Emma Thompson (born 15 April 1959) is a British actress, comedienne, screenwriter and author. She first came to prominence in 1987 in two BBC TV series, Tutti Frutti and Fortunes of War; she won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for her work in both. Her first major film role was in the 1989 romantic comedy The Tall Guy. In 1992, Thompson won multiple acting awards, including an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress, for her performance in the British drama Howards End. In 1993, Thompson garnered dual Academy Award nominations, as Best Actress for The Remains of the Day and as Best Supporting Actress for In the Name of the Father.
In 1995, Thompson scripted and starred in Sense and Sensibility, a film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role among other awards. Other notable film and television credits have included her role in the Harry Potter film series, Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Wit (2001), Love Actually (2003), Angels in America (2003), Nanny McPhee (2005), Stranger than Fiction (2006), Last Chance Harvey (2008), An Education (2009), Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (2010), Men in Black 3 (2012), Brave (2012), and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). In 2012, Thompson authored The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Thompson was born in Paddington, London, on 15 April 1959. A member of a show business family, her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law, while her English father, Eric Thompson, was the writer and narrator of the popular children's television series The Magic Roundabout. She has one sister, Sophie Thompson, who also works as an actress. The family lived in West Hampstead in north London, and Thompson was educated at Camden School for Girls.
In 1977, Thompson began studying for an English degree at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. While there, she had a "seminal moment" that turned her to feminism and inspired her to take up performing. She explained in an interview in 2007 how she discovered the book The Madwoman in the Attic, "which is about Victorian female writers and the disguises they took on in order to express what they wanted to express. That completely changed my life." She became a self-professed "punk rocker", with short red hair and a motorbike, and aspired to be a comedian like Lily Tomlin. Thompson was invited into Footlights, the university's prestigious sketch comedy troupe, by its president, Martin Bergman. She was a member along with her fellow actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and had a romantic relationship with the latter. In 1980, Thompson served as the Vice President of Footlights, and co-directed the troupe's first all-female revue, Women's Hour. The following year, Thompson and her Footlights team won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for their sketch show The Cellar Tapes.
In 1982, Thompson's father died as a result of circulatory problems at 52 years old. The actress has commented that this "tore the family to pieces", and "I can't begin to tell you how much I regret his not being around". She added, "At the same time, it's possible that were he still alive I might never have had the space or courage to do what I've done ... I have a definite feeling of inheriting space. And power."
Early roles (1982-91):
In 1982, Thompson landed a role touring in a stage version of Not the Nine O'Clock News. She then turned to television, where much of her early work came with her Footlights co-stars Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The brief comedy series There's Nothing To Worry About! (1982) was their first outing, followed by the one-off show The Crystal Cube (1982). The sketch show Alfresco (1983-84) proved more successful, and ran for two series. In 1985, Thompson was cast in the West End revival of the musical Me and My Girl, co-starring Robert Lindsay. It proved a breakthrough for the actress, as the production earned rave reviews and she played the female lead for over a year. At the end of 1985, Thompson wrote and starred in her own one-off special for Channel 4, Emma Thompson: Up for Grabs.
Thompson achieved another breakthrough in 1987, when she had leading roles in two television miniseries: Fortunes of War, a World War II drama co-starring Kenneth Branagh, and Tutti Frutti, a dark-comedy about a Scottish rock band with Robbie Coltrane. For these performances, Thompson won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actress. The following year, she wrote and starred in her own sketch comedy series, Thompson, but this was poorly received. In 1989, Thompson and Branagh--who had formed a romantic relationship--starred in a stage revival of Look Back in Anger, directed by Judi Dench and produced by Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company. Later that year, the pair starred in a televised version of the play.
Thompson's first big-screen appearance came in the romantic comedy The Tall Guy (1989), the feature-film debut from screenwriter Richard Curtis. Starring Jeff Goldblum as a West End actor, Thompson played the nurse with whom he falls in love. The film was a box office disappointment, but Thompson's performance was praised in The New York Times, where Caryn James called her "an exceptionally versatile comic actress". She next turned to Shakespeare, appearing as Princess Katherine in Branagh's screen adaptation of Henry V (1989). The film was released to great critical acclaim. In 1990, she appeared with Branagh in his stage productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear. Reviewing the latter, the Chicago Tribune praised Thompson's "extraordinary" performance of the "hobbling, stooped hunchback Fool".
