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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel's Judi Dench Talks About Taking Risks
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Oliver Lee, TakePart.com

Judi Dench Talks Dreams, Risk, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Dame Judi Dench plays Evelyn, a Brit who must retire to India for financial reasons, but comes to embrace the experience. So, we asked Dame Dench how she's surprised herself recently in real life and what adventures she still dreams of.
Can you describe a time recently where you might have taken a risk or done something out of character and surprised yourself?
I didn’t expect that I was going to love India quite so much. I mean, with a passion. And I never expected that I would actually want to say, “I want to go back.” I launched it to my daughter and grandson, and I bored them all talking about it so much. They would say, “How is India?” And then they’d all go, “Oh she’s off again,” two hours later. But it was a place where I felt a lot of lines met for me.
What, for you, has been the most pleasant surprise about life after 50?
I didn’t like being 50. I didn’t like being 40, but I think going on being employed is a great, great bonus. And I am also glad that I still have an optimistic attitude. I was kind of born with that. I want to learn something new every day. I want to go to places I’ve never been.
Is there an experience, food, activity, or place you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?
Oh, there are so many experiences that I want to try. You know there’s a program called Top Gear, where you drive a car very, very fast. Well, I’ve been twice asked to do that. And I’ve wanted to do it. And my daughter said, “Absolutely no way.” So I wrote back to them, and I said, “I can’t do it, but I will never, ever, ever forget that you asked me.” I’m always going to boast that I was asked to do it twice. So there are lots of things that I would like to try.
What do you think is the key ingredient that makes some people decide to change or actualize their dreams later in life?
It’s many things, as is also shown in the film. It’s for many reasons that people take the chance to go to India. Some out of fear, thinking, I’ve got to do something, some out of curiosity, some out of just wanting to travel. There are many, many reasons we do things, and I think this film confronts a lot of those fears. This group of people, they’re all there for different reasons, and to some extent they all find some kind of answer.
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Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © Civic Ventures. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Ray Umashankar
When Ray Umashankar’s daughter returned from traveling in his home country of India and said she wanted to help break the country’s cycle of forced prostitution by improving conditions for sex workers’ children, he realized he had to be part of the project. Today, his organization, Achieving Sustainable Social Equality Through Technology (ASSET), teaches marketable skills to children of prostitutes so they can have better opportunities in life.

The former university dean of engineering says his age has been an advantage. “When you’re younger, you have a fear of failure and fear of being criticized. At my age, I can say and do things that younger people cannot.” [Gallery by Jessica Ashley; Stories and photos provided by Encore.org]

2/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Catalino Tapia
Catalino Tapia came to California with $6 in his pocket and a sixth-grade education. After earning 45 cents an hour in grueling jobs, he found his passion in gardening. He built a thriving gardening business, which is its own success story, but Tapia felt called to do more. So moved by watching his son graduate law school, Catalino formed the Bay Area Gardener’s Foundation to provide scholarships to gardeners’ children. Tapia insists he’s just planting small seeds with his scholarships, which he hopes will germinate into ideas and inspiration, and then bear fruit in the community, families, and the world.
3/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Conchy Bretos
After Conchy Bretos lost a run for elected office, she was appointed Florida Secretary for Aging and Adult Services. In that role, she became horrified by the way older adults living in public housing projects were living and dying. “I wanted to change that,” she says. She realized that many older and disabled people needed minimal care to avoid going into nursing care prematurely, so Bretos convinced housing authorities to give her a building that was for sale. That structure was then converted into the nation’s first public housing with assisted living services, a model that has been replicated in 40 public housing projects in 12 states. [MIA Senior Living Solutions]
4/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Judi Henderson-Townsend
Judi Henderson-Townsend had an idea for a garden art project that involved hunting down a mannequin on Craigslist. She stumbled upon a closeout sale and, on impulse, bought 50 old mannequins. With this supply, Henderson-Townsend and her husband created a rental business. But that’s just the start of the story. When she realized that large retailers dump non-biodegradable mannequins into landfills, she convinced Macy’s, Nike, and others to let her recycle their discards. Now she rents 100,000 pounds of recycled mannequins a year. Commended by the EPA, she says jokingly, “I never knew that working with a bunch of stiffs and dummies could lead to such opportunities!” "[Mannequin Madness]"
5/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Barbara Chandler Allen
It’s no big surprise that a former art museum administrator would end up creating large-scale artwork for offices, lobbies, and homes. It’s with whom she partners that makes her nonprofit organization, Fresh Artists, something special: elementary and high school students. Allen invites students to donate artwork, which she digitally reproduces and hangs for donors. The funds raised are used to purchase desperately needed art supplies for inner-city schools. So far, nearly 600 pieces of art have been hung and $100,000 in supplies donated. The kid-partners say it gives them great pride. Upon seeing her self-portrait on display, teen Sara Hendrix, says, “I felt famous, to be honest.”
6/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Jacqueline Khan
Three decades serving as public school truancy officer weighed heavy on Jacqueline Khan. One week before retiring, she enrolled in community college to become a nurse. With nurses in high demand, she accepted a job even before she received her diploma, and now works as a home health care nurse. There are challenges, says Khan, now in her late sixties, but the flexibility allows her to enjoy “retirement” winters in Florida. “I really feel that you start to die when you start to step back from life, when you stop going full speed,” she says of her choice to take on a challenging second act.
7/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Don Coyhis
Don Coyhis was a decade into sobriety when he went on a five-day fast in the mountains. On that retreat he had a vision that inspired him to turn his recovery outward and address the severe addiction issues of his Native American people. He launched White Bison and the holistic Wellbriety recovery method, which helps participants gain a sense of wellbeing that transcends day-to-day sober survival. Twenty years later, the nonprofit, Wellbriety, and Coyhis are thriving. He’s trained thousands of people in Wellbriety, which has an extremely high success rate. “My family has broken the chain of addiction,” Coyhis says. “My grandbabies will not know alcoholism.”
8/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
John Armstrong
John Armstrong is not afraid to say goodbye to a good thing in search of something more meaningful. He’s done it more than once. A third-generation graduate of West Point, Armstrong served six years in the Army before leaping into the corporate sector. But a decade into his job as a financial analyst, he felt pulled to the Peace Corps. After two years in Slovakia, he returned to his former job—but not for long. Watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth inspired him to leave again, this time for a yearlong environmental fellowship through the Encore Fellows program. Armstrong’s passion to serve has become a full-time position at the environmental education nonprofit, Environmental Volunteers.
9/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Ann Higdon
Ann Higdon grew up homeless, afraid, and acting out. With a pen, one teacher changed her path. Higdon recalls, “She wrote, in big letters, across an essay that I had written for her class, ‘You are profound and eloquent!’ Actually, I was a D student in high school with a big mouth and a bad attitude.” As a 69-year-old woman, Higdon has become a mentor herself and entrepreneur. Her organization, Improved Solutions for Urban Systems (ISUS), helps high-school dropouts earn diplomas while training for healthcare, marketing, construction, and other marketable jobs. ISUS also operates three charter schools and manages construction “labs” where students build and rehab homes.
10/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
Anne Nolan
After a 30-year tenure in corporate management, Anne Nolan felt stuck and was unable to retire. Inspired by passionate workers at an organization for the homeless, Nolan became a board member and soon worked her way up to president. She implemented new core values and, just as she had done at her former job, encouraged staff to “chase the mission” rather than “chase money.” It worked, and today Nolan is the director of Crossroads Rhode Island, which has shed its unnecessary programs, doubled revenue, and boasts ten times the assets.
11/11Inspiring Second-Act Stories
What's Your Second Act?
For six months (April through October), TakePart.com is giving away $5,000 grants to individuals over 50 who have innovative ideas for improving their communities and the world. Click here to tell us about your idea for a chance to win!
Real-Life Action Hero
Over the Hill in Antarctica
Alison Gee, TakePart.com


