Entertainment & Arts

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel stars check in for seconds

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Image caption Dame Judi Dench (centre) and friends first stepped foot inside The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2012

Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy recently returned to India to make a sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, their 2012 box-office hit.

Dame Judi, Nighy and director John Madden tell BBC News why they signed up for a second helping of Jaipur-based hi-jinks.

"I always fear the next role won't come", says Dame Judi, who reprises her role as Evelyn Greenslade in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

"But the fear is good. It fills you with fuel that you can use as petrol."

It has been three years since Jaipur's 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' first opened its doors to such venerable British pensioners as Evelyn, Dame Maggie Smith's Muriel and Nighy's Douglas.

The hotel in question had seen better days. But its optimistic new residents came to realise the best might be yet to come, regardless of their ages.

Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel took the global box office by storm, earning more than $135m (£82m) worldwide on a production budget of $10m (£6m).

For all the film's international success, though, a sequel was not something the cast had planned for.

'Rich canvas'

"We never had expectations of there ever being a second film," says Dame Judi. "And we certainly didn't expect the success.

"But it's refreshing to have a film about people our age, all struggling to fit into a slot and not be taken for granted."

Moggach herself saw no need to give her 2004 novel These Foolish Things, the book on which The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was based, a literary follow-up.

Yet director John Madden and scriptwriter Ol Parker felt there was more to say about death and mortality and how time changes our ideas about love and life.

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Image caption The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sees Evelyn and Douglas struggle to express their feelings

"The notion of mortality obviously hovers over the first film, and I felt even more strongly that it should in this one," says Madden.

"For all that the films are about grabbing a second chance, raging against the dying of the light and all these things, the fact of the matter is the light is dying.

"The characters are facing the very real decisions and choices that confront people at this point in their lives. It makes for a rich canvas."

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel picks up eight months on from the end of the first film to find its characters well integrated in Jaipur life.

'Very satisfying'

Hotel manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is preparing for his wedding to Sunaina (Tena Desae) and trying to get a second retirement hotel off the ground, with the help of co-manager Muriel.

Douglas and Evelyn still meet regularly over breakfast but unsure of whether romance will ever blossom between them.

The situation is complicated further when Evelyn is offered a tempting job and Douglas's now-estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) returns unannounced.

Douglas and Evelyn's difficulty in expressing their emotions for each other is something Nighy found "very satisfying" to act.

"There in something very English and moving about their relationship," says the 65-year-old, known for his roles in Love Actually and State of Play.

"The struggle to express anything beyond 'good morning' and 'how are you?' and to see Douglas progress in the second film... was very satisfying to act. I like that kind of torture."

Image caption Evelyn's passion for India is something Dame Judi Dench shares

The film sees the widowed Evelyn find a new passion in life as she takes on the role of textile buyer for an international company.

In real life, however, Dame Judi maintains there's nothing good to be said about about aging.

'What's good about getting old? Nothing. What's better than getting old? Being young," sighs the 80-year-young actress.

"I hate the word 80. Yes it's just a number, but it changes you. I refuse to use it, just like I ban the word 'retire'.

"It's supposed that after a certain age you will pack it up."

The one thing Dame Judi did not have to act was Evelyn's love for India. "The whole experience changed me significantly as a person," she says.

"I share that with Evelyn - a passion for the country. I found the place and the friendliness so bewitching, the people are so enchanting.

"I settled in there easier than any other country I've been to, including America."

'Shorthand'

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also sees the return of Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie), who this time around finds herself torn between two potential suitors.

It also welcomes new guests: American writer Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig), who says she is looking for a retirement home for her mother.

According to Madden, Gere "didn't need much persuading" to join the other hotel residents and head to India.

"We didn't show Richard the script until we'd finished it and it turned out he was a huge fan of the first film," Madden says.

"He's also shown more and more of an appetite for doing smaller, independent, less mainstream fare."

The close-knit relationship between the characters is helped by their friendship off-screen. Nighy, for example, says he and Dame Judi have played each other's love interest "about five times".

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Image caption Dame Maggie Smith returns as hotel co-manager Muriel Donnelly

He was also at drama school with Imrie, while Dame Judi and Dame Maggie have been close ever since they shared a dressing room back in 1958.

"It's lucky," says Dame Judi. "You have a shorthand. You don't have that embarrassed feeling, as they've seen you make a fool of yourself for years.

"It's like taking your clothes off in front of someone. You have to make a fool of yourself in order to get anywhere."

'Disrespectful'

Having a laugh, both on and off camera, is something Dame Judi does a lot of, according to co-star Nighy.

"She likes to laugh more than she likes to act," he says. "It is delicious and her favourite thing.

"She gets most excited and is most happy when she's laughing. She's terrible and I am bent double trying not to."

Madden can attest to her sense of "warmth and humanity" and youthful humour.

"She is outrageously disrespectful of whatever she's doing, of everybody around her," says the director, who previously worked with her on Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love.

"She takes her work very seriously but very lightly at the same time. Everything about her is special and she's funny as hell."

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Image caption New resident Gere develops a relationship with Sonny's mother, played by Lillete Dubey

So if The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel proves as popular as its predecessor, could there be room for a third instalment? "Yes," says Nighy.

"When they suggested the second one, Judi said 'They'd better hurry up.' So if we're all still alive, let's go for a third one - it obviously hits the spot with people.

"If I got the chance every day to work with that cast and Judi, on a script by Ol Parker and be directed by John Madden, I'd be a happy man - a very, very happy man."

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is out in the UK and Ireland on 26 February.

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