In Spain to receive the San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival’s highest award for an individual and to promote her latest feature, “Red Joan,” Judi Dench didn’t shy away Tuesday from bringing up a name that many now prefer to avoid.
Asked at a packed press conference if there were any particularly memorable moments in her career that she looked back on fondly, she recalled an experience just after her husband had died. “I went to do ‘The Shipping News’ with Kevin Spacey, and Kevin was an inestimable comfort and never mentioned he knew I was in a bad way,” Dench told reporters ahead of the evening ceremony at which she was to receive the prestigious Donostia Award. “He cheered me up and kept me going.”
In the current industry climate, it was obvious such a name drop wouldn’t go unnoticed, and it wasn’t long before the Oscar-winning actress was asked about her current feelings toward Spacey and the fallout the actor has faced in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
“I can’t approve, in any way, of the fact that – whatever he has done – that you then start to cut him out of the films,” she said. “Are we to do what happened when he was replaced with Christopher Plummer? Are we to do that throughout history? Are we to go back throughout history and anyone who has misbehaved in any way, or who has broken the law, or who has committed some kind of offense, are they always going to be cut out? Are we going to extrude them from our history? I don’t know….
“I don’t know about the conditions of it, but nevertheless he is, and was, a most wonderful actor,” she said. “I can’t imagine what he is doing now.” She paused, then added firmly: “And a good friend.”
Dench was also asked about her opinion on the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. “I think there are many things to be redressed and made right,” she said. “It is an extraordinary moment of change, a sea change at the moment. And there are many more parts for women, which is very good indeed, and long may that go on.”
The actress was given ample opportunity to address lighter topics as well. She told an anecdote, which received a solid laugh from the crowd, from her years as James Bond’s superior M.
“I did eight Bond films, and after about four or five I asked: ‘How is it that I never get to go anywhere?’” she recalled. “So the very next time we filmed was in a public school in Britain, and they put me in a trailer that said Innsbruck on the side, and they said ‘There, now you can never complain again.’”
Another takeaway from the press conference is that Dench is an exceedingly and honestly humble superstar.
“I don’t consider myself powerful at all,” she replied quickly when asked about her sway in the industry. “I wait for someone to ask me to do a job and I do it. I have no power to instigate that job, or a film. I have always called myself a jobbing actor, and I think 61 years after beginning, I still am. I can’t bear to turn a part down because I think I might not be asked again.”
That was a message she emphasized more than once: that she, or any actor, for that matter, should never turn down a job. The sentiment was reiterated by “Red Joan” director Trevor Nunn when he joined her on stage about halfway through.
“The advice I always give is never, never turn anything down,” he said to an aspiring young actress in the crowd. “If it’s tiny, if it’s in a small theater, an attic or cellar, if that job is offered, do it. One thing can lead to another. Nothing leads to nothing.”
“At the Edinburgh Festival, people were performing everywhere,” Dench said, adding: “Two people went and did a play in the car. They sat in the front and the audience, all two or three of them, in the back seat. It was exciting and innovative.”