For Judi Dench, now Dame Judi and into her seventies, the hits like the honors, just keep on coming. "Notes" has been nominated for a fistful of Golden Globes, including Dench for best actress,
"I just want to go on working," she told Sunday Morning correspondent Mark Phillips, "and when you get to 72 it gets trickier. I've got to look at all those parts in wheelchairs and in bed."
But Dench's career is still in the fast track. It's become a triumph of the unexpected, a bounty of variety, a feast of scope.
In "Notes on a Scandal," she's a bitter, manipulative yet needy aging teacher. But Dench has proven she can run the gamut of parts from A to Z, stopping profitably at M.
She struck a blow for gender equality by turning James Bond's boss into a woman — first with Pierce Brosnan's James Bond in "Goldeneye" — and is still playing M five Bond movies later, opposite Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale."
She's played queens — fictional as Lady MacBeth, and historic as Elizabeth the First in "Shakespeare in Love" and Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown." She also seems to own the woman-of-a-certain-age role whenever one is needed, in "Chocolat" or "The Shipping News," or a half-dozen recent variations. Yet, Dench has insisted all along that her success is all a happy accident. In fact, she says if she had listened to advice, none of this would ever have happened.
"I don't look like an actress, do I?" Dench said. "I was told very early on you have every single thing wrong with your face and could never make a movie because you have every single thing wrong with your face. Now it's the fashion to have everything wrong with your face, so I got lucky."
These days Dench is finishing up a run in the Royal Shakespeare Company's holiday hybrid production, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," a musical, where she appears to do cartwheels and sing.
Dench has become one of those rare people who seems to be able to do all things — and wants to because, like the mountains, they're there.
"Yes, that's the thrill of it." And her audience spans the ages. "Being M appeals to my grandsons, age 9 to 12 kind of wonderful. Wonderful! I love it," she said. "They'd quite like to see 'The Merry Wives,' she's quite different from M. 'Notes on a Scandal' — maybe not."
What's odd about Dench's career isn't so much the range of what she does, impressive though that is. It's the fact that it's all happened backwards. She didn't followed the usual path of "pretty young actress has early success and then spends her later years complaining there are no good parts for maturing women." She had been happily having a career as a classical actress and doing the occasional British sitcom, including one from the early eighties, called "A Fine Romance," with her husband, Michael Williams, who has since died.
Dench's break, if you can call it that, came when an obscure made-for-TV movie about Queen Victoria was put into theaters. "Mrs. Brown," the story of Victoria after her own husband, Prince Albert, died became a cult hit. Suddenly, when other careers might be winding down, Dench's started speeding up. The door to American success opened and she strode through.
"It was another planet, it was just wonderful," Dench said.