Thompson, Emma 1959-
Thompson, Emma 1959-
Born April 15, 1959, in London, England; daughter of Eric (a director) and Phyllida (an actress) Thompson; sister of Sophie Thompson (an actress); married Kenneth Branagh (an actor, producer, and director), August 20, 1989 (divorced, 1995); married Greg Wise, July 29, 2003; children: (second marriage) Gaia Romilly. Education: Newnham College, Cambridge, degree in English, c. 1981.
Agent—William Morris Agency, Inc., One William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; Hamilton Hodell, Ltd., 66-68 Margaret St., 5th Floor, London W1W 8SR United Kingdom. Publicist—PMK/HBH Public Relations, 700 San Vicente Blvd., Suite G910, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
Actress and writer. Began career as a performer with Footlights, a revue company at Cambridge University; also worked as standup comic; Renaissance Theatre Company, member of company, beginning 1988; Fahrenheit Theatre Company, Cincinnati, OH, member of board of advisers, 1995.
Screen Actors Guild.
Television Award, best actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1986, for Fortunes of War; Newcomer of the Year Award, Variety Club, 1987; Television Award, best television actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1988, for Fortunes of War and Tutti Frutti; Independent Spirit Award nomination, best supporting actress, Independent Features Project West, 1992, for Impromptu; National Board of Review Award, best actress, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best actress, and New York Film Critics Circle Award, best actress, all 1992, and Academy Award, best actress, Film Award, best actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award, Golden Globe Award, best actress in a drama, National Society of Film Critics Award, best actress, Southeastern Film Critics Association Award, best actress, and David di Donatello Award, best foreign actress, all 1993, all for Howards End; Academy Award nomination, best actress, Film Award nomination, best actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture, and David di Donatello Award, best foreign actress, all 1994, for The Remains of the Day; Academy Award nomination, best supporting actress, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best supporting actress in a motion picture, both 1994, for In the Name of the Father; Independent Spirit Award nomination, best female lead, 1994, for Much Ado about Nothing; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical, 1995, for Junior; National Board of Review Award, best actress, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best screenplay, New York Film Critics Circle Award, best screenplay, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, best screenplay, and Society of Texas Film Critics Awards, best actress and best screenplay, all 1995, Academy Award, best adapted screenplay, Academy Award nomination, best actress, Golden Globe Award, best screenplay for a motion picture, Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture drama, Film Award, best actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award, and Film Award nomination, best adapted screenplay, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, best actress, Writers Guild of America Screen Award, best adapted screenplay, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, best screenplay, and University of Southern California Scripter Award, all 1996, and Evening Standard Award, best screenplay, 1997, all for Sense and Sensibility; European Film Award nomination, best actress, and Pasinetti Award, best actress, Venice Film Festival, both 1997, and British Independent Film Award nomination, best British actress in an independent film, 1998, all for The Winter Guest; Emmy Award, outstanding guest actress in a comedy series, 1998, for "Emma," Ellen; European Film Award nomination, outstanding European achievement in world cinema, 1998, American Comedy Award nomination, funniest lead actress in a motion picture, and Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite actress in a drama, 1999, all for Primary Colors; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or a movie, Emmy Award nomination (with Mike Nichols), outstanding writing for a miniseries or movie, Humanitas Prize (with Nichols), 90 Minute or Longer Cable Category, 2001, Critics Choice Award nomination, best actress in a picture made for television, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Christopher Award (with others), television and cable, Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or a motion picture made for television, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a miniseries or a motion picture made for television, International Press Academy, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries, Valladolid International Film Festival Award, best actress, 2002, all for Wit; Annie Award nomination, outstanding voice acting in an animated feature production, International Animated Film Society, 2003, for Treasure Planet; Film Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Empire Award, best British actress, Evening Standard British Film Award, best actress, ALFS Award, British supporting actress of the year, London Critics Circle, Phoenix Film Critics Society Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, comedy or musical, 2004, all for Love, Actually; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a miniseries or a motion picture made for television, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries, 2004, all for Angels in America; Critics Choice Award nomination, best supporting actress, Broadcast Film Critics Association, ALFS Award nomination, British supporting actress of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 2007, for Stranger for Fiction; Perrier Award, Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Kate Lemon, The Tall Guy, Virgin Vision, 1989.
Duchess d'Antan, Impromptu, Hemdale, 1990.
Amanda Grace Sharp and Margaret Strauss, Dead Again, Paramount, 1991.
Margaret Schlegel, Howards End, Sony Pictures Classics, 1992.
Margaret "Maggie," Peter's Friends, Samuel Goldwyn, 1992.