Thompson returned to cinema in 1991, playing a "frivolous aristocrat" in Impromptu, a period drama about the life of George Sand that starred Judy Davis and Hugh Grant. The film received positive reviews, and Thompson was nominated for Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards. Her second release of 1991 was another pairing with Branagh, who also directed, in the Los Angeles-based noir Dead Again. She played a woman who has forgotten her identity, and the thriller was number one at the US box office for two weeks. Early in 1992, Thompson had a guest role in an episode of the American comedy series Cheers.
Academy Awards recognition (1992-95):
A turning point in Thompson's career came when she was cast opposite Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave in the Merchant Ivory period drama Howards End (1992), based on the novel by E. M. Forster. The film explored the social class system in Edwardian England, with Thompson playing an idealistic, intellectual, forward-looking woman who comes into association with a privileged, moneyed, deeply conservative family. According to the critic Vincent Canby, the role allowed Thompson to "come into her own", away from Branagh, and he felt that she gave "the film's guiding performance".Roger Ebert wrote that she was "superb in the central role: quiet, ironic, observant, with steel inside."Howards End was widely praised, a "surprise hit", and received nine Academy Award nominations. Among its three wins was the Best Actress trophy for Thompson, who was also awarded a Golden Globe and BAFTA for her performance. Reflecting on the role, The New York Times writes that the actress "found herself an international success almost overnight."
For her next two films, Thompson returned to working with Branagh. In Peter's Friends (1992), the pair starred with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, and Tony Slattery as a group of Cambridge alumni who are reunited ten years after graduating. The comedy was positively reviewed, and Desson Howe of The Washington Post wrote that Thompson was its highlight: "Even as a rather one-dimensional character, she exudes grace and an adroit sense of comic tragedy." The actress followed this with Branagh's screen version of Much Ado About Nothing (1993). The couple starred as Beatrice and Benedick, alongside a cast that also included Denzel Washington, Keanu Reaves, and Michael Keaton. Owen Gleiberman, in his Entertainment Weekly review, praised the "enchanting flirtatious badinage" between the leading pair, and Much Ado marked another critical success for Thompson. Her performance earned a nomination for Best Female Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Thompson reunited with Merchant-Ivory and Anthony Hopkins to film The Remains of the Day (1993), based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel about a housekeeper and butler in interwar Britain. The story is acclaimed for its study of loneliness and repression, but Thompson was particularly interested in looking at "the deformity that servitude inflicts upon people", since her grandmother had worked as a servant and made many sacrifices. Thompson has named the film as one of the greatest experiences of her career, and it was a critical and commercial success. It received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a second Best Actress nod for Thompson. The Remains of the Day has been described as a "classic" and "the definitive Merchant-Ivory film".
Along with her Best Actress nomination at the 66th Academy Awards, Thompson was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, making her the eighth performer in history to be nominated for two Oscars in the same year. It came for her role as the lawyer Gareth Peirce in In the Name of the Father (1993), a drama about the Guildford Four starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The film was her second hit of the year, earning $65 million and critical praise, and was nominated for Best Picture along with The Remains of the Day. She followed it in 1994 with Junior, her first Hollywood production, where she played a goofy doctor alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. Although the male-pregnancy storyline was unpopular with critics, the comedy was a box office success. Thompson returned to independent cinema for a lead role in Carrington (1994), which studied the platonic relationship between artist Dora Carrington and writer Lytton Strachey (played by Jonathan Price). Reviews for the low-key drama were mixed, but Roger Ebert gave it praise and noted that Thompson had "developed a specialty in unrequited love".
