Left to right: Jeff Bridges, Susan Geston, Ali Fazal, Dame Judi Dench, Roger Durling, Elizabeth Chambers and Armie Hammer / Getty ImGeages
Dame Judi Dench received an award on Thursday night in Santa Barbara — and as she pointed out, it was a low-stress prize. After all, she journeyed to the coastal town north of Los Angeles knowing that she was this year’s recipient of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film, an annual honor that is handed out at a black-tie dinner that benefits the festival.
“It’s not like being nominated for something and then hearing them call another name,” she said with a grin. “You don’t have to put on that face and pretend to be happy that somebody else has won.”
Instead, Dench could bask in a low-key night at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara resort, with speeches from actors Armie Hammer, Ali Fazal, Jeff Bridges and SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, along with lots of film clips.
She called the event “the best party I’ve ever been at,” and it taught us a few things about the iconic actress who is currently looking for her eighth Oscar nomination for her performance as Queen Victoria in Stephen Frear’s lighthearted period piece “Victoria & Abdul.”
Here are some things we learned, apart from main lesson of the night, which is that everybody loves Dame Judi Dench. (But then, we already knew that.)
1. She once made a movie called “Four in the Morning.”
Of course, we could have learned this by looking at her IMDb page. But each of the three to four dozen tables in the ballroom not only had a table number, it had the name of one of Dench’s movies — and given that she has been acting for 60 years, there were plenty of titles to go around.
So when you wind up sitting at Table 12, a.k.a. “Four in the Morning,” you’re tempted to look up the 1965 film directed by Anthony Simmons, in which Dench and Norman Rodway play a married couple who are somehow connected to a young woman who is found drowned in the Thames.
One quibble with the system of naming and numbering tables, though: If one of the tables is going to be named after the 2009 Rob Marshall musical “Nine,” why on earth would they give that name to table 11 rather than table 9?
2. She likes puppies.
Armie Hammer, who worked with Dench on “J. Edgar,” remembered that on the set of that movie, “she was one of the first people to hold our new puppy, Archie, and she refused to put him down for hours, while talking about his puppy breath.”
Dench neither confirmed nor denied this story when she spoke.
3. She’s wack.
Make that “she’s as wack as wack can be.” We learned this from Fazal, who co-stars with Dench in “Victoria & Abdul.” She plays Victoria. He plays Abdul.
4. She hates being called a national (or international) treasure.
Fazal said this, and so did Bridges. Apparently, she thinks national treasures are like rocks that you find on a shelf in a museum somewhere. She prefers to think of herself as “a jobbing actor.”
5. She gives sound advice.
When Fazal asked her about acting, he said, she gave him a simple prescription: “Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.”
6. She can render the Dude almost speechless.
Before Jeff Bridges presented Dench with her award, he tried to explain just what she does that’s so impressive. It came out like this:
“We all have faces, but Judi’s face! And what she can do with it! I love that, Judi!”
7. She doesn’t need a driver’s license.
Fun fact from Bridges speech: “She never got her driver’s license, but drove around in a vintage MG for 50 years.”
8. Although she began acting in 1957, she didn’t get her first lead in a movie until “Mrs. Brown” in 1997, when she was 63 years old.
“Shame on you, Hollywood,” said Bridges.
9. She’s not a singer but it doesn’t matter.
According to Bridges, “Cabaret” composer John Kander once said that Dench, who starred in a West End production of the musical in 1968 despite the fact that she was not a trained singer, was the best Sally Bowles he had ever seen.
10. Her name can be a tongue-twister.
At least to Bridges it can. He stumbled a couple of times while trying to say “Dame Judi Dench” — and toward the end of his speech, he finally went all the way and blurted out what he’d been dreading all along, calling her “James Doody Dench.”
11. Kirk Douglas has a crush on her.
In a video message to Dench, Douglas, who shares her birthday of December 9 and in less than two weeks will turn 101, told her, “Don’t tell my wife, but I’ve had a crush on you for a long time.”
12. Douglas once made a Dench family vacation in Italy very happy.
In her speech, Dench recalled a vacation many years ago in a picturesque Italian town, where one day it began to rain. Stuck indoors, she and her family were at a loss for what to do — until they turned on the television set and found that Douglas’ 1958 film “Spartacus” was playing. Immediately, she said, the shut-in day became a pleasure.
