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Judi Dench enjoys stay at ‘Marigold Hotel’

Her Majesty Ms. Dench: People Indisurround Judi Dench “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Her Majesty, Ms. Dench: People in India surround Judi Dench in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

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Updated: June 4, 2012 11:42AM

NEW YORK — With an acclaimed, nearly six-decade career on the stage, in films and on television already under her belt, Judi Dench admits, “there are very few things that surprise me.”

But in a recent interview, the Oscar winner said the nine weeks she spent in India filming “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (opening Friday) “was truly a life-changing experience for me.”

Like most of the non-Indian cast members (with the exception of Tom Wilkinson), she had never before set foot on the sub-continent.

“Frankly, I never had any intense desire to go to India,” said Dench. “I know that sounds a bit strange, but it just never was someplace I had a burning desire to visit.

“Now, after having spent those magical months making this film, I can’t wait to get back.

“During our time there, I made some wonderful friends and was privileged to see so many fascinating places — making me realize there’s still so much more to experience.”

Dench did admit that India’s startling gap “between almost unbelievable wealth and equally unbelievable desperate poverty — worse than I’d seen anywhere — was a difficult thing to accept ... especially since those two extremes usually exist in such close proximity to one another.”

While Dench’s recently announced struggle with macular degeneration was not a topic for discussion in New York, the actress did not seem one bit handicapped by it — walking unaided and appearing to easily observe everything around her.

Along with being lured to working in a country she’d never seen, the true lure for Dench of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was “three simple things: a great script, a wonderful director I love and with whom I’ve previously had spectacular working experiences, and the chance to work with a group of actors I know well and also have happy history with.”

Over the years, co-stars Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Pamela Wilton have crossed paths often with Dench. “Marigold” is the third film the actress has made with director John Madden, following “Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown,” and “Shakespeare in Love.” The latter film brought Dench the Oscar for best supporting actress, “for basically walking across the stage in a very lovely gown for about eight minutes,” she said with a laugh.

“It was nice to make a John Madden film where I don’t have to play a queen,” said added with a wink.

While her “Marigold” character faces a financial crisis the actress clearly doesn’t confront in real life, Dench said she could relate to Evelyn Greenslade. “First of all, we both are about the same age. Secondly, like her I’ve suffered the loss of a husband. … So I could easily relate to that aspect.

“In addition, Evelyn has this inner strength thing going on. While facing all kinds of obstacles — very limited funds, living in a totally alien environment — Evelyn embarks on a new life and finds a new purpose in her life. She doesn’t give up.

“In that way, we’re the same. I’m never going to retire and will keep working as long as they will have me,” Dench said with a determination reminiscent of her earlier regal roles.

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