Judi Dench
Photo by Bryan Adams Trunk Archive

Judi Dench: “I have an irrational fear of boredom”

Short Profile

Name: Dame Judith Olivia Dench
DOB: 9 December 1934
Place of birth: York, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Actor

Ms. Dench, after so many years in film, have you ever gotten bored with acting?

Boredom is not something I do much because I have an irrational fear of boredom. The only time I’m really bored is when I am on my own.

Why is that?

Because I have nothing to do! And now that I’m losing my sight; I can’t read, I can’t drive — and I love to drive! I drove an old MG without taking a test until I was 50. (Laughs) I was a fiend when I was driving. I can’t do it anymore, and that is very boring. But you learn to adjust. There is nothing interesting about getting older, it's horrible. In fact, I might start going back the other way. Somebody the other day took a photo of me and this app guesses how old you are. It said I was 20 years younger than I am! Suddenly, the day was absolutely glorious!

Well, you could certainly pass for 60.

60?! This is even better than the app! (Laughs) It said 63! That’s made me feel very good. But there is nothing to be said for getting older at all.

Not even for the learning experience or the spiritual explorations that come with age?

We always try to do that. We are always trying to find out things about what other people believe in and what makes people tick. I get different ideas every day about the things I have left to do and explore in life.

“It’s difficult when you are in your eighties because they say, ‘Poor old thing, she’d rather be in a box!’”

Like skydiving?

Skydiving? Out. Absolutely out. But lots of other things I’d like to try. But it’s difficult when you are in your eighties because they think, “Poor old thing, she’d rather be in a box!” I used to paint a lot but because of my eyes I stopped painting. And David, my partner, said to me. “Why stop? It’s an interpretative art.” So I did start painting again because it doesn’t matter; I am not doing it for anybody.

As long as you don't show it to anybody chances are pretty good you won't even have to talk about it to anybody.

Exactly, I am not doing an exhibition. It’s only to stash away or give as a present, if I wanted to. Michael, my late husband, he never painted because someone had said to him, “You will never be a good painter.” That’s a terrible thing to say to people! How can you say to somebody, “You’ll never…” How dare they do that?

Did anyone ever tell that you'll never be an actress?

No, but once somebody said, “You’ll never make a film.” But that was not appalling to me because I didn’t want to make any films. I only wanted to be in the theatre. Shakespeare was my passion. And that’s what I did, so it didn’t matter. But I’ve also always wished I could be a writer but I feared that I would not be good enough. But what is good enough? Who is to say? And why should it even be read by anybody else? We are bound by these funny structures, which you have to break. And I think if you have that attitude, it’s quite healthy to do that. I think exploring that kind of natural curiosity is a healthy thing.

What else are you curious about these days?

There are so many things! So many things I don’t know and have to ask and find out about. I want to learn something new every day and I try to do that. For example, today I learned a word: anatidaephobia. It’s a natural fear of something — you’ll never guess it even if we sit here for two million years — It’s the irrational fear of being stared at by a duck. Don’t you forget it!

I won't, I promise.

It’s your new thing today. Like I said, I have an irrational fear of boredom. That’s why I now have this tattoo that says “Carpe Diem.” That’s what we should live by!

What has made you so intent on seizing the day?

Well, I understood what love meant a long time ago when I married my husband. It was so perfect — but then he contracted cancer in 2001. I never expected, not for a minute, that there would be anybody else in my life at all after he died… I’ve had many, many good friends, but it’s been very unexpected to have somebody new who is as caring as my new partner, David. Someone to be able to share things with… I feel very lucky indeed. And to laugh with somebody is terribly important! Laughing is the most important thing.

What do you laugh about?

Everything! We laugh about everything.

“I don't think we should ever know it all.”

Even your affliction?

Oh, yeah. I laugh about the fact that I can’t see. The other day, two weeks ago we were going out to celebrate David’s grandson’s birthday. He’s 14. We were all meeting in a restaurant and I walked into the restaurant with my family, and I walked to these people’s seats, and I said, “Happy 14th Birthday!” Until someone said, “Ma, this is a couple sitting there!” And we absolutely howled with laughter.

In these situations, it’s sometimes all you can do.

Oh, yeah. You have to! Everyone in my family, we were all born like this! We all had a very extended sense of humor. I can find something funny in almost everything. I laugh a lot about politics — but not so much at the moment.

Has acting also helped you to find the humor in life?

Well, I think with everything you do, you can take something from it. You can take some more understanding. You learn something. You have a relationship with another person on a set or the director and it’s not only taking but a lot of giving and exchanging views and getting your ideas changed and thinking, “I never thought about that before.” That kind of stimulus is healthy and exciting. I don't think we should ever know it all.