13. She doesn’t like to see herself on screen.
In between thanking everybody who participated in the evening, Dench talked about the joy of acting — but she also mentioned “the hideousness of seeing it on a screen and knowing it’s too late to change.”
40 Actresses in Their 40s Who Are Still Conquering Hollywood (Photos)
Celebrate the leading ladies of Hollywood who are still killing it in their 40s.
Amy Adams (1974) Academy Award-nominated Amy Adams is best known for roles in Disney's "Enchanted" and "Arrival."
Kerry Washington (1977) Kerry Washington broke out in films like "Ray" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," but really came into her own on the small screen, picking up Emmy nominations for her work in Shonda Rhimes' "Scandal" and for playing Anita Hill in the HBO film "Confirmation." In 2020, she starred with Reese Witherspoon in "Little Fires Everywhere."
Zoe Saldana (1978) Zoe Saldana is best known for starring in the science fiction franchises "Avatar," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Star Trek."
Reese Witherspoon (1976) A star since her teenage years, Witherspoon has expanded her profile with the Draper James fashion and home line as well as producing projects (that she often also acts in) such as "Wild" and HBO's "Big Little Lies."
Jennifer Hudson (1981) The "Dreamgirls" star became the 17th entertainer to earn the rare EGOT honor — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — in 2022 for producing the play "A Strange Loop."
Rose Byrne (1979) The Australian actress can do drama (the series "Damages") or comedy ("Bridesmaids," "Neighbors" and "Physical"). In 2020, she even played Gloria Steinem in the limited series "Mrs. America."
Angelina Jolie (1975) Academy Award-winning Angelina Jolie has starred in "Girl, Interrupted," "Maleficent" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." She has also written and directed several films, including "Unbroken" and "First They Killed My Father."
Eva Longoria (1975) Besides starring on "The Young and the Restless" and "Desperate Housewives," Eva Longoria launched her own production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, in 2016.
Penélope Cruz (1974) The Oscar-winning actress has graced screens in films such as "Belle Époque," "Sahara," and "Murder on the Orient Express." She received her fourth Oscar nomination for her role in 2021's "Parallel Mothers."
Jessica Alba (1981) As a Golden Globe nominated actress, Alba has tackled everything from "Fantastic Four" to "Sin City" to "LA's Finest."
Jessica Chastain (1977) Jessica Chastain, who won the Best Actress Oscar for "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" (and nabbed previous nominations for "Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty," made her film debut in 2008's "Jolene" and has gone on to star in "Miss Sloane," "Molly's Game" and "IT: Chapter Two."
Stephanie Beatriz (1981) Her debut as Detective Rosa Diaz in "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" earned Beatriz the role of Carla in the hit musical film "In the Heights."
Charlize Theron (1975) From "Mad Max: Fury Road" to "Long Shot," this Academy Award-winning actress can do it all.
Natalie Portman (1981) The "V for Vendetta" star received an Academy Award for her performance in "Black Swan." She also starred as Jane Foster in "Thor" and "Thor: The Dark World," and hoists the hammer herself in "Thor: Love and Thunder."
Sutton Foster (1975) After winning two Tony awards for her work on the Broadway stage, Sutton Foster broke into Hollywood through her leading debut in "Younger."
Kate Hudson (1979) After her Golden Globe winning performance in "Almost Famous," the actress and Fabletics founder has starred in "Bride Wars," "Music" and Rian Johnson's "Glass Onion."
Alicia Silverstone (1976) The "Clueless" star has also starred in "Batman & Robin" and "Miss Match," along with publishing two vegan cookbooks.
Michelle Williams (1980) The "Dawson's Creek" actress has starred in "Brokeback Mountain," "The Greatest Showman" and "My Week with Marilyn." She's been nominated for four Oscars and won an Emmy for playing dancer Gwen Verdon in "Fosse/Verdon."
Bryce Dallas Howard (1981) Besides costarring in the massive "Jurassic World" films, she has also directed episodes of "The Manadalorian" and "The Book of Boba Fett." She is also making her directorial feature film debut with "The Flight of the Navigator."
