As John Madden gets ready for his trip to Schull, he tells Colette Sheridan he’s unlikely to direct a third Marigold Hotel film
IT’S highly unlikely that there will be a third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says John Madden, director of the two films in the popular series. Madden, who will be making an appearance at the Fastnet Short Film Festival in Schull, says he was surprised by the succes of the films, but feels it’s important “to quit the party while it’s still going on.”
The films’ stellar ensemble cast includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Richard Gere.
The first instalment of the comedy drama moved from England to Jaipur in India. Seven cash-strapped Brits travel to a retirement resort and end up in a dilapidated hotel run by the chaotic Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). In the second film, Smith’s character travels to San Deigo in California with Patel’s character to propose a plan to a hotel magnate to open a second hotel in India.
Madden, who has Irish roots, says that continuing with the Marigold films, would be difficult “as we’re dealing with mortality, to a degree. These people can’t go on forever, no more than the stories can.” But what thoroughly good stories are narrated in the feelgood films. For Madden, India, as a place to run away to, is something everyone can relate to.
India, he says, is a kind of Forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like it. The pastoral setting of the forest is an escape from corrupted city life. The exoticism and liveliness of Jaipur is an alternative to dull grey impecunious lives in England.
“It’s a fable of intoxication. I think it’s extraordinary the way people fantasise about a world that is not the one they’re familiar with. The tourist industry and travel is a very big constant in people’s lives. Obviously, the films partly examine what the reality of life in India might be rather than the fantasy of it.”
Never in his wildest dreams could Madden have predicted how successful the films would be. Also, the director of the acclaimed Shakespeare in Love, he says the Hotel Marigold films were made on a very tight budget.“All of the costs, including the cast’s fees, which were not exorbitant, were paid on a deferred basis. If the films were successful, the people involved could benefit afterwards. It’s a very good model. The first film was profitable in a way that nobody could have foreseen. Made on a budget of $12m, it made $135m world-wide. The second film cost $15m to make and with some luck, it will make about $90m. It’s extraordinary.”
Reviews for the films have been both positive and negative. “It’s very rare that you get critical approval and popular approval at the same time. I think there was a little bit more scepticism about the second one than the first one. Some people said it was a cynical exercise. It certainly wasn’t envisaged as that. I wouldn’t have wanted to make the same film twice.”
Madden, 66, started his career in radio drama before moving on to theatre, followed by television and then film. “Massive changes have happened since I came into the film industry. Now, people can make their own work. They’re no longer dependent on the massive cost of equipment. Film making is available to anyone with an iPhone, a voice, a point of view, a creative urge and a sense of originality. The means of distribution have also changed. A truly original piece will find its way out into the light, through YouTube, most obviously, although it’s a very overcrowded market.”
However, accessibility is all very well. Madden says anybody can probably make a film once. “Whether they’ve got the discipline and talent to harness those instincts and develop them is probably as hard as it ever was. But at least, you can create a calling card. That’s important for going around to festivals. The cream, as it were, tends to rise to the top.”
Madden is involved in a TV series, Masters of Sex which is about the sex pioneers, Masters and Johnson. Starring Michael Sheen, it is now in its third season in the US.
“My next project is a film that is widely in contrast with the two Marigold films. It’s an American political drama set in the world of lobbying. I’m in the process of doing a new draft of it.”
It’s regularly observed that some of the best drama is on television these days. Madden agrees and says that series like Mad Men, House of Cards and Breaking Bad very impressive.
“They’re getting the chance to explore complicated issues without the necessity of having to resolve them quickly like in film.”
He doesn’t believe that TV dramas are a threat to cinema. “The two mediums are symbiotic. There will always be a place for cinema. People predicted the demise of theatre when cinema appeared — and of course, it hasn’t happened.”
Over the years, Madden has directed a string of big names including Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof.
He is not given to disclosing insider tales of what happens on film sets featuring big stars. Madden is only interested in what the actors bring to the set, artistically. “For me, there’s no massive difference working with the girl who plays Sonny’s wife [in the Marigold Hotel films], who’s a complete unknown, to working with Judi Dench. They’re both incredibly talented. There’s a lot of stuff about how difficult actors can be. But I don’t buy that. If you start to sense that there’s a difficult dynamic at play, then don’t go into that working relationship.”
Spoken like a true pro unfazed by fame and egos.
John Madden will be in conversation with Greg Dyke at the Adelphi Cinema in Schull on May 24 from 5pm-7pm. Admission €10. www.fastnetshortfilmfestival.com
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