From her first theatrical roles as a teenager in York to her scene-stealing performances as 'M' in the James Bond films, Dame Judi Dench's professional life has consisted of non-stop acting, leading to numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Behind the Scenes is a candid blend of reminiscences and photos, many of them never-before-seen from her personal collection. It's a uniquely personal take on her life and brilliant career, showing her off-stage as well as on. Looking back, she provides her millions of fans with reflections and remembrances of those who have mattered to her most - her family, fellow actors, directors and writers - communicating them with the truth and insight that is the hallmark of her acting. Behind the Scenes takes up where her New York Times bestselling memoir and furthermore left off. Dame Judi looks back on the last few years to talk about her role as "M" in the Bond films, the joy of ensemble acting in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the chance to tell the story of the heroic woman at the center of Philomena, her joy in appearing with other great actresses in the MaterpieceTheatre Cranford and her return to the stage in Peter and Alice. Tireless in her desire to perfect her craft, she says "I simply want to go on acting. I suppose I could always be wheeled on stage if necessary. The great thing about acting is that it never ends."
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About the Author
JUDI DENCH was first acclaimed in 1960 as the Juliet for her generation in Franco Zeferrelli's production at The Old Vic. She has triumphed with the RSC, on the West End, at the National Theatre and on Broadway. She has been honored with every award given for performances on stage and screen. In 1970, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire, created a Dame of the British Empire in 1988, and a Companion of Honour in 2005.
Dame Judi Dench, one of the foremost actors of our day, has won the Oscar, the Tony and the Olivier award. She is the author of the book And Furthermore.
Read an Excerpt
Behind the Scenes
By Judi Dench
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Dame Judi Dench and John Miller
All rights reserved.
The love of acting is in the family blood. My father was a keen amateur actor, both my brothers acted at school and I followed my brother Jeffery into drama school. I suppose it was only natural that my daughter Finty should want to follow her parents into the profession. Though she initially wanted to be an acrobatic nurse!
My first ambition was to be a dancer. I was always dancing everywhere. I can remember very clearly my father saying when I can't have been very old, 'The thing about being a dancer is that before you get to forty probably you won't be able to go on dancing, you'll have to do something like teaching it.' Even then, that was my idea of hell, and that really put me off. I don't like the thought of anything packing up. Until then I was really quite serious about wanting to be a ballet dancer.
In this picture I am not conforming to anybody, I'm afraid, and if you look very closely you can see that I have extremely scabby knees where I was always falling down. When I was a child, going to bed early in the summer was agony for me. I have such a vivid memory of hearing the boys playing cricket outside in the garden, then running up and down the stairs because somebody'd forgotten something and had to fetch it. Then friends would come over and you would hear a lot of laughing, then it would go quiet for a minute and you knew they had all gone off to somebody else's garden. I couldn't bear to miss it. I don't want to be part of the action necessarily, but I don't want to miss anything. I don't mind if I'm just sitting on the side, so long as I'm hearing it. I don't want to miss a lot of larks.
On my right is my friend Ursula Gayler, who was later my dresser at the National Theatre.
The York Mystery Plays were revived in 1951 and were performed every three years, directed by E. Martin Browne. Daddy played Annas the High Priest. He was a very good actor as well as a very good doctor and my ma was in charge of making all the costumes, designed by Norah Lambourne. We had auditions at school, and I got in, playing an angel.
There were about eight of us from the Mount, and we were allowed out of school to take part. That was a terribly exciting time. Tenniel Evans played the Archangel Michael. He then went to Colchester and he wrote to me all the time he was there; we had a wonderful long correspondence until I was about eighteen. Next time I played the angel sitting at the door of the tomb in white clothing. Henzie Raeburn, E. Martin Browne's wife, refused to let me have anything to sit on, so I had to crouch for a long time.
Here we are during a rehearsal break in 1951. I am third angel from the right, listening to Tenniel Evans.