Thompson's Academy success continued with Sense and Sensibility (1995), as she received a third nomination for Best Actress and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person in history to win an Oscar for both acting and writing. Thompson--a lifelong lover of the novels of Jane Austen--was hired to write the film based on the period sketches in her series Thompson. She spent five years developing the screenplay, and took the role of the spinster sister Elinor Dashwood despite, at 35, being 16 years older than the literary character. Directed by Ang Lee and co-starring Kate Winslett, Sense and Sensibility received widespread critical praise and is one of the highest-grossing films of Thompson's career. Along with the Academy recognition, Thompson's work earned her a second BAFTA Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.
Thompson was absent from screens in 1996, but returned the following year with Alan Rickman's directorial debut, The Winter Guest. Set over one day in a Scottish seaside village, the drama allowed Thompson and her mother (Phyllida Law) to play mother and daughter on screen. She then returned to America to appear in an episode of Ellen, and her self-parodying performance received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. In 1998, Thompson starred with John Travolta in Primary Colors, where they played a couple based on Bill and Hillary Clinton. The Mike Nichols-directed film was critically well received but lost money at the box office. Thompson followed it by playing an FBI agent in the thriller Judas Kiss (1998), which was poorly reviewed. She was not seen again until 2000 with a small role in the British comedy Maybe Baby, which she appeared in as a favour to its director, her friend Ben Elton.
The HBO television film Wit (2001) gave Thompson the lead role in what she felt was "one of the best scripts to have come out of America". Adapted from Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize winning play, it focusses on a Harvard University professor who finds her values challenged when she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Thompson, who shaved her head for the film, was fascinated by the complex character. Reviewing the performance, Roger Ebert was touched by "the way she struggles with every ounce of her humanity to keep her self-respect", and in 2008 he called it Thompson's finest work. Caryn James of The New York Times also described it as "one of her most brilliant performances", and Eddie Cockrell of Variety called it "sensational". The film earned Thompson nominations at the Golden Globes, Emmys and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In 2002, Thompson voiced Captain Amelia in Disney's Treasure Planet, an adaptation of Treasure Island. The animation earned far less than its large budget and was considered a "box office disaster". This failure was countered the following year by one of Thompson's biggest commercial successes, Richard Curtis's romantic comedy Love Actually. As part of an ensemble cast that included Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, and Colin Firth, she played a middle-class wife who suspects her husband (played by Alan Rickman) of infidelity. The scene in which her stalwart character breaks down was described by one critic as "the best crying on screen ever", and in 2013, Thompson mentioned that she gets commended for this role more than any other. Her performance received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
"Nanny McPhee, it took nine years to make that movie, from the moment I picked up the book to the moment we walked into the movie theatre ... the films were labours of great love and commitment."
--Thompson on Nanny McPhee and its sequel, which she wrote and starred in.
Thompson worked with HBO for a second time in the acclaimed miniseries Angels in America (2003), also featuring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, which deals with the AIDS epidemic in Reagan-era America. She played three roles - a nurse, a homeless woman, and an angel - and was again nominated for an Emmy Award. In 2004, Thompson played the eccentric teacher Sybill Trelawney in the third Harry Potter film, the Prisoner of Azkaban. She later reprised her role with cameo appearances in the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (2011), and has called her time on the popular franchise "great fun".
The children's film Nanny McPhee (2005) was Thompson's own creation, and she played the lead role along with providing the screenplay. Loosely based on the Nurse Matilda stories that she read as a child, the film was in development for nine years and was a highly personal project for Thompson. Centring on a mysterious, unsightly nanny who must discipline a group of children, the film was number one at the UK box office and earned $122 million worldwide. Film critic Claudia Puig wrote that its "well-worn storybook features are woven effectively into an appealing tale of youthful empowerment".
In the surreal comedy-drama Stranger than Fiction (2006), Thompson played a novelist whose latest character (played by Will Ferrell) is a real person who hears her narration in his head. Reviews for the film were generally favourable. Following a brief, uncredited role in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster I Am Legend (2007), Thompson played Lady Marchmain in a 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. Critics were muted in their enthusiasm, but several picked Thompson out as its highlight.Mark Kermode said "Emma Thompson is to some extent becoming the new Judi Dench, as the person who kind of comes in for 15 minutes and is brilliant ... but then when she goes away, the rest of the movie has a real problem living up to the wattage of her presence".
