In conversation with Hayley Mills, Rula Lenska and Paul Nicholas

17 Feb 2023


Stars of stage and screen Hayley Mills, Rula Lenska and Paul Nicholas talk to us about playing leading roles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

What attracted you to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?

Hayley: Because I absolutely loved the script and there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt about wanting to do it. I love the play, the writing, the part and I’m mad about the director Lucy Bailey. It’s a wonderful play and Deborah Moggach is a great writer. Like most people, I was familiar with the title and the story. I had seen the film and there’s something about the story that just gets you. It’s very truthful and it deals with lots of different issues – such as getting older, being on your own – whilst being tremendously hopeful. It’s a reminder that where there’s life there’s hope.

Paul: The book was successful, and the film had been successful; it was one of the lead roles, and I’m used to touring and I enjoy it. When I read the script, I thought, ‘I can see this working on stage’ and so far, it’s proven popular with audiences, particularly at the start of the tour when they were initially reluctant to return to the theatre because of Covid. They’ve gotten over that now and we’ve had fantastic houses.

Rula: I can’t imagine anybody saying no to it. It’s on everybody’s list of favourite books and films, and it’s particularly appealing for us as a bunch of older actors. The characters have such wonderful storylines and it’s a beautifully-adapted script by Deborah Moggach, who wrote the original book. It’s full of hope, everybody’s journey is different and it’s a feel-good, beautiful piece of theatre.

How would you describe Douglas?

Paul: His wife somewhat dominates him, he’s been married quite a long time, and there’s a romantic element to the part in that he finds solace with a woman named Evelyn even at the ripe old age of 70-plus. It’s nice to show that romantic side to a couple in their later years.

How would you describe the character of Madge? And have you avoided studying Celia Imrie’s performance in the film?

Rula: She’s a rather brittle cougar who has built up her own business and is out looking for a rich maharajah with his own elephants. And no, I haven’t watched the film since landing the part. Likewise I haven’t gone back to the book. I was advised by the director [Lucy Bailey] not to because one can only portray so much with the lines one is given in the script. You want to bring your own interpretation to bear on it.

Can you relate to Evelyn in any way?

Hayley: Absolutely. She’s such a beautifully-written character and I can relate to her age, plus the fact we all look back on our lives realising that we’ve made mistakes. One of my least favourite songs is Frank Sinatra’s My Way. I absolutely hate it. It’s so smug! Who can really say ‘Regrets, I have a few but then again too few to mention’? You’d have to be completely switched off and in your own very selfish bubble.

Do you think younger audiences will learn anything from it?

Paul: I do, yes. I think they’ll learn that life doesn’t end when you get to 40. I’m 78, and I feel that if you look after yourself, keep yourself reasonably trim, do a bit of walking, and what have you, then there’s no reason why you can’t go on for as long as possible. Work, for me is the key. So long as you’re still employed, and people want you, it makes you feel a part of the world and part of what’s going on. In terms of health, I don’t go to a gym or anything, but I gave up smoking 25 or 30 years ago. It’s a terrible noose around your neck, so if you can start with that, you’re heading in the right direction. I firmly believe that if you don’t indulge too much – you don’t overeat, drink too much or do anything too much – you can keep going, please God.

Do you feel enough stories are being told about the older generation?

Rula: No and in my opinion there are never enough. Time goes so fast as you start getting older and there are fewer good parts, particularly for older women – which is another reason why it is a joy to be offered something like this. The whole cast are just magnificent and delightful to be with. Hayley Mills is exactly the same as she was 40 years ago and the Indian contingent are just superb. They’re so helpful, so knowledgeable and so beautiful. They’re incredible

A few years ago you did The Real Marigold Hotel on TV. What was your takeaway from that experience?

Paul: It was a great show to do because it wasn’t a competition and you couldn’t get voted off, which must be hard for people who appear on some of those reality TV shows. I know they get well-paid for it, but the idea of eating bugs doesn’t really appeal to me, not even for a lot of money, nor does the idea that you might get booted off at any time. Doing The Real Marigold Hotel was different because you couldn’t get voted off, you were travelling with people of a similar age, you were there to observe rather than compete and I’d never normally have gone to India. We also went to Mexico, Iceland and Thailand. The people I went away with, like Lionel Blair, were very nice and it was an exciting experience.

What do you hope audiences take away from seeing the show?

Hayley: I hope they’ll feel infused with optimism and hope about the future as well as the belief that life really is what you make it. There are so many things dragging us down in the world today. We’re going through dire straits but then when you look back over history you see what people went through in the First and Second World Wars, the Depression, what have you. The world has gone through some very tough times but I believe in the goodness of the human race. I believe in our incredible ingenuity. We just all have to play our part and do what we can.

Rula: I hope they’ll be uplifted, enchanted, sometimes maybe a bit tearful but generally leaving the theatre with a good feeling in their hearts and their souls.


    Arts Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • LTB Foundation
  • Principal Partner

    Caddick Group
  • Principal Access Partner

    Irwin Mitchell