Dame Judi Dench has revealed how she was reduced to helpless laughter by Billy Connolly while she was trying to play famously straight-laced Queen Victoria.
The veteran actress, 86, recalled how, while shooting a serious scene for her acclaimed film Mrs Brown, her co-star Connolly, 78, made an irreverent joke that left her unable to stay in character.
Dame Judi told how the comic incident came as they were filming for the 1997 film at Victoria’s holiday home Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She was on horseback in the side-saddle position riding alongside Connolly’s character John Brown.
Whoops! Dame Judi Dench has revealed how she was reduced to helpless laughter by Billy Connolly while she was trying to play famously straight-laced Queen Victoria
But during what was intended to be a poignant scene in which Victoria expressed her fondness for him, her horse audibly broke wind.
Recalling how Connolly was a ‘cheeky chappy’, she said in Dame Esther Rantzen in the That’s After Life podcast: ‘There’s that shot of us at Osborne on the pony walking away, taken from right up, of us walking along this path.
‘I got on to this pony which I had to do from a pair of library stairs because riding side saddle is one thing, but riding side saddle in a corset with an enormously heavy costume…
Hilarious: Dame Judi told how the comic incident came as they were filming for the 1997 film (pictured in 2019)
‘But the poor pony, for goodness sake, all one side, and as we walked so the pony farted at every single step we took, and Billy said, “Is that you, Is it you?”
Directors repeatedly filmed the scene to cut out the sound of the horse so it did not feature in the film – which depicted the unlikely close friendship between Victoria and her servant after the death of her husband Prince Albert.
The was asked whether she believed Victoria had, ‘more than a friendship’ with Mr Brown.
Side saddle: Judi recalled: ‘But the poor pony, for goodness sake, all one side, and as we walked so the pony farted at every single step we took, and Billy said, “Is that you, Is it you?”
Dame Judi who won Bafta and Golden Globe Awards as best actress for her role in the film, replied: ‘Well she did go to her grave with his portrait in her hand – a painting of him.
‘So maybe she was a bit susceptible to, well we know she was, so I think yes, I think probably.
‘There was no doubt obviously that he was an enormous comfort and confidante of hers and somebody who didn’t fall into the same category as everybody else in the court, and was somewhere where she could escape to.’
Dame Judi also confessed in the podcast to enjoying naked swims in her pool at home after being prompted by Dame Esther’s admission that she was a fan of nudism and had run naked and alone in her garden to celebrate her 80th birthday.
Describing swimming naked as ‘very good’, she said: ‘I do that because we are lucky and we have a pool, so you can quietly do it sometimes if somebody isn’t going to come round suddenly. I don’t want to be caught at it.’
She laughed as she added: ‘I know the feeling of taking your clothes off is just heaven isn’t it. I had to do it in a film… Langrishe, Go Down… a passionate scene with Jeremy Irons where she puts cream on her nipples and he licks it off.
Hit: Directors repeatedly filmed the scene to cut out the sound of the horse so it did not feature in the film – which depicted the unlikely close friendship between Victoria and her servant
‘And after we had done the scene we came out and it was tea time, and the caterers had made meringues for everybody… that was very, very nice for us.’
Dame Judi also recalled another hilarious incident in her long stage career when she collapsed in a fit of laughter while playing Lady Macbeth alongside Ian Mckellan.
She said Mckellan who was playing Macbeth muddled up his lines when he should have said: ‘Light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.’
Instead, he said: ‘Light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky nook.’
Dame Judi said in the podcast produced by Captive Minds how she laughed so much that she had to pretend to the audience that it was all part of her act.
She said: ‘I went really completely to pieces…. I thought this was the moment where Lady Macbeth has a terrible fit of hysteria because she is so anxious and goes to pieces laughing and crying and throwing herself on the ground. I never let Ian forget it.’
Talking about acting, Dame Judi who is best known for her role as spy boss M in James Bond, said: ‘I don’t think it is ever easy. It can be gloriously good fun and it can be fiendishly difficult.
‘And of course on stage, it is never ever the same because the audience is such an integral part of it. There’s no such thing as a terrible audience. You are probably giving a terrible performance.
‘When I played Cleopatra at the National, I knew there was a laugh she intended to get late on in the play… I tried and tried and on our 100th performance which was our last performance, I got the laugh.
‘You think, thank goodness then, I can now have a lie down.’
Asked why she had often described her advice to her younger self as, ‘Don’t fall in love so often’, she admitted: ‘I’m terribly susceptible.’ But she added: ‘As long as you don’t hurt anyone in the process.’
Going free: Dame Judi also confessed in the podcast to enjoying naked swims in her pool at home (pictured in 2017)