Thompson was further acclaimed for her work in the London-based romance Last Chance Harvey (2008), where she and Dustin Hoffman played a lonely, middle-aged pair who cautiously begin a relationship. Critics praised the chemistry between the two leads, and both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances. Thompson's two 2009 films were both set in 1960s England, and in both she made cameo appearances: as a headmistress in the critically praised drama An Education and as a "tippling mother" in Richard Curtis's The Boat that Rocked.
Five years after the original, Thompson returned to Nanny McPhee with 2010's Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. Her screenplay transported the story to Britain during the Second World War, and incorporated a new cast including Maggie Gylenhaal. Building on the first film's success, it was another UK box office number one and the sequel was widely seen as an improvement. The same year, Thompson reunited with Alan Rickman for the BBC television film The Song of Lunch, which focussed on two unnamed characters meeting at a restaurant 15 years after ending their relationship. Thompson's performance earned her a fourth Emmy Award nomination.
In 2012, Thompson made a rare appearance in a big-budget Hollywood film when she played the head Agent in Men in Black 3 - a continuation of the popular sci-fi comedy franchise starring Will Smith. With a worldwide gross of $624 million, MIB3 is Thompson's biggest commercial hit outside of the Harry Potter films. This mainstream success continued with the Pixar film Brave, in which Thompson voiced Elinor - the Scottish queen despairing at her daughter's defiance against tradition. It was her second consecutive blockbuster release, and critics were generally kind to the film. Also in 2012, Thompson played Queen Elizabeth II in an episode of Playhouse Presents, which dramatised an incident in 1982 when an intruder broke into the Queen's bedroom.
Thompson's first film of 2013 was the fantasy romance Beautiful Creatures, in which she played an evil mother. The film aimed to capitalise on the success of The Twilight Saga, but was poorly reviewed and a box office disappointment. Film critic Peter Travers was critical of Thompson's performance and "outrageously awful Southern accent", and feared "the damage this crock may do to her reputation". Later in the year, however, her performance of the author P. L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks received Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. Effie, which Thompson wrote and appears in, is scheduled for release in May 2014. Based on the true-life story of art critic John Ruskin's affair with Effie Gray, it was subject to a copyright case before being cleared for release. The American playwright Gregory Murphy claimed that it was an infringement on his play The Countess, which deals with the same story, but in March 2013 a judge ruled that they contained "greatly differing internal structures", and are "quite dissimilar in their two approaches to fictionalising the same historical events". Gregory Murphy is appealing the ruling. In January 2014 it was confirmed that Thompson would star alongside Robert Carlyle in his film adaption of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson where she will play the mother of Barney Thomson whom Carlyle will play.
Thompson's first husband was the actor and director Kenneth Branagh, whom she met in 1987 while filming the television series Fortunes of War. The couple married in 1989 and proceeded to appear in several films together, with Branagh often casting Thompson in his own productions. Dubbed a "golden couple" by the British media, the relationship received considerable press interest. The pair attempted to keep their relationship private, refusing to be interviewed or photographed together, and Branagh commented in 1993: "I don't want people buying into some kind of Burton-Taylor double-act thing." In September 1995, Thompson and Branagh announced that they had separated; their statement to the press explained: "Our work has inevitably led to our spending long periods ... away from each other and, as a result, we have drifted apart."
Thompson was living alone as the relationship with Branagh deteriorated, and entered into a depression. In a later interview, she revealed that working on the Sense and Sensibility screenplay was the only thing that stopped her from "going under in a very nasty way." While filming the 1995 movie, Thompson began a relationship with her co-star Greg Wise. Commenting on how she was able to overcome her depression, she told BBC Radio Four, "Work saved me and Greg saved me. He picked up the pieces and put them together again." In 1999, the couple had a daughter, Gaia, born when Thompson was 39. The pregnancy was achieved through IVF treatment; after their daughter's birth, Wise and Thompson attempted to have another child using the same method. Three years of further IVF treatment were unsuccessful.
