Interview: Lillete Dubey of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

Posted on July 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Copyright DNA 2015
Copyright DNA 2015

Lillete Dubey stars with Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Richard Gere in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming video. Dubey plays the formidable Mrs. Kapoor, the disapproving mother of the eternally optimistic proprietor of the hotel in the title. Dubey is one of India’s most distinguished directors and actors and it was a very great pleasure to talk to her about the movie.

In the first film, your character was mostly there to disapprove. In this one, she has to respond to romantic overtures from an American played by Richard Gere. Was that a surprise?

Well, yes it was. In the first one she was quite a tough little biddy. And I joked when I heard that there is a second one that I hoped there is going to be more dimension and maybe hopefully a little romance for Mrs. Kapoor. So I was so pleased that he sort of took me up on that. Everybody is having a romance so I felt really left out. All the older people in the film are all having this lovely autumn romance or winter romance or whatever and I was the only one who was feeling very left out. If you see more of a character you want to see a little more dimension. I felt in the first one it was a nice little part but it was really to do with the son and her relationship with him and how it took that part of his story forward. She didn’t have much to do with the rest of the cast. She didn’t interact too much with them. So I just thought it would be fun to have something else to do as Mrs. Kapoor.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the film. Had you met Richard Gere before?

No, no. You know I had run theater company, I also directed and occasionally act also on my own shows, so I was mentally casting when I was reading the script and I said, “Who would I pick if I had my choice?” When I put on my director’s cap, not so much who would be nice as a romantic character but who would work really well in this role and I thought of two or three American names who could be a charming man who could break the ice which Mrs. Kapoor had surrounded herself with. and had to have a certain sort of personality. When John Madden called, he said, “I think you will be quite happy, he’s adorable in a very pristine English way, I think you’ll be quite pleased with the lad, it’s Richard Gere.” And Richard always said, “Are there any more scenes with us together?” because it was a very cute little part of the story and he felt there should’ve been more. It’s nice because it was the older romance and a lot of bits could be sub-textual and unsaid which was nice because I think at that age we don’t need to say a lot and it was all there. I wish we had more scenes. At the premiere, people were already asking if there was going to be a third one, so maybe we will.

Is there a difference in technique or process between the British, American, and Indian actors?

Oh yes, Indians are very emotional and carried away with feelings so the whole style is very strong; it’s a very strong style. What you see in “Monsoon Wedding” iss extreme Indian acting.  I don’t have a problem with it because that’s the way Indians are as a race. So it is a cultural context in which they are a little bit like Italians, they are volatile, they are riding high all the time and feelings come out on the surface and everything is out there and it’s a little loud so their acting reflects that.  It always reflects the ethos and the culture from which you’ve come. And the English are very pristine and dry and so their style of acting very much reflects that. It’s quieter, very internalized, very restrained, very contained and they are looking forward to lots of internal truth rather than external.  And Americans… I mean there is Richard and there was David Strathairn, David of course had a quieter style of acting. It’s not like it is Indian acting at all but it’s a little more spontaneous, it’s not that pulled back, you let yourself go a little bit. I’m not saying you go over the top or you are melodramatic but you are certainly, you let go a lot more. You can see it, you can see the styles in the movie. So I was sort of trying to be between the tones by my own sort of rhythm. You just have to keep feeling the rhythm of both the movie as a whole and that scene as it is being played out with your co-actor.

That’s what’s nice about working in international film because I was talking with Judy and Maggie.  Of course they have their own league but they also come from the theatre like me, and they got into film late. I got into films in my early 40’s so it was very late and I have done about 40 films.  I’ve always hugely admired them as actresses really and it was such a thrill to work with them. I want to grow up to be Judi Dench.

The best thing about the movie I think, Nell, is that these guys really exemplify the film for me.  They have such a zest for life, they are all still working, they are all still looking forward to this might happen professionally or otherwise. I think why it appeals to people, young old, it’s the sense of optimism that it has about life, that you could just turn a corner and anything is possible I mean yes, it could be negative also but if you are up for it, and up for life many things are possible, if you just open yourself to the possibilities and I think that’s a very appealing quality about the film.

What else are you working on?

A series called “Indian Summers.” It’s channel 4’s biggest hit in the last 20 years drama series, and it’s actually a PBS Masterpiece and Channel 4 co-production. It’s already on in Australia and New Zealand and we’re shooting season 2. It’s beautifully shot in India and it will be on “Masterpiece” in the US.

Here is more from Ms. Dubey.

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