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Emma Thompson Talks Oscars, Herpes, 'Saving Mr. Banks,' and Talking Back to Ang Lee in 'A Life in Pictures' BAFTA Q&A

Photo of Matt Mueller By Matt Mueller | Thompson on Hollywood November 25, 2013 at 12:03PM

With her role as "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers in "Saving Mr. Banks" injecting fresh impetus into a career that’s already blessed with two Oscars (Best Actress for "Howard's End" and Best Adapted Screenplay for "Sense And Sensibility"), Emma Thompson made the ideal candid subject for BAFTA’s latest installment of their “A Life In Pictures” series.
Emma Thompson BAFTA

On Richard Curtis’s "Love, Actually…":

“I remember when we first saw it, Hugh Grant coming up behind me and saying, ‘Either that’s very good or it’s the most psychotic thing I’ve ever been in.’ And I sort of knew what he meant because Richard’s the most unusual man. He’s just built, it seems to me, of the milk of human kindness. Actually made of it. So that’s what his movies are like and we [Brits] can’t cope with it because so many of us are bitter, cynical, twisted little islanders who can’t cope with the idea of happiness, never mind someone trying to present it on film. Whereas we get very over-excited when we make films that show truly how utterly miserable the course of human life can be.”

On basing her "Stranger Than Fiction" character on Judy Davis:

“She was heaven to play, this very, very twisted, tortured writer. She smokes all the time and one of the people that I tried to base her on was Judy Davis, who I worked with once. She’s a wonderful actress -- arthritic with tension -- and she smoked like that. There was this tension in her all the time, that’s probably one of the reasons she’s such a great actress. I remember thinking, ‘I want to do Judy smoking.’ Ironically, cigarettes were the only thing keeping that character alive.”

On working with actors who aren’t professional or “can’t be bothered”:

“If people are late, I say, ‘You can’t do this because it’s disrespectful to your crew. These are people who work very hard to make sure that your image is going to be on the screen so you just can’t do this.’ I don’t know what I would do if I were to work with someone who was late in a kind of psychotic way, like Robert Redford, who’s weirdly late, even when he’s directing. How did 'All Is Lost' work? I’m really fascinated to know.”

On Hollywood and the star system:

“It’s not a good system because it’s all heirarchical and I think that’s revolting. It’s revolting for actors to become grand. Just not excusable and very unattractive to watch… I love Hollywood, I love going there, some of the most intelligent people I know live there. But as ["Nanny McPhee"producer] Lindsay Doran says, they always find a way to make you feel bad. The thing we struggle with all our lives, which is the better-than, less-than judgment that you’re making upon yourself and upon others every single moment of your lives, Hollywood is particularly good at. That’s the one thing I really hate about it. We don’t do it as much here.”

On P.L. Travers being the hardest role she’s ever had:

“She was so inconsistent. You look at some of my other roles and you see that essentially they have a moral arc that goes in much the same way through the film. You know how Margaret Schlegel is going to behave, and you know how Karen in 'Love Actually' is going to behave. But you didn’t know how [Travers] was going to behave from one minute to the next. I thought, ‘Everybody’s going to think that I’m just making mistakes, that I’m just doing something different for no good reason.’ But it was the inconsistency that made her such a blissful joy to embody.”

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Emma Thompson, BAFTA

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.