I have loved Emma Thompson for a long time, and her recent interview on NPR's Fresh Air reminded me of all the reasons why: she's smart, she's funny, she's centered, she's British, she's so very grounded. Go here to listen or to get a link to the transcript.
As always, I liked the insights to her artistic processes best. I had forgotten that she's a writer too, that she wrote the screenplay to Sense and Sensibility. The story of how she came to be chosen is wonderful: "Well, the one that inspired Lindsay to ask me to write "Sense" was based, in fact, on an Edith Wharton short story about a young woman who comes back after her honeymoon to confront her mother, who has not given her any information about sexual behavior and who knows that when she saw her daughter getting married that the man she was marrying was pretty brutal and that it would not be pleasant and who gave her no information about it."
What may be lost in that snippet is that Emma Thompson was writing sketch comedies at the time. And she wrote a sketch comedy based on that Edith Wharton story. What a woman!
She makes interesting connections between writing and acting:
"But I think it might be the other way round in the sense that I think that I know when I'm writing what is sayable, I think. I tend to take on each character as I'm writing and become, as far as I can, that character so that whatever comes out is sayable and real.
So I think it's more that way round. Writing's so solitary and mysterious. It's a mysterious process because I have had the experience of writing something and then leaving it, as I always do in the afternoons and for a night, and then coming back to it the following day and not knowing - not remembering writing it, not really knowing who wrote it. It's much like what Travers says about Mary Poppins just flying in through the window.
And I think that when you do give yourself over to the creative process of writing and acting, it's the same I think in any art form. Something is passing through you in an odd way, and you just have to make sure you're open to it."
They even discuss the movie Primary Colors, which I forgot that Emma Thompson was in.
Along the way they talk about her living situation of being in close proximity to her family. In my younger years, I might have felt differently, but these days it sounds cozy and wonderful.
And she gives a great explanation for how the British conquered the world: "I mean that caste system that we have in our country for so long which is still being, as it were, presented in an entirely different way, but still presented in things like 'Downton Abbey' was a very deforming system. It was, it was so full of injustice and so full of the necessity for people to, well, not allow themselves to feel. And actually, that rule, that repression, of course, existed on both - in both areas of the system. You know, nobody more repressed than the upper class Englishman with the classic Etonian/Oxford education required constantly to battle with his own feelings and not show them, and that's what the British Empire was based and built on. You know, well, no, no, let's not have sex and a good time. Or let's use all that energy to take over the world because I think that would be more - it's more proper. And we could just get out there and suppress everyone else."
Of course, hearing Emma Thompson say all these things, in her wonderful accent, is such a treat. I'd listen to her read our grocery lists and be happy about it. To hear her give an interview of great depth is a treat that you shouldn't deny yourself.
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