The British actress is poised to receive her seventh Academy Award nomination for her role as an Irish woman who seeks the son she was forced to give up for adoption in the just-opened Philomena. "Dench gives a performance of grace, nuance and cinematic heroism," raved the Times of London.
Not bad for someone turning 79 on December 9. Even more impressive is that Dench didn't become an international movie star until she was in her 60s. She was too busy commanding the London stage for more than a half-century while building a reputation as one of the finest interpreters of Shakespeare since Sir Laurence Olivier.
With her fashionably short silver hair and penetrating blue eyes, she gloriously defies the adage that age is a deterrent for actresses when it comes to longevity in the film business.
In fact, her younger costars often look upon her in awe. It's a natural response, perhaps, given that two of her best-known roles are as Queen Victoria in 1997's Mrs. Brown (her first Oscar nomination) and Queen Elizabeth I in 1998's Shakespeare in Love (her second and the source of her lone win).
But as her Philomena costar, Steve Coogan, 48, discovered, this is one dame who knows how to break the ice on the set: Make them laugh. "We'd tease each other, take the mickey out of each other. That makes you comfortable," he has said.
Here are seven ways the ageless Dench sets an example for her admirers, young and old.
1. Don't let ailments keep you down
Dench had knee replacement surgery six weeks before Philomena's London premiere, but the actress informed her surgeon that she was determined to walk the red carpet unassisted. And there she was, strolling in Leicester Square, no cane in sight.
The actress is also coping with macular degeneration, a common late-life eye ailment, by asking Finty, her daughter, or colleagues such as Coogan, who cowrote Philomena's screenplay, to read scripts to her.
2. Avoid being pigeonholed by others
Actor Stephen Fry once declared, "Railings should be built around her so that all may admire her in an orderly and respectful fashion." Kate Winslet, her costar and fellow Oscar nominee for 2001's Iris, claimed she "would work with Judi if I had to be a tea lady hovering in the background."
But if you want to rile Dame Judi, refer to her as a national treasure. "I hate that," she says. "Too dusty, too in a cupboard, too staid. I always want to do the most different thing I can think of next."
Next page: Show them who is boss and find a soulmate. »