Writer Ol Parker, left, and Director John Madden of surprise hit film "The… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
What if you could outsource retirement? "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" took a cast loaded with British talent — Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy among them — to India to find out. The fish-out-of-England romantic comedy did boffo business. With a $10-million budget, it has grossed more than $135 million worldwide since its May release, making it Fox Searchlight's highest-grossing specialty film of 2012.
Director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love,") and writer Ol Parker were in town recently to chat about the film, playing off each other like a seasoned comedy team.
Were you surprised that the film struck such a chord internationally?
Madden: The honest answer is, you don't have any idea it will connect in quite that way. I will tell you one thing, though, it's a very funny, witty script, among other things ...
Parker: Above all, it's a witty script.
Madden: And I do absolutely say that because the writer's sitting next to me.
The film's success crushes the theory that older audiences don't go out to see movies.
Madden: I think that's been guessed at for a while; it's true that their experience hasn't been addressed. Suddenly now there are a lot of movies being made that speak to that kind of audience, and that's terrific.
Is there a "Marigold" effect?
Madden: I wouldn't call it that.
Parker: I would. I call everything the Marigold effect.
Did the choice of actors influence their characters' behavior?
Madden: Yes, we were writing it for seven voices that we knew.
Parker: We had the cast by May and started shooting in October, so for the last few months I was able to write the last 14 drafts. The last draft is still not written.
Madden: Ol is a brilliant ventriloquist and knows the rhythms of some very idiosyncratic performers like Bill Nighy. Once you have his voice in your head, you start to be able to construct it for him. We did that with all of them.
And then India is a character in itself.
Madden: The first couple of days I was there, I thought, I can't make this film here; the place is too overwhelming. There's a lot of poverty and squalor, and things that Penelope Wilton's character talks about. But very quickly you move through that and see the culture beyond it. Wilton's character never gets there and retreats to the hotel.
Penelope Wilton was fantastic at being horrible.
Madden: She doesn't shrink from the ghastliness of what that woman says and does.
Parker: And she gets to slag off Judi Dench onscreen. You don't get to diss Judi ...
Madden: A woman who's so universally adored by everyone in England.
What's the real dirt on Judi Dench?
Parker: She's a crackhead.
Madden: Impatient, superior, supercilious ...
Parker: Only concerned with whether her sushi is fresh. She's an unqualified nightmare.
For our readers who can't hear you laughing as you say this nonsense ...
John: It's an orgy of irony.
Is it true that there's a sequel in the works?
Madden: I wouldn't put it as a sequel at this point; I'm slightly nervous of that word in this context ...
Parker: An equal.
Madden: Yes. A second half. I think there's more of their story to tell.
Are you only going to make it if you do it together?
Parker: That's a given.
And if you weren't sitting here together, would you still say that?
Madden: No, I wouldn't. I want Ol to believe that, so he can work on it.
Parker: I'll do it with anyone. But then it wouldn't be either good or successful. So there's that.
You're attributing that to John?
Parker: All of it, yes. I've got to be honest once. This would be that time.
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