Beatrice, Much Ado about Nothing, Samuel Goldwyn, 1993.
Miss Sally Kenton, The Remains of the Day, Columbia, 1993.
Gareth Peirce, In the Name of the Father, Universal, 1993.
Dr. Diana Reddin, Junior, Universal, 1994.
(Uncredited) Isabel, My Father the Hero (also known as My Father, ce heros), Buena Vista, 1994.
Actress, In Ismail's Custody, 1994.
Dora Carrington, Carrington, Gramercy, 1995.
Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Columbia, 1995.
The Well of Loneliness, 1996.
Frances, The Winter Guest, Fine Line Features, 1997.
Susan Stanton, Primary Colors (also known as Perfect Couple and Mit aller Macht), Universal, 1998.
FBI agent Sadie Hawkins, Judas Kiss, Moonlight Films, 1998.
Herself, Junket Whore, 1998.
Druscilla, Maybe Baby, USA Films, 2000.
Herself, Blind Loyalty, Hollow Honor: England's Fatal Flaw (documentary short), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2001.
Herself, "The Remains of the Day": The Filmmakers Journey (documentary short), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2001.
Herself, Breaking the Silence: The Making of "Hannibal " (documentary), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment, 2001.
Voice of Captain Amelia, Treasure Planet (animated), Buena Vista, 2002.
Karen, Love Actually, Universal, 2003.
Cecilia Rueda, Imagining Argentina, Arenas Entertainment, 2003.
Professor Sybil Trelawney, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Warner Bros., 2004.
Title role, Nanny McPhee, Universal, 2005.
Karen Eiffel, Stranger Than Fiction, Columbia, 2006.
Sybil Trelawney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Warner Bros., 2007.
Lady Marchmain, Brideshead Revisited, Miramax, 2008.
Last Chance Harvey, Overture Films, 2008.
Television Appearances; Series:
Alfresco, ITV, 1983.
Various, Assaulted Nuts, 1985.
Host and various roles, Thompson, BBC and PBS, 1988.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Harriet Pringle, Fortunes of War, BBC, 1986, broadcast in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1988.
Suzy Kettles, Tutti Frutti, BBC, 1987.
Homeless woman, Nurse Emily, and the Angel in America, Angels in America, HBO, 2003.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Jenny Wilbur, Knuckle, BBC, 1989.
Alison Porter, Look Back in Anger, Thames, 1989, then Bravo, 1993.
Elephant woman, Hospital!, BBC, 1997.
Vivian Bearing, Wit, HBO, 2001.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Various, Cambridge Footlights Revue, BBC, 1982.
Host, Up for Grabs (also known as Sexually Transmitted), 1983.
Friday Morning … Saturday Morning, BBC, 1983.
Jackie Meld and other roles, The Crystal Cube, 1983.
Emma Thompson: Up for Grabs, 1985.
Saturday Live, 1986.
Catherine Winslow, "The Winslow Boy," Great Performances, 1988, then PBS, 1990.
Night of Comic Relief, 1988.
A Night of Comic Relief, BBC, 1989.
Night of Comic Relief 2, 1989.
Herself, Love and Loyalty: The Making of "The Remains of the Day," 1993.
The 65th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1993.
The 50th Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1993.
1993: A Year at the Movies, CNBC, 1993.
The 66th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1994.
Marie, "The Blue Boy," Masterpiece Theatre, PBS, 1994.
The 68th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1996.
We Know Where You Live (also known as Amnesty International's "We Know Were You Live!"), Channel 4, 2001.
Presenter, The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, 2001.
Der Filmemacher Ang Lee, 2003.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards, 2004.
Presenter, The 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 2006.
Comic Relief 2007: The Big One, 2007.
Happy Birthday Elton! From Madison Square Garden, New York, MyNetwork, 2007.
The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter (also known as Harry Potter: The Hidden Secrets), 2007.
Also appeared in Jasper Carrott: The Crystal Tube; Jasper Carrott: Election Night Special.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Friday Night … Saturday Morning, 1979, 1980.
Young woman, "Slags," The Comic Strip Presents, Channel 4, 1984.
Miss Money Sterling, "Bambi," The Young Ones, BBC, 1984.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC, 1991.
Nannette "Nanny" Gee/Nanette Guzman, "One Hugs, the Other Doesn't," Cheers, NBC, 1992.
Late Show with David Letterman (also known as The Late Show), CBS, 1993, 2006.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 1994, 2006, 2007.
The Film Programme, BBC, 1996, 2005, 2006.
Herself, "Emma," Ellen (also known as These Friends of Mine), ABC, 1997.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1997.
