After an acclaimed career in theatre, Judi Dench took her first leading movie role playing Queen Victoria in 1997's Mrs Brown, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. Two decades later she returns to the role for Victoria & Abdul, another story about how the Queen's offbeat friendships shook up the royal household, this time an Indian Muslim named Abdul Karim (played by Bollywood star Ali Fazal).

Judi Dench and Ali Fazal star in 'Victoria and Abdul'Judi Dench and Ali Fazal star in 'Victoria and Abdul'

Now 82, Dench says she had no intention of returning to play Victoria, but the script was too good to resist. "I thought it just gave another huge insight into her life," she says. "The whole episode with John Brown was strange, but I thought it was totally understandable, which I believe that this relationship was too. It's somebody that she found she could just talk to, and he talk to her, and she could ask questions and learn something."

She loved working with Fazal ("He is very, very tall, extremely beautiful, an utterly delightful, charming man") even though the role required her to dress down as the then-obese monarch. "I put a lot of padding on under the corset," Dench notes. "I didn't wear any makeup and just got on with it!"

Watch the trailer for 'Victoria And Abdul' here:

Directed by Stephen Frears (Florence Foster Jenkins), the film often plays like a comedy, which also appealed to Dench. "I just have to believe that she possessed more humour than we give her credit for," she says, "especially in this final part of her life with this wonderful young man, who she could talk to and tell jokes to. That shows such great spirit, doesn't it? And it's something we don't attach to that rather solemn view we have of her."

And she admits this helped her identify with Victoria. "I've got a bad reputation for giggling," Dench says. "I mean, I can be a serious person, but I see humour in a great many things. I've always found it quite difficult keeping it straight. I'm a terrible laugher! Somehow not being allowed to go to pieces, such as when I'm acting, makes doing so even more irresistible."

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Famously reluctant to be called "dame" or a "national treasure", Dench also says that she never set out to play iconic roles. "I don't particularly want to play queens," she laughs. "But if there's a queen that behaves really badly, well I long to find this film where this woman walks a tightrope and turns into a dragon! If that part is around, and she happens to be a queen, that's fine."