Shanee Edwards

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: The Sequel that Was Never Supposed to be Made

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: The Sequel that Was Never Supposed to be Made
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Screenwriter Ol Parker discusses working with great actors, the challenges of writing of sequels, and retiring to India.

By Shanee Edwards.

Ol Parker

Ol Parker

British screenwriter, Ol Parker, is young, handsome and exudes cheerful, positive energy. We were barely able to get a question out before he started gushing about the stars of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and spending time shooting in India.  According to Parker, Judi Dench had never been to India before shooting 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. “She described India as life-changing. To describe anything as life-changing at 78-years-old is really fucking cool!”

Parker didn’t take working with such great actors as Dame Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, lightly however.  He knew the first Marigold movie, which he also wrote, was special and the script had to be top notch.

“You’re so aware all the time with those guys, not that I’m writing their obituaries, that they don’t have that many movies left. Because you love them so much, you’re desperate to give them a good time. You want to give them a movie they can be proud of. More than anything else, I wanted to pay homage to Maggie and Judi, particularly.”

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a sleeper hit, eventually earning $146 million worldwide, but on the surface, the film didn’t seem like franchise material. But with box office numbers so big, the producers wanted to make a sequel. Parker was shocked.

Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade, Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly, Diana Hardcastle as Carol Parr, Celia Imrie as Madge Hardcastle, Bill Nighy as Doublas Ainslie and Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Celia Imrie as Madge Hardcastle, Ronald Pickup as Norman Cousins, Diana Hardcastle as Carol Parr, Judi Dench as Evelyn Greenslade, Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly and Bill Nighy as Douglas Ainslie in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The sequel was more of a surprise to me and the director John Madden, than anyone else. At the end of making the first film, making a sequel was literally the running joke during the last week of shooting in India. It was a fantastic crew, we’d all had an extraordinary, intense time, and as it was shortening, people were like, ‘Oh, can’t believe it.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, we’ll be back for the sequel,’ and everyone would laugh. That’s how preposterous the idea was. It was literally a joke.”

But it wasn’t a joke for fans. Critics and audiences loved the film for some uncanny reason. We asked Parker if he had any ideas why a movie about retirement was so successful. “Because it’s in the zeitgeist, you can’t predict it. Sometimes, a movie just works. It’s an idea whose time has come. It’s an itch that needs to be scratched and it’s your job not to screw it up. It goes beyond something that you did, it was something people wanted. We lucked into it, hopefully we didn’t screw up the second one,” he said.

We asked if perhaps it’s the truthful yet comedic way the film deals with the elderly and aging that resonated so loudly with audiences. He said he certainly thought that had something to do with it. “The movie doesn’t shy away from those things, it’s not afraid to deal with those issues and it casts them in a slightly more comic light, making the characters more than just old-age dispensers of wisdom.”

But Parker admits to being doubtful that a sequel could work. “The first film has a natural screenwriting structure to it: We meet these people, they go to India – that’s the end of act one. Then, they deal with India, to different degrees of success and failure, that’s the end of act two. They decide to either stay or go, that’s the end of act three. This one, they’re in India at the beginning, at the middle and at the end, they’re still there!”

But as Parker thought about the first story more, he realized the end of the first movie was just the beginning for Sonny (Dev Petal) and Sunaina (Tina Desai), who ended the film with their engagement. That’s when Parker had the idea to use an Indian wedding as the sequel’s structure.

Judi Dench in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“An Indian wedding has a natural structure. It actually has about 18 parts, but there are three main parts, so we broke the film up into those three parts to try to give it momentum towards something.

The three main parts of an Indian wedding are: the sagai, which is a big engagement party; the sangeet which is the bride’s family’s party and lastly, the wedding itself.

Once Parker knew the wedding journey would work as a structure, he was set. Though he did want to give this one a slightly different focus.

“The first movie was an ensemble movie with a spike. Judi is the main character, and the others were just slightly beneath her. It just felt right that this time it would be Maggie, because she’s the other Dame and she’s a genius.”

He also admits it was hard to add more to Evelyn and Douglas’ (Dench and Nighy) story. “It was hard to keep them apart. I did what ever I could, introduce Penelope Wilton, send Judi off to Mumbai for a while, but if they actually just talk to each other, which they do finally, then by the end of act one, they’d be hooking up together. So it just felt like it should be Maggie.”

Strangely, Parker didn’t write much interaction between Dench and Smith’s characters in the first Marigold movie. “That’s terrible on my part, because you have this extraordinary resource – the two of them. At the end of the first one, Maggie says to Judi, ‘We haven’t talked much, you and I,’ and Judi says, “My loss evidently.’ So for this one, I knew that they would be talking and interacting together. John Madden, the director said, ‘I think they should bicker because they’re best friends in real life, they’ve been best friends for 60 years.’ But I couldn’t find anything for them to bicker about. Maggie’s worried about the hotel, Judi’s worried about her love life. Then a few days later, I rang Madden up and said, ‘I think they’re going to bicker about who’s going to die first.’ And he was like, ‘great!’”.

Maggie Smith in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Maggie Smith in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Apparently, both Dench and Smith thought it was brilliant. Maggie is 19 days older than Judi and Judi did just have knee surgery. The actresses were thrilled to deliver lines like “How’s the old knee,” “We’ll see what’s come loose,” and, “You’re still in one slightly sagging piece.” They are truly delightful on screen.

Of course, any keen writer will recognize that the biggest character in the film is India herself. “Not just the look of the movie, but the success of the movie, the glory that is that country,” Parker said.

We asked Parker if Sunaina personified India in the film, but Parker said it was more than one character, but added, “There was something in her ineradicable optimism and bounce and joy that mirrors the country”

So will Ol Parker and his lovely wife, actress Thandie Newton, retire in India?

“Yes, that would be the dream. I think we’ll be quite well-received there because the first movie did well, and we know people there, so yeah, we’ve got an in!”

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One Response to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: The Sequel that Was Never Supposed to be Made

  1. Avatar
    Jim K. March 14, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Love Ol Parker’s stuff. Looking forward to seeing this movie.

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