At this time I thought I wanted to be a designer, and between my second and third appearance in the York Mystery Plays I went to art school. Then I was taken to see Michael Redgrave's King Lear at Stratford, so brilliantly designed by Robert Colquhoun, with a huge saucer and a rock, which became, in turn, the throne, the cave and everything else. I'd never seen anything like it and I felt I was very old-fashioned about what I had previously thought. It was a Road to Damascus moment for me. But still, when I come to do a play, the bit I like best is when they show me the set and the costumes.
Finally, I ended up playing the Virgin Mary in the Mystery Plays in 1957.
My parents gave me a twenty-first birthday party which was held at Queen Alexandra's House, by the Albert Hall, near where I was living when I was a student at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and the actor Jeremy Kemp was also a student at the same time. On another night, when Jeremy and I were late back from seeing dear family friends John and Jean Moffat, the door was locked and we sat on the doorstep the entire night, until the door was opened in the morning. Jeremy stayed with me – gallant to the last.
The best work, in my experience, is always done where there is a genuine company spirit. That was something I learnt to treasure with my very first company at the Old Vic, and have since usually managed to achieve in my seasons at Nottingham and Oxford, and subsequently with the RSC and the National Theatre. This photo shows some of us who were in the Old Vic Company at the end of the 1950s. I am on the left, then Maggie Smith, Moyra Fraser, Alec McCowen, Rosemary Ackland and John Moffatt.
I adore this picture of Daddy in my dressing room at the Old Vic after a performance of Hamlet. He came to most of my performances. When I played Juliet I had a line 'Where are my Father and Mother, Nurse?' and he was the one who shouted out: 'Here we are darling, in Row H.'
For Hamlet I had this absolutely beautiful costume, designed by Audrey Cruddas: green shot with silver, and greyish silver beads. She set it in the Ruritanian period and all the chaps wore what we used to call shoes for tall girls – slip-on pumps. I got very bad notices for Ophelia. It did me a lot of good. If you get bad notices the first thing you do, it doesn't half bring you up with a jolt. When the Vic toured America it was decided that Barbara Jefford should play the part. That was hard to bear, but I was lucky enough to be playing Maria in Twelfth Night and the Princess of France in Henry V.
John Neville was playing Hamlet, and there is nobody who can hold a candle to John for leading a company – nobody I've ever met. He was brilliant at teaching you basic things that I don't think young actors are taught anymore – the whole business of getting in on time, being prepared, and not taking up the director's time while you sort out the problem of what is actually your homework. He had a great sense of fun, which is terribly important, and there's no doubt that if a company is led like that it comes over to an audience that it is a unit which works together. It's something you can't manufacture.
John used to hate it if anyone said they were tired and he's quite right. Acting requires discipline, and if they are too tired well, frankly, I feel they should let someone else do it. When I caught Asian flu during Hamlet at the Old Vic, one night I cried during the scene and went to pieces, and John came off and said, 'If you can't do it, let your understudy. Don't go on and show something that's nothing to do with Ophelia.'
I thought that was a very good lesson to learn.
I had a blonde ponytail as Phebe in As You Like It – what an arse-paralysing part! When the audience is shifting about and finding their handbags, ready to go home, suddenly she comes on again, having a row with Silvius. 'Oh good grief,' they all think, 'not another two having a row!' I'm bottom left, with John Stride as Silvius.
One night during The Importance of Being Earnest Fay Compton, as Lady Bracknell, said, 'Thirty-four is a very attractive name, Mr Cardew.' Alec and I laughed so much we were told off by Fay; we were really given a rocket. When I told John Gielgud much later, he said, 'How dare she. She was absolutely frightful at laughing on the stage.'
Romeo and Juliet was a great success. It was Franco Zeffirelli's first Shakespearean production and he was quite unlike any other director I ever worked for.
John Stride and I were in our twenties though, as you can see in the opposite photo, we looked much younger. We had a marvellous time doing it.
