Whenever you think the big dream for your life is slipping away, or you wonder if it’s too late and the dream has passed you by, take inspiration from Judi Dench, whose steady success exploded internationally when she was 64.
Since the 1960s, Dench enjoyed an impressive acting career in England. She won her first BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Academy Award) as Most Promising Newcomer of 1966. For the next few decades, she continued giving fine performances on stage, in movies, and on television. British award organizations took note, and gradually Dench’s trophy shelf started to fill up. Then came her towering performance as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, a British production that brought Dench international attention, and a bevy of award accolades that boded well for an Academy Award victory. As expected, Dench was among the five actresses nominated for the Best Actress Oscar of 1997. However, three other nominees were also from England—Helena Bonham Carter for The Wings of the Dove, Julie Christie in Afterglow, and Kate Winslet enjoying a Titanic box office surge. The final nominee, Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets, pitted one American against all foreign-born actresses. Oscar traditionally goes with home court advantage. Despite early momentum to win, Dench lost that competition to Hunt. This loss might make some believe that fate was working against Dench.
But Oscar has another tradition that immediately worked in her favor. Often, when they fail to honor a star in a role for which they should have won, the Academy makes it up with a win the following year. In 1998, again under the direction of John Madden, Dench etched a comic gem of a performance as Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. When the Academy named her the Best Supporting Actress of 1998, Dench entered record books for giving the second shortest Oscar-winning performance in history, spending a little over three minutes more on screen than 1976’s winner, Beatrice Straight in Network.
That record was only the beginning for Dench. Since those first two nominations, Dench has been on the ballot at regular intervals, setting the record for being nominated for seven acting Oscars (a rare feat for actors even over a lifetime career) all after the age of 60. In that time, she has also set BAFTA records for most Supporting Actress nominations, most Supporting Actress wins and, in a tie with Maggie Smith, most overall Actress wins in either category. For her work on the British stage, Dench also holds the record for most Laurence Olivier Awards, expanding her lead with another award this year for A Winter’s Tale. She’s now 82 and going strong as ever.
Though we chart out own destinies by our passion and focus, Life always meets us at some point to make those dreams come true. Hold steadily to your vision, no matter what your stage in life. It’s not too late. Your best is yet to be. If you ever doubt it, watch Judi Dench at work.
Note: Dench’s newest movie, Murder on the Orient Express, premieres today.