Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith met nearly 50 years ago as novice members of London’s Old Vic Theatre. The two — perhaps Britain’s greatest living actresses — have since worked together several times, forming a close friendship. In Ladies in Lavender, Dench and Smith reunite on film for the first time since 1999’s Tea With Mussolini as sisters who take in a shipwrecked violin player in pre-WWII Cornwall. The Dames joined EW for tea. English breakfast, of course.
Maggie, I hear you’ve been calling this movie ”Lavender Bags”? MS I have indeed. [Both laugh] A term for an old bat is an old bag. [Pauses] Need I go further?
Does being friends make working together easier?
MS We know the danger areas of what might make us shriek with uncontrollable laughter. Which sometimes can be anything.
JD I had the most squeaky pair of shoes in this film. I only had to walk across the room, and it was this loud noise…[like] crickets! [Laughs] But it’s something we know about the timing, too. Maybe it’s just because we’re very, very old and have done it all!
MS I think that’s very likely.
Is stage or film more satisfying?
JD They’re such different things. Also [in theater] you have to have a kind of control…
MS Am I listening to this person?! Control? Jude! How do you have the nerve to say that? [Cackles with delight]
JD We’ve had some very tricky moments on stage. [Laughs] But it is true, isn’t it? Whereas a [film] take can get messed up, and you go back and do it again. And again and again.
MS But you can’t remake a film. You’re stuck with it forever.
Are there any of your movies you’d like to remake?
MS All of them. You see them and think, why on earth…?
JD It’s frustrating. I know my bathroom has had the best performances I’ve given, word-perfect, without laughing. And what’s to hear? The soap and the taps.