Judi Dench talks about ‘good friend’ Kevin Spacey, James Bond at San Sebastian Fest

SAN SEBASTIAN — Judi Dench is in San Sebastian this week where she will be honored with a Donostia Award, the highest prize granted to an individual by the Spanish fest, and to promote her latest feature, “Red Joan.”

In a dimly lit, standing room only conference room the actress answered questions from the assemble press in her hushed and, as described by “Red Joan” director Trevor Nunn, husky voice for a half an hour, ahead of the evening’s ceremony.

Early on the actress was asked if there were any particularly memorable experiences in her career that she looked back on fondly, and a few in the room were caught off guard when she brought up a name that many now prefer to avoid.

“I remember just after my husband died, and I was in a bad way, I went to do ‘The Shipping News’ with Kevin Spacey, and Kevin was an inestimable comfort and never mentioned he knew I was in a bad way,” she remembered. “He cheered me up and kept me going.”

In the current industry climate, it was obvious that such a name drop wouldn’t go uncontested, and it wasn’t long before the actress was asked about her current feelings toward Spacey and the fallout the actor has faced in the wake of allegations against him.

“I can’t approve, in any way, of the fact that — whatever he has done — that you then start to cut him out of the films,” she said. “Are we to do what happened when he was replaced with Christopher Plummer? Are we to do that throughout history? Are we to go back throughout history and anyone who has misbehaved in any way, or who has broken the law, or who has committed some kind of offense, are they always going to be cut out? Are we going to extrude them from our history? I don’t know.”

“I don’t know about the conditions of it, but nevertheless he is, and was, a most wonderful actor,” she said. “I can’t imagine what he is doing now.”

She then took a few seconds to weigh her words before adding definitively, “And a good friend.”

Predictably, Dench was also asked about her opinion on the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, and gave a succinct but affirmative answer.

“I think there are many things to be redressed and made right,” she said. “It is an extraordinary moment of change, a sea change at the moment. And there many more parts for women, which is very good indeed, and long may that go on.”

The actress was given ample opportunity to address lighter topics as well.

She told an anecdote, which received a solid laugh from the crowd, from her years as James Bond’s superior M.

“I did eight Bond films, and after about four or five I asked ‘How is it that I never get to go anywhere?’” she remembered. “So the very next time we filmed was in a public school in Britain, and they put me in a trailer that said Innsbruck on the side, and they said ‘There, now you can never complain again.’”

Another take-away from the press conference is that Dench is an exceedingly and honestly humble superstar.

“I don’t consider myself powerful at all,” she replied quickly when asked about her sway in the industry. “I wait for someone to ask me to do a job and I do it. I have no power to instigate that job, or a film. I have always called myself a jobbing actor and I think 61 years after beginning I still am. I can’t bear to turn a part down because I think I might not be asked again.”

That was a message she impressed more than once, that she, or any actor for that matter, should never turn down a job. The sentiment was reiterated on her behalf by Nunn when he joined her on stage about halfway through.

“The advice I always give is never, never turn anything down,” he said to an aspiring young actress in the crowd. “If it’s tiny, if it’s in a small theater, an attic or cellar if that job is offered, do it. One thing can lead to another. Nothing leads to nothing.”

“At the Edinburgh festival people were performing everywhere,” Dench added, explaining, “Two people went and did a play in the car. They sat in the front and the audience, all two or three of them, in the back seat. It was exciting and innovative.”

As the press conference ended the sounds of shutters and cries for photos filled the hall, to which Dench obliged, before heading off to prepare for the evening’s festivities.

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