Having worked together on “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and the Oscar-nominated “Philomena,” Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears have created a solid groundwork for their new film, “Victoria & Abdul,” out Friday.
It’s the second time Dench is playing Queen Victoria, almost 20 years after 1997’s “Mrs. Brown.” This one tells the story of how an Indian man named Abdul Karim (Bollywood star Ali Fazal) travels to the U.K. and becomes Queen Victoria’s most trusted friend and “munshi” or teacher, disrupting the household in the process. Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard plays Victoria’s son Bertie, Prince of Wales, the successor to the throne waiting for his mom to die and unhappy about her new best friend.
amNewYork sat down with Fazal and Izzard at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film recently premiered.
“You have to be a good director to give me this role,” Izzard says about going toe-to-toe with Dench in Frears’ film. “I had to put on 12 kilos and then there’s tailoring, makeup, trying to get a whole way of moving differently and lowering my voice into this large rib cage that I didn’t have.”
“I wanted particularly to know his childhood relationship with his mother and father, and I wanted to know why he was off the rails by the time he was a teenager,” Izzard says about researching Bertie’s life.
Fazal compares his audition process to surpassing video game levels, as he first recorded a few scenes on his phone before meeting with Frears in India a month later for more readings.
“I started to read the book but then I stopped, because I thought Lee Hall had written something very interesting and given it a very fantastical approach,” Fazal says, but he did try to figure out where Abdul existed within historic events, getting the most from the autobiography of Victoria’s physician, Dr. Reid, who recalls the Queen’s “Munshi-mania” period.
“It was almost like an Indian arranged marriage where our parents have set up this blind date,” Fazal says about first meeting Dench. “We just did lunch in the countryside, a very informal thing. I had a bit of a fan moment, and she gave me the warmest hug.”
“If you steal her shoes, then she comes after you,” Izzard joked about Dench.