When Rosi Dagit was asked on a two-month volunteer trip to Antarctica, it seemed improbable she could go. She was 38 with a young son, Sean, as well as a husband and a job as a biologist, arborist, and educator with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. “I was a multitasking, working mom,” she says. “It was all about: getting my kid to school, getting food on the table, making sure the house was in order, and getting my work done at 4 a.m. and on weekends.”

The friend who had invited her, Ron Naveen, had just founded the Antarctic Site Inventory Project, and if Dagit accepted this volunteer work, she would help set up the project’s field protocol then board a ship headed south—way south. The objective of this adventure? To track the state of Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins.

“The logistics were crazy—my son was only 4—but my husband said, ‘Go,’ God bless him, and so I went.” To deal with Dagit’s absence, the family went as far as asking a retired friend to move in with them to help care for Sean.

Once on the shores of Antarctica, Dagit found herself surrounded by thousands and thousands of penguins, all in the midst of procreating and nesting. “Any time we are someplace where another species dominates, it’s very humbling,” she says. “I stood there in awe. It’s during those kinds of moments that you see how you are one small speck in the universe’s eye, how much is going on around you.”

She spent the next two months counting nests and then, later in season, counting chicks and tracking any shifts in penguin populations. It was often cold, wet, and uncomfortable in Antarctica, but once back in California, Dagit made a major realization about the trip: “It was the best thing I have ever done, and I knew, no matter what, no matter how difficult the logistics, I had to go back,” she says.

With the support of her husband, she spoke to her supervisors at work and figured out an annual leave for this volunteer work.

Now 56, Dagit continues to take a “penguin sabbatical” every year, leaving her family and job behind to live for one to two months on a ship with other scientists and track the ever-in-flux state of these penguin species. “It’s time to focus and time that allows me to recognize and appreciate how beautiful our world is,” she says.

For those wondering if they’re too old to continue doing something they love or to take their own huge leap of faith, Dagit has these words of advice: “If you have a passion for something, what are you waiting for? Get on the phone, email, volunteer, get yourself involved in whatever you are interested in one way or another.” She says, “My life philosophy is, if someone gives you a chance, don’t wait around, just go. I don’t know if I am going to wake up tomorrow. But if I don't, I'll have no regrets. I will have done everything I have wanted to do, and how cool is that?”

    Enter the Marigold Ideas for Good Contest
    Are you over 50 with an innovative idea on how to improve your community and the world? Share your idea for a chance to win a $5,000 grant in The Marigold Ideas For Good contest.
      Good News for Age-Old Fears
      Getting older can be scary, but there are ways to deal with these fears. Spread the news by sharing our story by Mallika Chopra, Good News About Age-Old Fears: http://bit.ly/JLH6D3
      Awesome Second Acts
      It's never too late to live your dreams and change your life. Remind those around you by sharing our story, Trick Endings: 10 People With Inspiring Second-Act Stories: http://bit.ly/ITHsde

      Inside Look: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

      Find out what makes this movie so special, from the actors themselves. This story follows a group of British retirees who "outsource" their retirement to seemingly exotic India. But it's not at all what they'd imagined.
      Share This

      Inside Look: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

      Find out what makes this movie so special, from the actors themselves. This story follows a group of British retirees who "outsource" their retirement to seemingly exotic India. But it's not at all what they'd imagined.