Amy Schumer (1980) Comedian Amy Schumer is best known for her roles in "Trainwreck," "I Feel Pretty," and "Snatched," and co-hosting the 2022 Oscars.
Uzo Aduba (1981) Best known for her Emmy-winning role as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren on "Orange Is the New Black," Aduba also won an Emmy for playing Shirley Chisholm in "Mrs. America." SHe currently stars in the HBO drama "In Treatment."
Chrissy Metz (1980) For her role as Kate in "This Is Us," Chrissy Metz has earned nominations for two Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy.
Carrie Coon (1981) Carrie Coon is best known for "Gone Girl," "The Leftovers," "The Gilded Age," and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."
Isla Fisher (1976) The Australian actress, who broke out in "The Wedding Crashers," stars in and executive produces the Peacock series "Wolf Like Me."
Kirsten Dunst (1982) The star of "Bring It On," "Spider-Man" and several Sofia Coppola films was finally nominated for an Oscar for her performance in "The Power of the Dog." In 2016, she received an Emmy nomination for her role on "Fargo."
Kate Winslet (1975) The Oscar-winning "Titanic" star earned two Emmys (for the HBO mini-series "Mildred Pierece" and, more recently, for her her role as a dogged smalltown detective in 2021's "Mare of Easttown"). She's been nominated for seven Oscars.
Rebel Wilson (1980) The Australian actress is best known for "Pitch Perfect," "How to Be Single," and her leading roles in "Isn't It Romantic" and "Senior Year."
Constance Wu (1982) The star of "Crazy Rich Asians" and ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat" also starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in "Hustlers."
Tiffany Haddish (1979) The comedic star of "Girls Trip," "Tuca & Bertie" and "The Afterparty" has also proven herself adept at drama in films like Paul Schrader's "The Card Counter."
Christina Ricci (1980) The former child star who made her mark in the '90s with "The Addams Family" and "Now and Then" went on to costar in "Monster," "The Matrix Resurrections" and earned an Emmy nomination for her 2006 guest turn on "Grey's Anatomy." And she terrifies us, in the best way possible, as Misty on "Yellowjackets."
Melanie Lynskey (1977) Between "Yellowjackets" and "Candy," this New Zealand actress is killing it. It's about time the "Heavenly Creatures" star got the acclaim she deserves.
Rebecca Hall (1982) This British actress, who we loved in "The Town" and "The Night House" and topped critics' lists with her harrowing performance in 2016's "Christine," made her directorial debut in 2021 with the acclaimed period drama "Passing."
Ruth Negga (1982) The Ethiopian-born Irish actress was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and won an Independent Spirit Award for her role in "Loving," and received universal praise — and a BAFTA nomination — for her performance opposite Tessa Thompson in 2021's "Passing."
Keri Russell (1976) The former "Felicity" star made a very convincing spy on "The Americans," which earned her three Emmy nominations. She also costarred in the films "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017.
Jenny Slate (1982) The actress co-created, wrote and produced the children's short film and book series "Marcel the Shell With Shoes On," which became an A24 feature film. She also charmed us in "Gifted" with Chris Evans and "I Want You Back," and won numerous critics awards for her lead role in 2014's "Obvious Child."
Natasha Lyonne (1979) The "American Pie" star scored a hit with the Netflix series "Russian Doll," which she co-created with Amy Poehler. She is also the showrunner.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (1977) After receiving a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the 2009 film "Crazy Heart, in 2021 she made her directorial film debut with "The Lost Daughter," which earned Oscar nominations for her screenplay, as well as acting nods for stars Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley.
Rosario Dawson (1979) The actress who made her acting debut in the 1995 indie drama "Kids" has gone on to star in "Sin City" and five Marvel/Netflix series including "Daredevil." She's also set to star as Ahsoka Tano in the live-action Disney+ series, “Ahsoka.”
Natsha Rothwell (1980)
The actress, who plays Kelli on HBO's "Insecure" was also nominated as a supervising producer on the series. Her other TV shows include "The White Lotus" and "Archer."
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From Amy Adams to Reese Witherspoon, these actresses aren’t letting four-plus decades slow down their career
Celebrate the leading ladies of Hollywood who are still killing it in their 40s.