Unlike our previous Monday Morning Muses, Emma Thompson is an extremely well-known human being, and our decision to profile her today is based not on her personal life story or hidden accomplishments but rather on the quality of her highly accredited work. Not only has she been regarded as “the best British actress of her generation” (Howard’s End, Love Actually, Harry Potter, Saving Mr. Banks), she is also a successful screenwriter (Sense & Sensibility, Wit, Nanny McPhee), comedienne and close friend of Meryl Streep. Given the latter part of this information alone, she’s clearly doing something right.
Emma Thompson was born in London on April 15th, 1959. She credits her father (actor/television presenter/producer Eric Thompson) as key influence on her desire to become a writer. She claims he instilled in her her relatonship with words. A little known fact to some RE Emma Thompson is that her writing and performing career started in sketch comedy. She worked alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Sandi Toksvig as part of the Cambridge Footlights in the early 80s. She remembers it was very male-dominated and she and Sandi were determined to change that, annoyed that people would say women aren’t funny. The troupe auditioned a number of women for a segment they had on the show called “Women’s Hour” and she recalls that while some of course were very funny, some of course were very not. Thompson concluded that the reason for this was because being funny doesn’t emerge from your sex, it emerges from a sense of confidence.
“You get into that whole nature/nurture thing of confidence, really, because being funny is all about being confident. The Venus/Mars thing is so awful and as writers we really have to come to terms with the fact that our brains are essentially the same.”
In 1988, Emma Thompson was given her own BBC sketch comedy program called Thompson. She wrote and starred in it and it failed miserably, but it taught her one of the most important lessons of her career: “if you can’t fail like that you can’t do this job.” Funnily enough, out of the ill-fated show (specifically out of one monologue where a young virgin Victorian girl tells her mother about a small, hairless pink mouse a man has just shown her), she was asked by Lindsay Doran (producer) to adapt Sense & Sensibility for the big screen, and that was really where her career took off.
“Yep, it’s a sketch about a willy! But Sense And Sensibility came to me because of that sketch. They showed that series in America, and my great friend Lindsay Doran was watching it and she thought, ‘That’s the woman I want to adapt a Jane Austen novel.’ Go figure.”
Thompson’s perhaps most inspiring strength (as both a writer and an actress) is her ability to identify and understand moments. She is the Queen of the moment. We’re speaking here to her (what seems to be) innate capacity to tether herself to a character and in effect the audience. As a prime example of this, anyone who has seen Love Actually can look to the scene where Thompson’s character recieves a CD from her husband (Alan Rickman) instead of a necklace she saw him purchase, thus confirming her suspicions of his infidelity. The whole scene is gold, but the particularly anchoring moment is when she pretends she hasn’t just been crying in her room. Anyone who hasn’t seen Love Actually, you’re the worst but here:
As actors and writers we are constantly in search for the truth. Finding what’s real in an interaction and bringing it to life; delving and digging deep into someone’s specific world and presenting it to a crowd in a way that is universal and recognizable. The goal is not to mimic or imitate, the goal is to embody: deeply, genuinely and without cliche. Emma Thompson consistently finds and hits those moments of honesty in a way few others can, and it is chiefly for this reason that she is today’s #MondayMorningMuse.
Do YOU have moments people need to see? Excellent. Submissions are due June 1st 🙂