Parkinson, BBC, 2003.
HARDtalk, BBC, 2003.
Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, syndicated, 2003, 2006.
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," HBO First Look, HBO, 2004.
Richard & Judy, Channel 4, 2005.
GMTV, ITV, 2005, 2006.
Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, BBC, 2005, 2006.
The Tony Danza Show, syndicated, 2006.
Corazon de …, 2006.
Live with Regis and Kelly, syndicated, 2006.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2006.
The View, ABC, 2006.
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS, 2006.
"Anthony Hopkins," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2007.
(Stage debut) Sally Smith, Me and My Girl, Adelphi Theatre, London, 1985.
Alison Porter, Look Back in Anger, Coliseum Theatre, then Lyric Theatre, both London, 1989.
Helena, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Renaissance Theatre Company, Dominion Theatre, London, later Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1990.
The fool, King Lear, Renaissance Theatre Company, Dominion Theatre, later Mark Taper Forum, 1990.
Not the Nine O'Clock News, c. 1982.
Sense and Sensibility (based on the novel by Jane Austen), Columbia, 1995, published in The Sense and Sensibility Diaries and Screenplay: The Making of the Film Based on the Jane Austen Novel, Newmarket (New York, NY), 1995.
(Uncredited; additional dialogue) Pride & Prejudice (also known as Orgueil et prejuges), Focus Features, 2005.
Nanny McPhee, Universal, 2005.
Wit, HBO, 2001.
Cambridge Footlights Revue, BBC, 1982.
(With others) Up for Grabs (also known as Sexually Transmitted), 1983.
An Evening for Nicaragua, 1983.
Emma Thompson: Up for Grabs, 1985.
Alfresco, ITV, 1983.
Thompson, BBC and PBS, 1988.
Wrote The "Sense and Sensibility" Screenplay Diaries.
Newsmakers 1993, Issue 4, Gale, 1993.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press, 4th ed., St. James Press, 2000.
Entertainment Weekly, December 15, 1995, p. 45; March 27, 1998, pp. 24-30.
Hollywood Reporter, January 23, 1990, pp. 18, 107, 110.
New Republic, January 8, 1996, pp. 34-35.
Parade, March 1, 1998, pp. 4-5.
People Weekly, September 9, 1991, pp. 61-62; October 16, 1995, p. 134; February 12, 1996, pp. 38-39.
Vanity Fair, February, 1996, p. 80.
Nationality: British. Born: London, England, 15 April 1959; daughter of the stage and TV director Eric Thompson and the actress Phyllida Law; sister of the actress Sophie Thompson. Family: Married the actor Kenneth Branagh, 1989 (divorced 1996); one daughter with actor Greg Wise, 1999. Education: Studied English literature at Cambridge University. Career: Began acting while at Cambridge with the comedy troupe Footlights, and wrote and performed in an all-woman program of comedy routines, late 1970s; performed as a stand-up comic, then worked on the stage and in British TV, 1980s; appeared on the BBC mini-series Tutti Frutti and Fortunes of War, 1987; created her own six-part TV comedy series, Thompson, co-starring her sister and mother; began performing with Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company, 1988; first appeared on-screen with Branagh in Henry V, 1989; became member of board of advisers, FAHRENHEIT Theatre Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1995. Awards: Variety Club Newcomer of the Year, 1987; British Academy Award Best Actress, for Tutti Frutti and Fortunes of War, 1987; New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actress, National Board of Review Best Actress, Best Actress Academy Award, Best Actress British Academy Award, Best Actress National Society of Film Critics, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama Golden Globe, for Howards End, 1992; Outstanding Guest Appearance in a Comedy Series Emmy Award, for Ellen, 1994; Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Writers Guild of America Award, New York Citics Circle Best Screenplay, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Screenplay, National Board of Review Best Actress, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role British Academy Award, Best Screenplay Golden Globe, for Sense and Sensibility, 1995; Best Actress Venice Film Festival, for The Winter Guest, 1997. Agents: Lorraine Hamilton Management, 19 Denmark Street, London WC2H 8NA, England; and William Morris, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
The Winslow Boy (for TV) (as Catherine)
The Tall Guy (Mel Smith) (as Kate Lemon); Henry V (Branagh) (as Katherine of France); Look Back in Anger (Dench—for TV) (as Alison Porter)
Impromptu (Lapine) (as Duchesse d'Antan); Dead Again (Branagh) (as Grace/Margaret Strauss)
Howards End (Ivory) (as Margaret Schlegel); Peter's Friends (Branagh) (as Maggie)
Much Ado about Nothing (Branagh) (as Beatrice); The Remains of the Day (Ivory) (as Miss Kenton); In the Name of the Father (Sheridan) (as Gareth Peirce)
My Father, the Hero (Daddy Cool) (Miner) (unbilled cameo as Isabelle); Junior (Reitman) (as Dr. Diana Reddin); The Blue Boy (Murton—for TV) (as Marie)
Carrington (Hampton) (as Dora Carrington); Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee) (as Elinor Dashwood, + sc)
Hospital! (Henderson—for TV); The Winter Guest (Rickman) (as Frances)
Primary Colors (Nichols) (as Susan Stanton); Judas Kiss (Gutierrez) (as FBI Agent Sadie Hawkins)
Maybe Baby (Elton) (as Desiree)
Johnny Hit and Run Pauline (Efrosini Lillios) (pr)
By THOMPSON: book—
The Sense and Sensibility Diaries and Screenplay: The Making of the Film Based on the Jane Austen Novel, New York, 1995.
