Celia Imrie interview: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Celia Imrie talks about returning for the sequel, pretending not to know the cast, and fixing cars in the middle of India...

The mighty Celia Imrie is a firm favourite around these parts, and we don’t honestly think we’ve seen a performance from her that’s not been impressive. Even in films that weren’t quite so strong. She’s back on cinema screens in the UK this weekend in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and she spared us some time for a natter about the movie…

Where is your character now as opposed to where she ended up in the first film?

Well, she’s chasing a dream but I don’t think she knows exactly what that is. John Madden gave me a wonderful instruction on the first day of filming this time, and said ‘I think Madge is a bit blue.’ Not rude, but a bit melancholy, where she doesn’t really know what she wants.

And it was just a delight to have another colour to play for this next film, I suppose. I still think she’s a hoot, I love her and I love her sense of humour, and she’s having a go, but it was just another side to her that you should hopefully see, which is of course lovely to play.

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Did you have any reservations about coming back for a sequel?

None at all! Why would I? No, I couldn’t wait to get there.

Were you surprised by the massive success of the first film?

I really was, actually, because – not that I read it – but I understand that there were a few grouses from here, apparently, but then it went absolutely global. America, France, everywhere loved it, so I couldn’t be more delighted – it was a surprise.

Do you find the reaction different depending on where you are?

I’ve just been in America for the autumn, and the minute I mentioned it everyone went, ‘aahh’ with one accord, and also in France where I’ve been quite recently writing a book. It played for ages in Nice where I was staying, and it’s gorgeous that it’s all over the place. Because I think all of the subjects and all of the dilemmas that the film touches on are things everybody recognises, particularly of a certain age.

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How was it being back on set with all the new stuff to play with?

The clever thing is that in the story we’ve all been living in this hotel together, and what’s marvellous and lucky is that most of us know each other from having worked together anyway. So we have a familiarity that we don’t have to play because we know each other, and it’s a little thing but, if we were all total strangers, I suspect it would be much more awkward. But it’s just easy, and lovely.

The message of the film could be read as one of independence, for Madge especially…

Yes, well it’s a rather wonderful non-decided upon ending, which I think is very clever and I’m thrilled it was left open-ended. But I thought it was unexpected, I hope, not quite what you thought was going to happen, which is a great credit to Ol Parker. Because to surprise people at the end is a great achievement, I think.

It’s quite layered, actually, but I think it’d spoil it to say because it goes on like the road, which I think is marvellous.

If there was a third film, would you do it?

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Oh, I’m sure I would. Part of me thinks it’s so marvellous as it is, but who am I to say?

One of the most difficult scenes in the first film was actually being in the airport pretending not to know each other. That makes me laugh even now when I think of it because we shouldn’t have caught eyes… well, we didn’t because, had we, we would have laughed. Pretending not to know each other was quite a tricky exercise in good acting.

I think part of the film’s appeal is that the majority of the audience know that you all know each other, have seen you in films with each other before, and that’s part of the comedy…

I think, discounting myself from this, the public genuinely adore most of the cast. Who wouldn’t? I do. I think they’re all fantastic, and very different. We’re not all the same tune at all – it’s a wonderful melody of people. And a fantastic director in John Madden – who’s a theatre man – and the cast are more theatrical than filmic I would say.

And it turned out that John Madden particularly chose theatre actors in India, and I think the Indian actors are marvellous in it, and a really important part of it. Then there’s our wonderful writer in Ol Parker who, again, because he knows us it’s quite clever he’s like a surgeon picking out little bits of us and putting it into our parts – and a wonderful producer in Graham Broadbent. They’re a terrific triangle of people in charge.

Is that fun to play with, if you’re reading the script and you see parts of you and people you know?

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Yes, of course. Strangely enough, in this film I had quite a lot of time on my own away from the hotel. But I knew that whatever would happen it would be an interesting return. It’s a hard act to follow, but I think they’ve done it brilliantly.

How is it filming it in India?

Well I think it’s absolutely wonderful, because it would cost a fortune if you cleared all the streets – you couldn’t, there’s far too much traffic. So to be in amongst them of course is wonderful.

I do remember in the first film when somebody’s car breaks down, I think I had something to do with it, and Dev’s [Patel] character is helping me fix the car, and of course you have to be so careful, because the minute one person recognised Dev it was swarms around the car, so you had to be really fast.

I actually think India is one of the greatest stars of the film. It’s also so easy, because I don’t have to imagine the heat, I don’t have to imagine the smell, I don’t have to imagine the colours, because it’s all there. The dust, the people, we’re absolutely in the thick of it and you couldn’t fake it.

What do you hope people take away from the film?

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That anything is possible. Funnily enough, somebody brought up that we’ve all taken quite an unconventional leap coming to India in our lives – the characters, having got there, we then don’t want to be settling down or in a conventional relationship. We’re all running away from that a little bit because we don’t want to be trapped, I suppose, and I hear myself in that.

But I think, yes, anything is possible and there’s hope for romance or a new beginning or new work that you never even dreamed of in this time of your life.

Celia Imrie, thank you very much.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in cinemas now.

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