The Untold Truth Of Judi Dench

Judi Dench is one of the most recognizable British actresses working in Hollywood, but you might be surprised to find out that international success didn't come all that easy for the star. Now a household name, with an impressive array of acting awards, Dench has never taken her career for granted, and approaches each role like it might be her last. Speaking about performing in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors in 1976, she recalled the director asking her why she cried on opening night. As she told i, "I just never think I'm going to be employed again. I've always had that fear."

Despite never expecting her success, Dench's laudable career continues to prove what a talent she is. But as for being called a national treasure, Dench is less than enamored with the label. As she told The New York Times in 2017, "I hate that. ... It's not just tedious. It's some old rock in a cupboard that the glass is shut on and nobody gets it out to dust it. I loathe it." Instead, the performer would prefer "to be called a joker. A jobbing actor. Somebody who has a laugh." Join us as we explore the untold truth of Judi Dench.

Judi Dench learns unexpected skills in her job

If you thought life as an Oscar-winning actress was always glamorous, think again. Judi Dench, who has played everyone from Queen Victoria to M in the James Bond series, has had to do some seriously unusual things for roles. In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Dench opened up about working on the film Rage with Jude Law and Steve Buscemi. "I like to do something that's not expected, or predictable," she told the outlet, adding, "I had to learn to smoke a joint, and I set my trousers alight. I've never been good with cigarettes." 

Dench's willingness to try strange new things applies to her personal life too. As she explained to Stylist, "I'm a great advocate for not sitting back. ... I've just started to learn how to carve objects out of soapstone — birds and things. I'm absolutely hopeless at cooking, too so I'm considering taking some kind of course. I think it's very important to keep learning." If her mishap with joint-sparing is any indication, Dench needs to tread carefully with any lit flames during foray into the kitchen. But still, from becoming a legit toker to a whittler, Dench is clearly up for any challenge. 

Wait, Judi Dench is insecure about her acting?

As a powerhouse of cinema, with a plethora of awards under her belt, you might expect Judi Dench to be incredibly confident in her chosen vocation. However, the actress isn't so sure of herself, and regularly questions whether she's worthy of the roles she's given. Surprisingly, the prolific actress told The Guardian, "I've always been very, very insecure about where the next job is coming from." Speaking about being cast in the movie musical Nine, Dench told the publication, "I was absolutely overcome. I don't take any of it for granted, ever." The stalwart's sense of awe is especially endearing, considering quite how successful she's been throughout her career.

And according to a 2011 chat with The Telegraph, Dench admitted that she'd hoped her insecurities would go away after time. She explained, "So I prefer not to watch the films at all. That lack of confidence, which I thought would get better, has not really improved. Whenever I think it will get better, something else happens." If Dench doesn't believe believe in her own inimitable performance abilities, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Judi Dench's early career diss

Along with having a slew of insecurities about her performances, Judi Dench wasn't exactly encouraged as a young woman in pursuit of an acting career. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Front Row in 2020, Dench revealed, "I was told very early on I would never make films." And the reason why? Apparently some people in the movie business told Dench she had the "wrong face." She continued, "He said thank you very much, I don't think you should consider films." While the multi-award-winner has since proven just about everybody wrong, it's shocking to hear that Dench wasn't taken seriously, and that the criticisms seemed to revolve around her appearance.

The star of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel revealed in 2011 at the launch of her book, And Furthermore (via The Telegraph), that she'd struggled with her own body image over the years. Dench explained, "I have always known there are things wrong with the way I look. I don't need to be told it. I want to think of myself as six feet tall, with long legs." She also recalled the brutal takedown she'd received early in her career, and it seems that the experience has been impossible to shake. Dench recounted, "I remember one told me straight: 'You will never make it in films. Everything is wrong with your face.'" The star has most definitely proven that critic wrong.

The theater bug hooked Judi Dench early on

When Judi Dench was told by a Hollywood honcho that she'd never make it in the movies, she wasn't all that fazed by it. Reflecting on the rejection, Dench told BBC Radio 4's Front Row in 2020, "Because I wasn't really interested in filming it didn't concern me. Had it have been in the theater then I don't know what I would have done ... I remember it but I don't think I was hurt by it." Instead, Dench had her heart set on the stage, and wasn't concerned about not being a hit on the silver screen. She confirmed to The Guardian, "I didn't think I'd have a film career at all, but theater's what I love most, anyway. If you'd said to me 49 years ago that I'd come to enjoy the process of filming, I wouldn't have believed you."