In 2003, Thompson and Wise were married in Dunoon, Scotland, near where they have a home. The family's permanent residence is in West Hampstead, London, on the same road that Thompson lived in her youth. Also in 2003, Thompson and her husband informally adopted a Rwandan orphan and former child soldier named Tindyebwa Agaba. They met at a Refugee Council event when he was 16, and invited him to spend Christmas at their home. "Slowly," Thompson has commented, "he became a sort of permanent fixture, came on holiday to Scotland with us, became part of the family." Expanding on this experience, Thompson said, "I couldn't have more children, and that was hard; but perhaps if I had had more, I'd have missed out on this extra act of mothering that I've had with Tindy." Tindy became a British citizen in 2009, and works as a human rights lawyer.
Views and activism:
Thompson has said of her religious views: "I'm an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist. I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It's not enough to say that I don't believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Qur'an and I refute them." Despite this, she has said that "The guiding moral principles, the ethical principles, much of the philosophy of the Christian tradition, if properly applied, is very good", and that she observes the Christmas tradition. She is supporter of the Labour Party and she told the BBC Andrew Marr Show in March 2010 that she had been a member of the party "all my life." She opposes Scottish independence, although she believes that England has been "so awful" to Scotland.
Thompson is a supporter of Greenpeace. It was announced on 13 January 2009 that, with three other members of the organisation, she had bought land near the village of Sipson, under threat from a proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport. It was hoped that possession of the land, half the size of a football pitch, would make it possible to prevent the government from carrying through its plan to expand the airport.
Thompson is an ambassador for the charity ActionAid and has travelled to Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Liberia and Burma to raise awareness of its work. Thompson is also an activist for Palestinians, having been a member of the British-based ENOUGH! coalition that seeks to end the "Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.". Additionally, she is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Refugee Council. Emma Thompson is also a patron at Performing Arts Studio Scotland (PASS) at Edinburgh College.
Filmography and theatre:
Catherine of Valois
Tall Guy, TheThe Tall Guy
Claudette, Duchess d'Antan
Much Ado About Nothing
Remains of the Day, TheThe Remains of the Day
In the Name of the Father
Dr. Diana Reddin
Sense and Sensibility
Winter Guest, TheThe Winter Guest
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Professor Sybill Trelawney
Stranger than Fiction
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Professor Sybill Trelawney
I Am Legend
Dr. Alice Krippin
Last Chance Harvey
Education, AnAn Education
Boat That Rocked, TheThe Boat That Rocked
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
Alternative Title: Nanny McPhee Returns,
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Professor Sybill Trelawney
Men in Black 3
Saving Mr. Banks
The Love Punch
Men, Women & Children
The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson
Cambridge Footlights Revue
TV special, 1 episode
There's Nothing to Worry About!
TV series, 3 episodes
TV series, 13 episodes
Young Ones, TheThe Young Ones
TV series, episode Bambi
BBC TV series
Fortunes of War
BBC TV series
Look Back in Anger
Winslow Boy, TheThe Winslow Boy
TV series, 1 episode
Blue Boy, TheThe Blue Boy
TV series, 1 episode
TV series, 1 episode
Angels in America
Nurse Emily/the Homeless Woman/the Angel America
La Hora de José Mota
Special guest, 2 episodes
Song of Lunch, TheThe Song of Lunch
Walking the Dogs
Not the Nine O'Clock News
Beyond the Footlights
Lyric Hammersmith, London
Me and My Girl
Haymarket Theatre & Adelphi Theatre
Look Back in Anger
Lyric Shaftesbury, London
A Midsummer Night's Dream
In 2012, Thompson wrote The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, as an addition to the Peter Rabbit series by Beatrix Potter to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book falls in the middle of the earlier series, rather than at the end, and takes Peter Rabbit outside of Mr. McGregor's garden and into Scotland. It was a New York Times Best Seller. In 2013, Thompson wrote a second book entitled The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Awards and nominations:
Thompson has been nominated and won many awards during her career, including five Academy Award nominations (winning two), nine Golden Globe Award nominations (winning two), seven BAFTA Award nominations (winning three), and five Emmy Award nominations (winning one).