A Conversation with John Madden for the release of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny (Dev Patel), and it’s making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina (Tina Desai).
Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful’, has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig). Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge (Celia Imrie) juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel (Maggie Smith), the keeper of everyone's secrets. As the demands of a traditional Indian wedding threaten to engulf them all, an unexpected way forward presents itself.
The Fan Carpet’s Amanda Dal had the pleasure of talking to John Madden ahead of its release on February 26...
You must have developed a very special relationship with Judi. You helped launch her international film career with Mrs Brown...
Yes, it’s kind of hard to imagine that she didn’t have an international film career before that since she was already a giant of everything else she did. I’m very happy to have played a part in that. I offered her genius up to world; I take no more credit than that. It’s fantastic to have had the chance to work with her once let alone four times.
What is her genius?
She has a sort of an incredible range of skills at this point that comes primarily from playing to an audience in a theatre space, as she would say it where she has learnt everything she knows. She is blessed with some very particular qualities. She has voice that is absolutely unmistakable, very very emotional. She has a physicality, which people don’t usually recognise, a sort of dynamic quality of withholding then sudden rushes and so forth; it’s very dynamic and very involving. She has an emotional depth that is second to none but I think that the quality that she has, which marks her out is something she can’t control or take particular credit for, is just that she engages an audience immediately. She has some quality that every audience that sees her leans forward to her almost literally you can see it happening if you watch a screening, people just go towards her. Whatever she’s playing, if she’s playing a demonic character or a very powerful character or a very impotent character, she connects. It also helps that she has become an extravagant beauty the older she has got, she’s always been a very beautiful woman a very interesting woman but she’s really become a beauty, she’s become a sort of movie star late her in her life. What you see on screen, I don’t mean in terms of personality, is exactly what you get off screen.
She likes a laugh apparently...
She is outrageously disrespectful of the process and everything else. She is the worst ‘corpser’ in the business; she makes other people laugh on stage. It is easy to get around that in film but on stage it’s less easy to get round it. She’s very bad, a very naughty girl. She likes a laugh, she takes her work seriously but utterly likely at the same time.
The fact that so many of cast are good friends, Bill has obviously worked with Judi for ages and she knows Maggie Smith well, does that make it hard in the sense that you have to corral a group of friends?
It doesn’t make it hard, you know sometimes corralling them and getting them to shut up is a little bit of an issue but not really. I mean the truth is it’s true of English actors because they work across so many media, if you’re based in London you’re working in film, theatre and television radio all of those, so you’re crossing paths with these actors who are in great demand and do a lot of work. So they’ve all worked with each other multiple times most of them. I mean Penelope Wilton and Bill have played husband and wife at least twice, if no three times, before they did in the first film and that is a short hand you are able to take advantage of. The director’s job in the situation is to get the script right and make sure that they understand exactly what each scene is doing, provide a sort of physical circumstance and a shooting pattern that is going to deliver that then get out of the way because these are geniuses of a kind in what they do. Bill Nighy is unique and there is no actor like him in terms of what he does and the way he does it. So I just, the same goes for Ol Parker, we write very specifically for those actors. We know their rhythms and you can see a line and you go ‘ I know exactly what Bill is going to do with that’ in the sense that I don’t know exactly what he’s going to do with it but I know he’s going to do something marvellous with it. If you’re writing jokes you know how to write for those people because you know the characters they are playing.
Essentially it’s not there is nothing to do, there is a lot to do for me, not least because as you can see in this film there is an enormous number of multiple set pieces with many characters at intersecting angles to one another, and the only way to make that work properly is to give it a life in the space that you are working in, not to try and control that rhythm editorially later. You’re dead if you do that with a comedy anyway. You have to let it happen in the space and that frequently involves saying ‘stand there and ask me later why you’re standing there but that is where you need to be’. I used a technique I have never really used before on this film where I would simply start shooting immediately, partly because we were shooting digitally and it didn’t matter how many bits I was using opposed to reams of film we were going through, and I would just simply shoot and I would never start taking anything effectively until around seven, eight, nine 0r ten takes or something. Just because by that time they had suddenly taken possession of the scene, they knew what each other were going to do and how that was going to work and we would just sharpen up the physical somewhat. Then they were fine; then they can do anything. Each time I did that I was beaten up by Maggie Smith saying ‘how many times am I going to have to walk into this room?’ ‘You wouldn’t as your mother to do it’ she would tell me.
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL IS OUT THURSDAY FEBRUARY 26