As for why she prefers theater to the movies, Dench told Front Row, "One night you'll perform in the theatre and you'll think, afterwards, 'I can do that bit better; I know that bit should be better,' or, 'I'll try that in another way.' That's the excitement of the theatre. And of course, the audience supplies an enormous amount of that to you."

Judi Dench has age-related macular degeneration

Fans of the famous British star might be surprised to learn that Judi Dench has age-related macular degeneration, which is affecting her sight. The Shakespearean actress told BBC Radio 4's Front Row in 2020, "It's not like suddenly going blind in one go. You do it gradually, so gradually you somehow find a way of learning. As long as it doesn't get in the way of somebody seeing you in something and thinking, 'I wonder how she's managing?'" One of the most upsetting consequences of losing her sight is that Dench doesn't always recognize people that she knows. She explained to Front Row, "That for me is terribly distressing because I can just walk straight past somebody I know very, very well indeed, and I simply haven't been able to see who they are."

Dench also discussed her condition with The Telegraph in 2019, revealing that she'd been diagnosed in 2012 and said, "I can only really see who someone is when I'm six inches away now." The performer also joked, "I have to get very close to people — and I mean extremely close. Which is handy with the fellas ... you have to find a silver lining, don't you?"

After losing her husband of 30 years, Judi Dench found love again

Not all Hollywood relationships last, but Judi Dench found happiness with husband Michael Williams, to whom she was married for thirty years. Williams passed away in 2001 from lung cancer, and Dench revealed to The Guardian, "Anybody who's had a very happy marriage must feel the same. On the one side, you feel fantastically lucky you had what we had — we knew each other 39 years and were married for 30. And yet, when the person is not there, you suddenly think, oof, it's not wonderful." The New York Times noted that Williams "sent [Dench] a red rose every Friday," throughout their time together, which is incredibly romantic.

During her interview with The Guardian, Dench reflected on her long and happy marriage to the actor, and confessed, "The fact that all his married life he was Mr. Judi Dench, that's difficult for any man." However, she has nothing but admiration for her husband's talents as a performer: "[H]e was such a good actor, and has done such marvelous things." Despite having found a new partner since losing her husband, Dench told Good Housekeeping (via the Daily Mail) in 2017 that she has no intention of getting married again. The actress said, "He's not going to propose. No, no, no, no, no! Let's all just pull ourselves together and be our age!"

Judi Dench had a squirrel-themed first date

Following the loss of her husband in 2001, Dench started dating David Mills in 2010. According to The New York Times, Dench and Mills bonded "when he invited her to help open a new red squirrel enclosure at the wildlife center he runs near her home in Surrey, England." Mills started the British Wildlife Centre in 1997, prior to which he was a dairy farmer for 30 years. In a 2017 interview with Good Housekeeping (via the Daily Mail), Dench revealed her reluctance about calling Mills her boyfriend. She explained, "I have a jolly nice friend now. I don't know what the word is because I don't like the word partner. Partner is something to do with dancing. Partner — horrible word. Friend? No. Boyfriend? No. Chap? Will chap do?"

It seems that Dench wasn't expecting to find love again after the death of her husband. She told The Times magazine (via the Daily Mail) in 2014, "I wasn't even prepared to be ready for it ... It was very gradual and grown up. We got together, in a way, through the animals. It's just wonderful."

A scare in Judi Dench's childhood led to a lifelong fear

Fans of British actress Judi Dench might be surprised to find out that she has a slightly strange, but pretty understandable fear. Opening up to The Guardian in 2011, Dench explained, "I'm very frightened of worms, ever since one jumped into my sandal when I was a little girl. I can get on with a snake, just not worms." She prefers snakes over worms? How is that even possible? But wait, it gets stranger. The actress also noted, "And I hate the dark; I used to get claustrophobic in the cinema," which is a little unfortunate for an actress.

Dench even revealed to The Hamilton Spectator in 2019 that her peculiar worm phobia is so severe that she won't "do gardening." So, she outsources the job, which frankly is probably something most non-worm-phobic A-Listers do anyway. Still, it's rather remarkable to think this Academy Award winner, who can perform Shakespeare in front of a live audience, can't even pull weeds for fear of a little nightcrawler.

