INTERVIEW: Celia Imrie On Leaping Off A Cliff For The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, And The Joys Of Acorn Antiques

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"This film would never have been made in America, because we’ve all got wrinkles."

Celia Imrie is laughing, in semi-horror, about the reaction she and her co-stars had when they saw the first images of themselves having fun at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

"You have this romantic image of yourself, but there we all were in the heat of the sun, no filters or anything. The director thought it was hilarious, but we were all in shock."

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Celia Imrie applauds anyone who'll jump off and "give it a go"

Despite this shocking reality, or perhaps because Oscar winner John Madden was prepared to put his A-list line-up - Imrie joined by Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Dames Judi and Maggie - on the screen, bumps and all, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has proved a winner ($100million box office haul) with audiences warmed by its tale of six strangers finding their way from England to a more romantic-sounding retirement idyll. Of course, all is not as they planned, but that's when the fun begins...

"I haven’t met a person who didn’t love it," says Imrie. "When people are feeling so utterly fed up these days – either weather or money – I think it’s a glorious lift, you can take yourself off to India for an hour and a half.

"And I did admire them all for taking a jump and having a leap of faith. As you get older, you don't take those risks so often, so I do champion that. They all reminded me to keep having a go."

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Celia Imrie (centre) with co-stars Dame Judi Dench and Ronald Pickup

Not that Imrie would seem to need much reminding of this. Continually in work for the last four decades, she's still hungry for new challenges, but also wants to take time off in between - "to step back and get some new ideas. I watch people from the top of buses, who don't know they're being watched. It's quite fascinating."

Can Imrie, herself a very public face, get away with that? "It depends on whether I’ve got lipstick on or not."

She is one of those rare actresses with a parallel career of serious drama - kick-started by a stunning turn in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - and that of comedy gold, most notably as Acorn Antiques doyenne Babs. Versatility evidently fascinates her – she cites her co-star Dame Judi as a role model, and reflects on actresses like Pat Phoenix:

"Pat Phoenix kept that amazing sassy look," she reflects openly. "I always wonder, was that because she was thrilled with that look, and thought it looked marvellous, or was it because she was too scared to change it? It’s a double thing. Security and insecurity."

Any similar concerns don't get far past Imrie's filter, her son Angus, who tells her about any wobbles, “Don’t be vain.”

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Acorn Antiques - a dramatic masterpiece

But she is never tired of the impact Acorn Antiques made on an unsuspecting public, and camera crew:

"I remember when the camera crew first had to work on it, and the look on their faces…. in the middle of a diamond-sharp sketch show - what on earth was going on? They didn’t get it at all.

"My favourite thing was that I only ever had two customers, but I never sold anything. And they were the two customers only ever in the shop, the same every week, and you won’t get that until the fifth week. They picked a vase up and put it down again.

Imrie is beaming now. "I would do nearly anything for a laugh to tell the truth. And I’m a particular favourite with young men with earrings. And also Paul O’Grady tells me I’m a G.I. (gay icon), so I’m very happy with that."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel DVD and Blu-Ray is now on sale. Watch the trailer below...

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'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' passes $100 million at the worldwide box office