Judi Dench: “In the theatre you can change things ever so slightly; it’s an organic thing. Whereas in film you only have that chance on the day, and you have no control over it at all”
Just a few weeks ahead of her 78th birthday, Dame Judi Dench shows no sign of retiring or even scaling back on her award-winning acting. But despite that Dench doesn’t consider herself a proficient actress by any means, and she reveals some reasons why she still doesn’t consider herself a “good actor” to The Guardian.
Like some other actors, Dench doesn’t watch her films after she makes them, nor will she even watch a scene after a take. She explains why, pointing out, “really good film actors, proper ones, who will always look at a take after it is done. I find it too hard to cope with that idea that you can’t change it.” In fact, she prefers the stage because she gets many “do-overs,” adding, “I love the way in the theatre that you can change it every night.”
She elaborates on why she doesn’t choose to watch her films by revealing “I think it is always appalling to see yourself on film. I think John Gielgud used to say that he would love to have had a performance of a play he had been in to put on his mantelpiece so he could live with it and see exactly the ways he could have done it better. Because there are always ways. In the theatre you can change things ever so slightly; it’s an organic thing. Whereas in film you only have that chance on the day, and you have no control over it at all.”
Surprisingly, the acclaimed Dench is even more loose about her roles than that. She confesses that oftentimes she doesn’t even read a script before accepting a role, preferring that a director explain the part to her first. She says, “Even before that, though, I have always had a director tell me the story. I want them to put it into words for me. And I am interested in what they choose to put in and leave out. That, after all, is what you are going to do for the audience. I like to have it presented to my mind’s eye.”
She also prepares in another way, which draws from her hobby of painting: “When I am with a script or in rehearsal I might doodle a character’s face or something. I nearly always do that. But what I do is listen to what everybody says about you and try to assimilate that.”
In fact, Dench’s artistic sensibilities draw her to the design aspects of a film production. She reveals, “I wanted to be a set designer when I was young. And I still think I am as interested in a set and the costumes as anything else. I remember I was in Stratford once and only doing one play, so in my afternoons I went off and learned how to knot a wig as they would have done back then. That gave me a wonderful insight…”