One day in rehearsal for Twelfth Night Michael Benthall said to me, 'Could you play it in a dialect?' and I said, 'Yes, I'll play it Yorkshire' and it fitted actually very well. Joss Ackland played Sir Toby on the American tour and he introduced me to jazz. Several of us went to hear Kid Ory, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday.
When we were rehearsing Measure for Measure at Stratford I used to cycle out to Tom Fleming's cottage at Hampton Lucy for breakfast. I would collect the cream and Tom would have the porridge on, then we'd put the bike in the car and come in to rehearsal. On Shakespeare's birthday we were invited to that big civic lunch, and the beadle said, 'Name?' and Tom said, 'Tom Fleming.' The man announced 'Mr Albert Finney' and then he said to Tom, 'A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.' We never did find out what that was all about.
At the same time as being at Stratford I was commuting to the Aldwych. I was doing The Dream and Measure for Measure at Stratford, and the TV of Major Barbara in London. We seemed to be going up and down the road from London to Stratford about three times every other day. We thought nothing of it, and there was no M40 then.
I met Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson when I was at the Old Vic, and they used to take me to the Players' Theatre and lots of First Nights. They were hugely good fun and they took me everywhere. Their house was full of theatrical treasures, and they let me hold the Order of the Elephant that William Macready wore round his neck as Hamlet in the nineteenth century, which you can see in that wonderful portrait of him. They were so sweet, and they knew absolutely everybody. I was with them the night I first met my future husband Michael: he was in Celebration at the Duchess Theatre and he came to join us in the pub afterwards in Covent Garden. It was also through them that I met the Edwardian actress Ada Reeve, who was a friend of Ray's and Joe's.
One of the happiest times I had was at Oxford and making a friend of Frank Hauser. I did several seasons at the Playhouse for him, with great friends like James Cairncross. He was a brilliant director and I once said, 'If Frank asked me to step in front of a bus, I'd do it.'
Four in the Morning was shot in Deodar Road in Putney, directly under the flight path, directly next to the road bridge, directly next to the railway bridge, and opposite where they dumped the rubbish on the river. We never got a take for longer than a minute and a half. It was just after the shooting of this film that my father died. Norman Rodway came round for a cup of tea, and it was while he was there that my brother Peter rang to say Daddy had died. It was 1 December 1964.
What thou seest, when thou dost wake,
Do it for thy true-love take.
I had one happy reconciliation during the run of The Dream. Franco Zeffirelli had been furious with me for refusing to join the Old Vic American tour of Romeo and Juliet, because I went to join the RSC in Stratford instead. But now I had a letter from him, saying, 'Seeing how clever you've been in Stratford I have completely forgiven you for having abandoned Juliet. You know I've missed you deeply, I've hated you immensely – now I see that altogether you were right.'
So that was good news.
When Peter Hall suggested I play Titania again forty-five years later I said to him: 'Peter, I can't do that again,' and he said, 'Of course you can.' He set up an opening scene of the company all arriving at Court, with me as Queen Elizabeth. They designed the most wonderful ass's head for Bottom, quite adorable.
It was lovely working with Peter again. He is such a stickler for getting the rhythm of Shakespeare's verse right, which is always such a great help. My grandson Sammy came to the First Night, and sat absolutely motionless throughout, as he has at every Shakespeare play from when he was very young.
Noël Coward came to see Private Lives, but thank goodness he wasn't there on the First Night. My bracelet flew off into the audience, the lid came off the coffee-pot and Teddy put it in his top pocket; he pushed me into the top of the trolley, I couldn't get out and he wouldn't help me. It was the most riotous First Night I've ever experienced.
John Neville directed Measure for Measure and gave it a very different setting from the one at the RSC. It was in modern dress and the moated grange was now a nightclub. When I asked John, 'How do I come into this nightclub?' he just yelled at me, 'The way any nun comes into a nightclub after hours.'
