Judi Dench remains one of stage and screen’s most formidable actors — as long as she knows her lines. But in a new interview on The Graham Norton Show (via People), Dench said that because of the loss of her eyesight, learning new roles “has become impossible.”
The 88-year-old is suffering from age-related macular degeneration, which has robbed her not only of much of her sight but also one of her strengths as an actor. “I have a photographic memory,” she said. “I need to find a machine that not only teaches me my lines but also tells me where they appear on the page. I used to find it very easy to learn lines and remember them. I could do the whole of Twelfth Night right now.”
Dench has been struggling with macular degeneration for over a decade, but in the last few years the effects have become harder to ignore.
In a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Dench spoke about her alternate approaches to memorizing lines. “You find a way of just getting about and getting over the things that you find very difficult,” she said. “I’ve had to find another way of learning lines and things, which is having great friends of mine repeat them to me over and over and over again. So I have to learn through repetition, and I just hope that people won’t notice too much if all the lines are completely hopeless!”
The physical process of acting has also gotten more difficult. “I was doing [Shakespeare’s] The Winter’s Tale with Kenneth Branagh a couple of years ago, playing Paulina, and after we had been running for three weeks or so at the Garrick he said to me — I have a long speech at the end — he said: ‘Judi, if you were to say that speech about eight feet to your right, you’d be saying it to me and not to the pros.’”
She added, “I rely on people to tell me!” That 2015 production was the last time she appeared on stage.
Dench was nominated for a 2022 Academy Award for Branagh’s Belfast. She recently did a cameo as herself in the musical Spirited starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, and Allelujah, a 2022 film set in a geriatric ward, will receive a UK theatrical release in 2023. No other future roles have been publicly announced.