Dench makes light of her condition around costars, and admits she and her daughter are "starstruck" when on red carpets

By Simon Perry
Updated March 07, 2015 01:35 PM
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Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty

She has been a big star for decades and is accustomed to being the main female lead in movies.

But sometimes Dame Judi Dench, 80, has much bigger scripts than her costars for another reason – her eyesight.

Dench, who revealed in 2012 that she suffers from macular degeneration that can lead to blindness, says that she has the typeface enlarged so she can read scripts.

“So, if six of us were coming in to read a sonnet they’d all have one piece of paper and I’d have two or three,” she tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s new issue.

Chuckling, she adds, “They’d think, ‘why does she have a bigger part?’ when it’s all the same!”

She finds the condition can be restricting when she takes part in a favorite pastime. “I paint a lot and now I find it very, very difficult because if I look at something and then look back here, my eyes don’t adjust quickly enough to actually transfer that.”

But she is realistic about it. “Then I thought, ‘That’s what’s painting is about. You should paint what you see.’ And therefore it doesn’t matter – don’t translate it literally, translate it in the only way you can. It’s a different system.”

She adds, “My eyes only affect me if I’m somewhere dark and there are steps and I don’t see very well. I couldn’t go on the [London] Underground now without somebody because I couldn’t work a machine. I can’t see to do it. But fortunately, I get somebody to come with me – ask any of my friends or family. I’m not going to make it something that’s going to stop me.”

Her mother suffered from the same condition. But does she fear her daughter from her 30-year marriage to the late actor Michael Williams, fellow actress Finty Williams, will also contract it?

“Who knows?” she says. “I think she probably ought to go sooner rather than later to have her eyes checked out. I don’t think you automatically have it.”

Dench, who tells PEOPLE she initially wanted to be a theater designer, has had a varied career, taking in Shakespeare (on stage and the writer’s story on screen in Shakespeare in Love, for which she won an Oscar), the iconic role of “M” for two James BondsPierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig – and is currently in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It is a career that has seen awards and an honor from Queen Elizabeth, who made her a ‘dame’ in 1988. She says she is sometimes mistakenly called “Dame Dench” when visiting the States, but urges that no one acts any differently around her. “You’re exactly the same person and behave the same. No curtsying, no bowing!”

Surprisingly, the multiple Oscar nominee finds herself “starstruck” when on the red carpet. When she was at an award show with Finty, 42, she says, “We’re always “oh, look at that!’ ‘over there!’ We don’t behave in grown up ways at all,” she says.

Antonio Banderas came up to ask Finty for a light – well, I thought she was going to disappear into the ground! Shaking, shaking!”

For much more from Dench, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday