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The Secret Keeper
"In a different (better) age, we would be ladies of leisure, lunching together, visiting galleries, traveling, putting the world to rights . . . we would be companions.” -- Barbara Covett

With Zoë Heller's novel, What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal, Barbara Covett became one of the most fascinating unreliable narrators in contemporary literature.

To play such a complex, dangerous woman, the filmmakers knew early on they would need one of the finest actresses working in film today – it was then that Scott Rudin approached Dame Judi Dench very early on in the project's genesis. Dench has riveted screen-goers in a wide variety of roles, including her Oscar® winning turn as the Queen of England in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, her lauded role as Iris Murdoch at the end of her life in IRIS, and another Oscar-nominated role in the recent MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS.

From the moment Rudin read the novel, he knew it had to be Dench to play the part of Barbara. Rudin realized there was no other actress alive today that could pull off this role with the determination and resolve that the character demanded.

At first, Dench was quite taken aback by Barbara's acid tongue and dark, wounded heart, not to mention her manipulative relationship with Sheba Hart. "It's a really shocking story,” says Dench of her initial reaction to NOTES ON A SCANDAL. "But the challenge of doing it was very exciting to me. It was thrilling to be asked to do something that couldn't be more different from anything I've ever played before.”

It was precisely that difference that Richard Eyre felt made Dench a perfect match for the unpredictable nature of the character. "Judi Dench is universally loved and people usually identify with this magnificently generous, beautiful and brilliant person who often plays monarchs and has tremendous personal dignity,” he remarks. "So to experience Judi Dench being caustic and acerbic and rather ungenerous we felt would be a wonderful, bracing shock. I mean, her portrait of Barbara is still deeply vulnerable, but this is not a nice woman and I think from an audiences' point of view to see Judi playing that will be quite refreshing.”

Zoë Heller had a similar feeling. "In casting Judi Dench, one knows she will bring an intelligence and vulnerability to the role. She's not just a stage villain twirling her mustache and plotting the downfall of others, but someone who does real justice to the humor of the role,” she says.

Having read both the book and the screenplay, Dench notes her pleasure at Patrick Marber's adaptation. "I thought it was very skillfully adapted. It's quite faithful to Zoë Heller's style while still being very individual to Patrick,” she observes.

Dench was also pleased that the screenplay steadfastly refused to place damning judgments on its wayward characters. "I think it's very much left to the audience to make up its own mind on the ethics of it all and I think that's right,” she notes.

Indeed, as wicked as Barbara can be when she feels slighted or rejected, Dench also found elements of her character quite familiar and at times, devastatingly poignant. "I've known several people like her,” she says. "A very, very lonely person who craves affection and to have any friend of some kind. I think there are a lot of people out there just like that who have been lonely all their lives and dream of friendship. But when Barbara essentially blackmails Sheba Hart into becoming close to her, that's when things turn nasty.”

To get deeper into Barbara's desperation, Dench worked closely with Cate Blanchett to develop just the right rapport between the two unlikely comrades. "It was very intense and very, very hard work but we had a lot of laughs and she was terrific,” says Dench. "She is a phenomenal actress and she was phenomenal to work with. I think she is just fantastic, imaginative and qu

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