your name is James Bond for the rest of your life.
Q: You mentioned you’ve been friends with Sam Mendes for a long time, you’ve worked with him before. He’s also the sixth director you’ve worked with on a Bond movie. How is he different from some of the others? Dench: They’ve all been completely different, but perhaps it is the fact that I’ve known Sam for such a long time, but from when I first worked with him until now, he’s very calm, Sam. He’s very, very calm, and the end of one scene I remember saying, “Are we really all right?” He said, “I would never go on until I’ve got what I want, never.” Once you know that, you completely relax because you think he’s not going to settle for anything. He’s going to do a lot of takes and he’s not going to settle if he thinks he hasn’t got it.
Q: How is Barbara Broccoli as a producer? Dench: Well, she’s a friend, so it’s difficult to say, as a producer because she has also made us always feel that we’re all a part of the same franchise. She or Michael (Wilson) are always there, so somebody’s always about and easy to talk to. They’re not people who sit in a room and are people you don’t see. They’re not like that. They’re actually present and watchful and just there to interact with.
Q: You’ve done very dramatic roles in Shakespeare, is playing M a little bit easier? Dench: Not easier. No, it’s not easier. Not great, not great, long speeches of iambic pentameter to learn, but not easy, not easier. I mean, just different, really different and just a different person to kind of try and tell a story about.
Q: What do you like about M? Dench: I don’t like or dislike. I don’t ever do that with a character, like or dislike, because I think there are many things to dislike about the character you play and many things to quite admire, but I don’t ever decide which is which. I like the challenge. I love the challenge of playing it, love it. What I like is the effect it has on my grandson and his friends. (Laughs) They don’t mess in my house. Thanks very much.
Skyfall opens everywhere on Friday, November 9. You can read our initial set report here and look for our interview with the new Bond Girl, the lovely Bérènice Malohe, probably tomorrow.