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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Ronald Pickup interview (exclusive)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RONALD Pickup talks exclusively to IndieLondon about some of his experiences of filming the ensemble comedy-drama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India with such a wonderful group of co-stars.

He also talks about the film’s success and why there is a need for entertainment of this kind, for older people as well as younger viewers, and reflects on his own career, including time spent with Laurence Olivier. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 25, 2012.

Q. I imagine there were a lot of things that appealed to you about being a part of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But what attracted you to the character of Norman?
Ronald Pickup: Well, the fact he was the right age [laughs] and the fact that he’s a very engaging character. It was very enjoyable to play someone who is pretending to be something really that he’s not – a ladies man! He’s simply not very good at being a womaniser and yet he’s going on this adventure, which was nice to be able to explore. I also liked the fact that underneath that facade, he’s vulnerable. And I know some people might find him a bit irritating, because people with that kind of patter [or schtick] can be. But the more you spend time with him and get to know him, the more you feel that he’s after something a bit more… someone he can relate to. A soul-mate, if you will.

Q. Was it a tricky line to walk so that you didn’t turn him into a dirty old man?
Ronald Pickup: It was! And I noticed you pause before saying it but it’s true… he could have become a dirty old man. But that’s another part of the challenge I enjoyed with the role – playing that kind of contrast.

Q. You’d worked with John Madden on stage before. How was working with him again?
Ronald Pickup: Yes, I worked with John on the stage version of Proof, which he then turned into a film [starring Gwyneth Paltrow]. But we did it in London on the stage and it was a wonderful experience. He was and continues to be a wonderful, meticulous director, apart from also being brilliant at knowing what he wants out of his characters. He’s also a hugely optimistic and uplifting spirit, which you need when you’re out in India. And that’s not saying anything nasty about the location… with any film on location you encounter a certain amount of difficulty at times. And you’ve got to keep control over a huge project like a movie.

Q. In a different climate and with a cast who are also away from home and possibly missing it?
Ronald Pickup: Exactly. India is a wonderful place but it’s a completely different environment yet John always managed to say something that can trigger a fresh idea and keep people engaged.
Q. How did you find India personally?
Ronald Pickup: Well, we all found the heat difficult to get to grips with to begin with especially because we were there during a very hot part of the year. So, that was probably the most demanding aspect of it. But working with the Indian crew was incredible and everything about the infrastructure of film was wonderful. They’re so energetic and they genuinely couldn’t do enough for you, from boys on-set who would run and get you teas and heaven knows what else all the time to the general feeling of there being a huge commitment to making the project work. It was very moving.

Q. Was it your first time there?
Ronald Pickup: It was my first time there. In fact, it was one of the places I thought I wouldn’t ever get to in life and then this film came up. It’s wonderful working in a place you don’t know and seeing it for the first time in a working situation can, in some ways, be better than being a tourist. I mean, it’s very nice when everything is being arranged for you in extremely beautiful hotels! It’s a very cushioned way of visiting and seeing a place for the first time because, on the whole, you have a lot of decisions taken out of your hands. But you’re also there to work, so you have to be disciplined and maybe ensure that you get to bed at a good hour to stay fresh for the next day [laughs].

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Q. I was going to ask whether you got to do much sight-seeing in and around the shoot?
Ronald Pickup: In a moderate way, yes, although perhaps not as much as I would have liked. But every day we went out to the locations we were filming in, most of which were an hour and a half from the hotel we were staying in… certainly, the main location of the hotel you see in the film was that distance away. But somehow every day there was something new about the journey and you were constantly aware of this extraordinary, multi-coloured, energetic place. Even the slightly hair-raising journeys off to the location were a bit like our characters’ experience on the bus in the film! I think my character remarks at one point that he finds it quite exhilarating.

