The One Role Judi Dench Says She’ll Never Play

Dame Judi Dench belongs to that elite group of actors whom you’d pay money to see doing a reading of the dictionary. How amazing is she? She played the imperious Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love for all of eight minutes, but she made such an indelible impression that her performance earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (via Mental Floss). No, but just how amazing is she? She gamely appeared as Old Deuteronomy in Cats – a train wreck of a film that even she didn’t watch (per CNN) — and yet we’d still watch her in anything.

It’s said that Dench will take just about any role offered to her (see: the aforementioned Cats), and in a candid interview with The Guardian, she confirms it. Her agent is tasked with giving a first read to scripts, then giving her a quick summary of the ones that might suit her fancy. After that, it’s just a matter of fitting them into her calendar. Her refusal to be pigeonholed into any character type has led to an impressive resume that includes not only British royalty and singing cats, but also Lady Macbeth, former teen mom Philomena, and James Bond’s boss M (per WGBH).

Just don’t ask her to play one particular kind of part. 

Judi Dench doesn't want to play herself

With the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine — which Dench herself recently received, thank heavens — the day will eventually come when the movie industry goes back to operating at full force. When that happens, Dench will happily take on new projects. She admits that being stuck at home for so long has left her unmotivated and restless. There is, however, one type of role she says she’d likely reject on the spot. “Probably [I’d turn down] an 86-year-old woman who’s not able to see,” says the actress, whose vision is limited by macular degeneration. “I’m not going to play that part, thanks,” she tells The Guardian. She’s already growing weary of being offered the typical roles being written for actresses of a certain age. “‘Oh, would you like to play this person who’s sitting in a care home and she’s in love with a bird? And then she gets upset because, I don’t know, something happens to the bird.'” 

Dench also says she detests being referred to as a “national treasure,” because it traps her in the sweet-old-lady mold. “In my mind’s eye, I’m six foot and willowy and about 39,” she says. She compares the stereotyping to being in a china cabinet from which she longs to break free, go wild, “and [eff] being 86 years old.” We’d pay money to see her do just that. In the meantime, there is one performing outlet she’s taking advantage of: Her adult grandson Sam has been living with her since the beginning of the pandemic, and the two of them have been making TikTok videos. 

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