Dame Judi Dench looked radiant at the premiere of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” Tuesday night at the Ziegfeld Theater. And even though she suffers from macular degeneration and can no longer read scripts, she had a sparkle in her eye.
It may have something to do with her new beau. The 80-year-old legend is dating David Mills, 71, and he waited unobtrusively at the corner of the red carpet for Dame Judi – as she talked to film crews and posed for selfies – so they could walk inside the theater together.
Helmed by John Madden, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” continues the story of the British ex-pat pensioners. It stars Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie and Dev Patel. Sadly, Maggie Smith, who is filming the sixth season of “Downton Abbey,” could not attend, although her presence was everywhere in the form of her image on the posters that lined the red carpet. (Penelope Wilton was also filming “Downton” and unable to attend the premiere.)
Dev Patel, who plays Sonny, the ambitious proprietor of the hotel, dreams of expanding his business and travels to America with Smith’s character to obtain financing, which makes for some funny scenes with the two. “I went to American with low expectations, and I came back disappointed,” says Smith’s character dryly on her return.
The movie also revolves around Sonny’s wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai), so there’s plenty of energetic, fun Bollywood dancing. But the heart of the story – and the biggest fantasy element – are all the romantic escapades of the eccentric elderly residents of the hotel, and it’s all set against the backdrop of the most scenic parts of India.
Richard Gere, who is a newcomer to the cast and whose character romances Sonny’s mother, told journalists on the red carpet that he loved the first Marigold Hotel, and when he was offered a role in this film, he thought the script was terrific and was happy to come onboard.
He spoke of how much he loved India and how he visited his spiritual teachers while there. When asked how the film addresses the problems of aging, Gere replied, “This isn’t a real serious movie.”
He added, “I’m 65. I’m probably one of the young ones in the group, but if you really look at these people, they’re all teenagers. I’m a teenager. It’s like everyone is open to the possibilities, so it’s not about age specifically, it’s about people who are yearning for a connection, looking for love. These are people who have been damaged. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room, even the young kids that are in this room, who haven’t been damaged, so we all understand that. We understand heartache. We understand relationships and moving on.”
Bill Nighy told journalists he was still stunned by the unexpected success of the first film. “A bunch of old people going to India didn’t sound like box office dynamite to me.” Dame Judi Dench and Nighy have great chemistry. “I’ve been her love interest about four times,” he said. “It’s an ideal situation.”
As for whether there were ever off-screen fireworks, he jokingly told a journalist, “I tried it a couple of times, but she wouldn’t have it.”
When I asked Nighy if there would be a Third Marigold movie, he told me, “We don’t know, but as Judi said when the second one was announced, ‘They better hurry up.’ So I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a third one, but if I’m still alive, yeah, I’ll be there.”
The romance between he and Dame Dench moves at a maddeningly glacial pace. Did he ever wish the script would hurry it along? “We’re Englishmen, what can we do? Englishmen are like that. The major appeal for me in this character is the fact that he’s that kind of Englishman. They have a torturous relationship with anything to do with sex and anything to do with romance, and enormous difficulty expressing themselves in that area, which I find funny.”
Is he like that in real life? “Of course I’m like that in real life! Yeah, I’m a mess.”
Asked about Maggie Smith and the prickly but lovable character she plays in the film, director John Madden replied, “Maggie Smith is who she is onscreen partly because Maggie Smith is also who she is off screen. I mean, meaning wonderfully dry, bone dry, and properly kind of demanding of circumstances around her. But what do you get? It’s gold dust. And she’s wonderful to work with. There’s a sense of humor that I think that all British actors have, a sense of disrespect for whoever they’re working with and what they’re doing that’s really a very, very good safety valve for everything. There was absolutely no diva behavior whatsoever from anybody on this film, rather boringly for you, I’m afraid,” he told the media.
I told director how I loved that the romances in the film are between age appropriate people. “One of the things that’s really interesting is that in many aspects of the story, for example the story between the Bill Nighy character and the Judi Dench character, is that it’s like an inversion of an absolutely classic romantic trope, commitment phobia, except in this case it’s the woman who’s scared to commit and not the man,” he told me. “And you see them working through emotional complications and conflicting feelings in a way that you never think people of that age would do. I think that’s something really worth seeing and really worth showing to people, not just people of the same age. That was true the first time around, and I think that’s why the movie expanded beyond its demographic in the way that it did. It didn’t just play to people the age of those characters.”
Tina Desai, who is only 28, has some great dancing scenes and told me her co-stars are ageless. “You actually don’t see any age difference, because they’re all very young at heart. They’re equally naughty. They play pranks on each other. They giggle more than I do, so you don’t feel that age difference at all.”