Meet the very British cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton and company on the secret of acting your age?



We’re not good at dealing with old age in this country. We shove people in a room and leave them sitting round a television. We didn’t do that in our family – shove people into a nursing home. Michael [her late husband, actor Michael Williams] and I had his parents and my mother, who was widowed then, and we all lived together for 12 years. It was ideal, and the alternative is not good in my opinion.

You learn such a lot from the generation above you. My daughter has lovely memories of that time and now talks about her grandparents with great fondness, as do I.

Am I ageing gracefully or disgracefully? Oh my God, I’ve already aged. I’m there! But in my mind’s eye I’m not remotely the age I am. I don’t like the word ‘aged’ and if you’re as old as you feel, then I’m about 11 and a half because I’m stupid about things. I’m not one of those sagely wise people.

And I’m definitely not planning on retiring; I don’t understand the word. As long as there is a possibility of working, I’m not going anywhere. But I am conscious that I’m in the minority in that I love what I do. And I’m lucky enough to be employed. So retirement isn’t for me. I’ll just carry on working, thanks.


It’s unusual to see a film about older people. Didn’t the marketing men create teenagers? The marketing people control most things, including our thinking, and therefore, as consumers, we diminish as we get older and we become of less significance – and it actually affects the way that we consider ourselves.

The way the elderly are treated, and in some cases warehoused and medicated, rather than nurtured and listened to, is distressing. The fact that they pay taxes all of their lives and then are expected to give all of their savings to maintain themselves should they need assistance is absolutely disgraceful and one of the great scandals of our society.

Despite being in my 60s, I love learning new things and being challenged, and the biggest one in this film was riding a motorbike. If I’d been on my own, I’d have probably been OK, because who cares? But when you have someone on the back – sitting side-saddle, which changes the balance – and that someone happens to be Dame Judi Dench, let me tell you that is very daunting indeed. And if you kill Judi Dench, you can’t go back home.


You hear terrible stories of people not being treated properly in care
homes and, although I’m sure that’s the minority, it’s very sad. I don’t
think it would happen in India, where the elderly are revered and

I went to have dinner with the young man who was looking after me while we were filming in India, and all his family lived together, from great-grandparents to two-month-old babies. We don’t have that sort of culture here anymore. We live very separate lives and often our children don’t live near where we live, so it’s quite difficult to have an extended family group where people look after each other.

I hope we can learn from them and change our attitudes before it’s time for me to confront the inevitable.


I don’t think there will ever be a time when I can say, “Right, that’s it, I can put my feet up and forget about work.” I’ve had many months out of work recently and it just doesn’t feel good. The fact is I can’t retire because I can’t afford to. It’s as simple as that. And my job could be worse, I suppose – spending time with Bill, Judi, Maggie, Penelope, Tom and Celia, all of whom I already knew, was fantastic fun. It was the geriatric club moving around India like a phalanx, tearing around in cars and being extremely eccentric. Wonderful.


My mother and my nanny were both in old people’s homes for a short time and it was pretty grim. I wish they hadn’t had to go there. I did as much as I could, but I had to work and I had a young son. I’m not making excuses for myself because I would have loved to have been in the situation where I could have looked after them, and I know that’s what Dame Judi did with her parents, but it just wasn’t possible.

My character in the film, Madge, is a grandmother, and I know quite a few grandmothers who adore their grandchildren, but they are rather put upon and taken advantage of. At the beginning of the film Madge is treated as little more than a babysitter for her daughter’s children, night after night, and even though she loves her daughter and she loves her grandchildren, she wants something more.

I suspect, even though they wouldn’t admit it, there are lots of grandmothers all over the country with this dilemma. So Madge goes off to India where she’s on the lookout for a new husband. That takes some courage, actually, to just pack up and go. And even though there is lots to be said for England, I love the idea of scooting off somewhere else.


They keep saying that 50 is the new 35, so 60 must be the new 45… I certainly still think I’m down with the kids. When I was a teenager, you saw somebody in their 60s and they were old – they had that “things were much better in my day” mindset that I don’t have and I definitely didn’t encounter on this film set, although actors do tend to be quite youthful.

Mind you, nowadays, if I can get out of a job, very often I do. I don’t have that massive passion for work – any work. I like good roles, like all actors do, but I don’t like the travel and very often work means travelling. There’s that commercial, I can’t remember what it’s for, but the gist of it is, “Now I’m retired, I can travel the world like I’ve always wanted to…” But no thank you, that’s not for me, I’ve done it. There would be no backpacking around Burma for me.

Dev Patel’s character in Marigold says that the English hate the elderly and, unfortunately, I think there’s an element of truth to that. We have a way of treating old people that is shameful. In a culture like India it is the obligation of the family to look after the elderly and that would certainly be cheaper than having the pension schemes that we rely so heavily on over here.

And apparently people live longer in those sorts of societies because they don’t have that stress of worrying, “What will I do when I retire? Where is the money going to come from? Who is going to take care of me? The kids have moved and now live in New Zealand…”


This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 14 February 2012.