- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

British director John Madden finds old age not just amusing but also downright comedic.

His latest film, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” extracts levity from the tales of English expatriates in the later chapters of their lives in India — the sequel to 2011’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

“It’s always been very important to me, with both ‘Marigold’ films, that you embrace the reality of old age as well as what’s funny about it,” Mr. Madden told The Washington Times from the film’s London premiere.

“The reality of old age is, of course, mortality and death, because it’s a lot closer for those people than it is for the generations below them. And both movies, I hope, square up to that. And I think probably audiences enjoy being taken from one emotion to another [given] that mixture of melancholy and comedy.”

The sequel features returning stars Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Judi Dench, in her fourth collaboration with Mr. Madden.

“She is as glorious a person as she is accomplished and extraordinary and surprising as an actor,” Mr. Madden said of Miss Dench. “It’s incredibly pleasurable as a director to watch an actor perform who simply has this kind of magical draw on an audience. I mean, I’ve never seen an audience so instantly engaged with an actor as they [are] with her. [It’s] something to do with her personality as well as her set of skills, which are unmatched.”

Indeed, Miss Dench was rewarded with 1998’s best supporting actress Oscar for her eight-minute portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Mr. Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love.” The film won several other Oscars, including best actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best picture.

But Mr. Madden lost the best director contest to Steven Spielberg, whose World War II drama “Saving Private Ryan” earned more than twice the money that Mr. Madden’s Elizabethan romantic comedy brought in.

“How am I ever going to forget that experience or that piece?” Mr. Madden said of “Shakespeare in Love.” “Because it’s a piece that comes along once in a lifetime.”

Miss Dench portrayed another English monarch for Mr. Madden — Queen Victoria in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

“She’s played wildly different characters for me,” the director said. “But either of those [monarchs] are a million miles away from the character she’s playing [now]. It’s a demonstration of her range, really, that she can do that.”

While her onscreen performances might lead one to think of Miss Dench as being prim and proper, Mr. Madden is quick to point out that she is, in fact, a mischievous trickster on his sets and “very enjoyable to work with. But the point is you get the whole menu with her. There’s never any distinction between the comedic and the serious and the dramatic. She brings everything to the table.”

Mr. Madden said he had no initial plans to craft a sequel to the original “Marigold” film, but he and screenwriter Ol Parker found there was more to say about the British retirees in an Indian hotel (based on Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel “These Foolish Things”).

“There was no hesitation on any of our parts, including the actors, at having a chance to go back there, but none of us wanted to do it unless we felt there was a story worth telling,” Mr. Madden said. “And very quickly, Ol Parker and I realized that there was a sort of second half of the story to tell. Because although the first film sort of concluded — one hopes satisfactorily — it was nevertheless the beginning of the lives that these people had chosen rather than the end of the lives that they’d chosen.”

New to the cast is Richard Gere, who at 65 still smiles with the naughtiness of a schoolboy. Unsurprisingly, the geriatric women at the Marigold fawn over him.

Mr. Madden spoke about the excitement and challenges of returning to shoot on location in India.

“I am the least well-traveled visitor to India that there’s ever been,” he said with a laugh. “Because although I spent 16 months or more of the last four or five years in India I never get to travel anywhere, so I’m like the only person [working on] the film who hasn’t seen the Taj Mahal and hasn’t been to Agra.”

Mr. Madden said his cast and crew strove to make a film that presents an entertaining yet unflinching view of aging.

“A movie that makes people feel happy in the sense of making them laugh rather than making them, you know, swallow confected endings is quite an unusual thing,” he said. “Because I think there’s something about the material which has to do with second lives and second chances and everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.

“But even that formulation acknowledges that there is an end. And it wouldn’t worry me in the slightest if, in cinematic terms, it was the end of the story.”

While such thinking likely precludes a third check-in at the Marigold, Mr. Madden is content to revel in the journey his characters have made in the pair of films.

“It’s a journey from one place at the beginning of the first movie to a completely different place in the conclusion of the second,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine the first one now without imagining the second.”

Although endings — in life and on film — can be tricky business, Mr. Madden and Mr. Parker made sure to toss a Bollywood musical number into the second film, one the director described with a chuckle as “the biggest gas imaginable.”

“There’s just kind of an abandon and a vocabulary to [Bollywood] that is just so far out and strange, and that is just so wonderful, and so hilarious, as well as being utterly irresistible,” he said. “I never tired of it while we were cutting it; I never tired of it while we were shooting it. It was just completely intoxicating to me.

“That word has always been important to me with both films: There’s a certain ‘intoxication,’ which has to do with India and the sort of spirit and energy of the story.”

Thus, the second trip to the Marigold includes a performance that ties it spiritually to the climactic performance of “Romeo and Juliet” in “Shakespeare in Love.” Mr. Madden hopes that, like in his Oscar-winning film, he will catch lightning in a bottle before the curtain falls.

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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