What's up with the story about Judi Dench's Harvey Weinsten tattoo?

While it might be hard to believe, it turns out that Judi Dech once had a Harvey Weinstein-related tattoo. According to The New York Times, Dench "etched a message on her 'bum' that said, 'JD loves HW,' with a heart with an arrow through it, in gratitude to Harvey Weinstein for making her a movie star in Mrs. Brown, Chocolat, Iris, Shakespeare in Love, and other films, after she had been starring in a sitcom with her husband in England." The actress told The Hollywood Reporter that, having previously joked to Weinstein about tattooing his name on her posterior, "we went out to lunch, to the Four Seasons. Charlie Rose was there and I think my agent was there. Beforehand, I got my makeup lady to actually write Harvey's name. [...] I actually got up and showed him! I've never seen a man more embarrassed and I've never let him forget it. [laughs] Perhaps I should have it done and really shock him!"

After allegations sexual assault, abuse, and misconduct were brought against Weinstein in October 2017, Dench made a statement to Newsweek which said, "Whilst there is no doubt that Harvey Weinstein has helped and championed my film career for the past 20 years, I was completely unaware of these offenses which are, of course, horrifying, and I offer my sympathy to those who have suffered, and wholehearted support to those who have spoken out."

In 2020, Weinstein began a 23 year prison sentence for his conviction on one count each of third-degree rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree. 

Judi Dench won't watch Cats

The movie version of the musical Cats didn't have the best reception when it was released in 2019. Judi Dench appears as Old Deuteronomy in the film, but it may surprise fans to find out that she hasn't seen the finished product. She revealed to BBC Radio 4's Front Row, "I didn't read anything about the response to [Cats], nor have I seen it, and I've only seen a picture of myself." She also explained that seeing an image of herself in costume reminded her of a pet she once had. Dench told Front Row, "I didn't realize that I was playing [her pet cat] Carpet. I thought I was playing a really, kind of, clapped out old mangy cat who didn't have much fur and was at the end of her life. I didn't realize I was this wonderful show cat!"

Speaking to Out at a press conference for the movie, Dench suggested that her character, which is usually played by a male actor, was trans. The actress explained, "I kind of call it 'trans Deuteronomy,' is the part for me, you know." She also said, "it was lovely, lovely to be led about and be an aged cat, very nice indeed," making it sound as though she had a ball making the movie musical. For her supporting role in the adaptation, Dench was nominated for a Razzie, which hands out awards for the worst performances of the year. Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps?), she lost out to co-star Rebel Wilson.

Judi Dench sent her daughter to rehab

Family is extremely important to Judi Dench, and the actress is particularly close with her daughter from her marriage, Finty Williams. When Dench's husband, Michael Williams, died from lung cancer in 2001, the couple's daughter struggled to cope. Appearing on Dr, Christian Jessen's podcast Second Opinion (via RTÉ), Finty explained, ”After my father died in 2001 it just all went horribly wrong." Finty revealed that she turned to alcohol to cope with her grief. As a result, Finty explained, "My mother very bravely put me into rehab two weeks after my father died.” According to Finty, it was her mother's unfaltering support that got her through the tragic loss.

Finty also elaborated on how her addiction started when she was an insecure drama student, revealing on Second Opinion, "The way I got through thinking that I was very boring and very unsparkly was by being the first person in the bar and being the person that bought the drinks for everyone." Dench remains extremely close to her daughter, and the pair was photographed vacationing in Barbados together in February 2020.

Retirement is not in the cards for Judi Dench

Judi Dench's career continues to go from strength to strength, and the actress has no plans to stop acting anytime soon. Speaking to Collider in October 2018, upon the release of her movie Red Joan, Dench said, "People keep asking me why aren't you going to retire? That word is simply not used in our family. People retire usually in order to do the things they really want to do, walk or paint or travel the world. And that is what my job is to me; I just love it." A quick look at Dench's IMDb page shows that the actress has a full roster of movies completed and in post-production, and it's safe to say even more titles will appear in the near future.

As she told Collider, "I love working with different people, I love working with actors, I love learning something new each time. My career is genuinely my hobby. I don't want to retire and don't know what I would do if I did." And fans of her work likely don't know what they'd do if she retired either.