But in a way, although you do brace yourself for the accident that doesn’t happen, it is kind of wonderfully exhilarating because they’re used to it. So, you end up sitting up and relaxing and going with the flow. In fact, that’s really how you do it in India – you go with the flow. And they’re such optimists, too. I don’t mean that in a rose-tinted way. But there are sights that are very upsetting… the poverty you sometimes see by the roadside is something you can’t ignore.

Q. I believe Tom Wilkinson was quite struck by that…
Ronald Pickup: It’s true, Tom and I talked about that quite a lot.

Q. I have to ask, what was it like working with such a wonderful ensemble?
Ronald Pickup: That, for me, was another part of the problem [laughs]. I had to keep pinching myself because I couldn’t believe I was out there in Indian doing this wonderful film with such an incredible bunch of people. I’ve worked with all of them before of course, so it had a nice feel attached to it… sort of an old homely feel. And we’re all roughly of the same age… roughly, which is nice. Well, apart from Dev [Patel], who I hadn’t worked with before. But he was also terrific. He brings such energy and a wonderfully innocent bravura to that role, which was a difficult part to get right.

Q. You must be delighted with the reception the film received during its theatrical run. Do you think it shows there is an audience out there for films involving older characters, but which can also still be relatable to young ones too?
Ronald Pickup: That was absolutely wonderful because there was such a lot of energy and love for this project. John [Madden] and his whole team had invested a lot of themselves in this, so to have the response we got was amazing. And it is very nice to have stories that involve people that are 60-plus, who have an energy about them, and who are changing their lives slightly or wishing to break out into something different. It’s joyous and it is a good sign for the market, especially at a time when ageism can be a problem. I mean, you’ve got to have stories in film, TV and even theatre, to a certain extent, that have a strongly youthful aspect all the time, so this rather gives you a new hope that there is also room for stories that are not heavy on horrible incident.

Q. And more life-affirming…
Ronald Pickup: Yes, I wasn’t going to use that term for fear of sounding cheesy. But it is life-affirming. Everyone leaves the film feeling that way… I’ve had several people say to me that they’re going to see it again or they can’t wait for the DVD. My wife said it. She also said that you just enjoy being in the company of these individuals, which I think is true and part of what we all hoped to achieve. Also, my brother rang up the other day and he’s not been to India before but he said it’s made him want to go, when it had never really been that high on his list before.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Q. Looking back on your own career, you’ve had some incredible highlights, not least of which must have been working with Laurence Olivier at the National. How was that experience for you?
Ronald Pickup: Listen, working with him was like the culmination of an ambition from when I was about nine-years-old. I saw him as Hamlet and I just fell in love with this whole image of him and the romantic, glamorous creature that he was. Everything about acting appealed to me from then onwards. So, working with him… it was as though I almost determined to work with him as soon as possible after I left RADA and getting to the National provided me with that opportunity. It was an incredible experience. I ended up being in Longest Journey Into Night, playing his son, and he was a complete inspiration – demanding, tough, fiercely loyal to his company.

Again, I used to pinch myself some days and remind myself that I was being with him and a whole array of people, like Maggie Smith, Albert Finney and Derek Jacobi. There were all these incredible people at the National Theatre back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. You could say that I had an almost overly spoilt beginning to my career in fact!

Q. And since then the highlights have kept on coming… you’ve since worked with people like Robert De Niro on The Mission and, in the West End last year, you were with Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot
Ronald Pickup: Yes, Ian and I have obviously known for each other for some time [going back to the National] but Simon Callow and Patrick I didn’t know. Yet, we all became great friends on Waiting For Godot, which was a privilege to be a part of, and which was also so well received.

And yes, I worked with De Niro on The Mission. I can’t say I got to know him well but I really liked him. He was shy, quiet and happy to be left on his own a lot of the time. But that was another incredible experience. It was 12 weeks out in Columbia… scary, too, having to have guards on the beach. But it was a wonderful film to do. I already knew Roland Joffe [the director] because I had worked with him in theatre. But that role just came up quite by chance some many years later and it was extraordinary to be able to be a part of.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 25, 2012.