When the first trailer for Vin Diesel’s The Chronicles of Riddick dropped in 2004, audiences were surprised by the first voice and face that they encountered on-screen.
There was the imperious Oscar-winning Dame Judi Dench, appearing as a sort of mystical oracle dressed in a flowing white robe, intoning the words, “They are a plague that now sweeps through the worlds of man….”
While discussing her whole 60-year career for EW’s latest issue (on stands now), Dench explains how this unlikely Diesel-Dench movie marriage came to be.
“I was doing a play at the Haymarket Theatre in London and I didn’t know that Vin Diesel, the one and only, was there,” Dench says. “Vin sent me a bouquet of flowers that were so big they couldn’t fit up the stairs to my dressing room. They could not get them into the corridor. Then he asked if I would be in his film. And of course I said yes. Why ever not?”
Dench studied theatrical design before making a pivot as a teenager towards acting, so the potential of appearing in a large-scale CGI parade was irresistible. “And I filmed for four weeks in Vancouver, Canada,” she says. “Such a lovely town Vancouver is and I had such a wonderful time working with there. And all those soundstages, my goodness.”
She also remembers, with a whiff of regret, her first costume fitting for the sci-fi film. “They put me in a glorious, very long wig and brilliant blue contact lenses. But when I arrived later on the set, the wig had been cut a bit shorter, which was really a pity. But, anyway, that was their choice.”
In life, Dench has worn her own hair cut characteristically short since her early 20s. She explains, “That began when I was acting the Old Vic in the 1950s. I’ve got kind of child’s hair, very fine, so that’s why. It’s easier short.” And that length also gives her a big advantage over fellow actors. “If I’m going be wearing wigs all the time anyway, it’s much better to have short hair. Pin it up a little bit and put wigs over and all that. I’ve worn many wigs in films and in the theater, yes I have. Then when the wig comes off, I can just rough it up afterwards.”
No word on whether Diesel and Dench may reunite for another movie someday. She’s allergic to the word retirement — and now that her run is officially over as James Bond’s boss M in the 007 franchise, there’s no reason why she couldn’t pop up in a future Fast and the Furious blockbuster.
Dench’s new movie Victoria & Abdul is in limited release now (and expanding to more theaters on Sept. 29). She also appears as a part of the all-star ensemble in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express (out Nov. 10).