When we were delayed in Act II at the Dress Rehearsal of St Joan I was standing in the Green Room, and I looked out of the window and saw a woman with two children and a whole lot of bags pushing a pram. I turned and looked at all this knitted chain mail on everyone and I thought, 'Oh God, what are we doing?'
It is at the hour, when the great bell goes after 'God-will-save-France': it is then that St Margaret and St Catherine and sometimes even the blessed Michael will say things that I cannot tell beforehand.
The Promise was a wonderful play, by Alexei Arbuzov, but it's nearly three hours long with only three actors and lots of costume changes. I used to drop off to sleep when Frank Hauser was giving us notes. There was a big bed I used to curl up on and Frank would say, 'Is she awake? Because I have a few notes.'
Hal Prince saw me in The Promise and my agent Julian Belfrage rang to say that Hal Prince wanted to see me for his production of Cabaret. I said, 'You have to be joking.' So Julian took me out to lunch, I bought a feather boa, drank two glasses of wine, and when I arrived at the theatre I sang from the wings. I was so frightened. Amazingly I was cast as Sally Bowles! I went for singing lessons to Gwen Catley and after she'd heard me she said, 'Well, yes, you're not a singer.'
I said, 'Well, I know.'
'But I can teach you to sing in your way.'
It was Hal who said to me, 'Read the book Goodbye to Berlin, and read what it says about her.' Of course, the thing about Sally Bowles is that she isn't a singer, she's a middle-class girl from England who's gone out to Berlin. She can't sing. She could never be a success.
The musical director was going to New York while we were rehearsing and he said, 'Is there anything you want me to bring back?'
'Yes, the top note from the end of Cabaret.'
Hal overheard me and he said, 'If you can't get the top note, act that you can't get it.' That suddenly released me. The one thing that Sally Bowles craves to be is a star, but it's the one thing she's not, she's a failure.
I loved doing it, I loved working with Hal. When I was starting rehearsals I was sitting in my agent's garden in Primrose Hill with that beautiful actor David Hutcheson and he asked, 'Have you had the band call yet?'
'When you have it, the hair on the back of your neck will stand up.'
He was so right, and it's not only at the first band call, but for ever afterwards.
During the overture, when you are standing at the back waiting to go on, it's just so exciting.
I loathe taking curtain calls. It embarrasses the hell out of me. I begged Hal Prince not to have one in Cabaret, because I thought it would be so wonderful to have that train going away and everyone going with it.
Trevor Nunn asked me to play Hermione in The Winter's Tale and I was very shocked. I said, 'Good God, Trevor, all those juveniles have gone by, and it's mothers' parts already?'
'Yes, I'm afraid it is.'
Then about three weeks later he said, 'Actually, how would you like to play her daughter Perdita as well?' That had last been done in Forbes Robertson's production with Mary Anderson. The extraordinary coincidence is that the day before Michael and I married a few years later, the critic John Trewin sent us a wedding present and inside was a picture of Mary Anderson playing Hermione. He told us, 'What you might be interested to know is that while she was doubling Hermione and Perdita, the only person to do that before you, she got married. Not only did she get married in London, but she got married in the same little church in Hampstead that you are getting married in tomorrow.' Michael told the story in his speech.
I love that kind of continuity, of something being passed down, I love being able to pass something on. What upsets me about now is that I think the majority of young actors don't really want to know our great theatre tradition. I just think how lucky to be given the chance of playing great parts that other actors before you have played. So hopefully one is carrying on a great tradition, and I'm very aware of that. I feel that so strongly because of working with Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud and Edith Evans. They were all in a line with earlier actors.
Excerpted from Behind the Scenes by Judi Dench. Copyright © 2014 Dame Judi Dench and John Miller. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Dame Judi Dench is an amazing actress, from stage to screen. Now she provides an intimate look inside her personal life. It is a well told book filled with lively, interesting stories.