By THOMPSON: articles—
"Beyond Her Ken," an interview with Time Out (London), 29 April 1992.
Interview with Rachel Abramowitz, in Premiere (New York), April 1992.
"Inheriting the Crown," interview with Jack Kroll, in Newsweek (New York), 4 January 1993.
Interview with Caryn James, in New York Times, 28 March 1993.
"Emma's a Gem," interview with Richard Corliss, in Time (New York), 29 March 1993.
Interview with Robbie Coltrane, in Interview (New York), May 1993.
"Em and Eminence," in Time Out (London), 6 September 1995.
On THOMPSON: books—
Shuttleworth, Ian, Ken & Em: A Biography of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, New York, 1995.
On THOMPSON: articles—
Jameson, Richard, "The 1989 Movie Revue, II: New Faces of '89," in Film Comment (New York), January 1990.
Miller, Russell, "Emma Thompson's Family Business," in New York Times Magazine, 28 March 1993.
Goodman, Mark, and Sue Carswell, "Much Ado about Emma," in People Weekly (New York), 17 May 1993.
"Emma Thompson: A Close Reading," in New Yorker, 15 Novem-ber 1993.
Krolikowska-Avis, E., "Zlota para," in Kino (Warsaw), Decem-ber 1993.
Abramowitz, R., "Easy Labor," in Premiere (New York), Decem-ber 1994.
Current Biography 1995, New York, 1995.
Sessums, Keven, "Never Look Back," in Vanity Fair (New York), February 1996.
"Emma Thompson," in Film Review (London), March 1996.
Fuller, Graham, and Claire Monk, "Cautionary Tale / Shtick and Seduction / Sense and Sensibility," in Sight & Sound (London), March 1996.
Thompson, D., and others, "Who's the Best Actress in Hollywood?" in Movieline (Escondido), November 1996.
Friend, T., "Emma's True Colors," in Vogue (New York), March 1998.
* * *
Emma Thompson's versatility seems boundless. With roots in the British theater and an early inclination towards comedy, she also has a gift for developing full-blooded period characters and has performed adroitly in Shakespearean parts, as well. Her acting education began during childhood as the daughter of television and stage director Eric Thompson and actress Phyllida Law. She studied English literature at Cambridge University, where she performed with a troupe called Footlights, which specialized in comedy. After graduation, she appeared as a stand-up comic and did television work before obtaining a starring role in the hit musical comedy revival Me and My Girl. So it is appropriate for Thompson's screen debut to have come in a comedy. She co-starred in The Tall Guy, an underrated farce in which she is the love interest of an American actor in London (Jeff Goldblum) who finds himself cast in a musical version of The Elephant Man (which, when you think about it, is as silly a vehicle for song and dance as Les Misérables).
While working on Fortunes of War for the BBC, she met actor-director Kenneth Branagh, who cast her as Katherine of France in his screen version of Henry V. They married shortly after the release of Henry V, and Branagh cast her in several very different roles in three of his subsequent films. In Dead Again, she gives a bravura performance in the dual role of a dazed woman tormented by memories of another woman's murder, and a concert pianist (in flashbacks to the 1940s). In the ensemble film Peter's Friends, Thompson has the plum role of Maggie, a spinsterish flake who leaves photos around her apartment so her cat will not forget her. She brings a guileless quality to the role, making it one of the film's stand-out performances. Finally, in Much Ado about Nothing, she stars as Beatrice to Branagh's Benedick. As the real-life husband-wife team traded sex-based jibes in the Bard's poetic format, they brought an energy to the film that touched a broad-based audience. In 1995, Thompson and Branagh announced they were separating, putting an end to a dynamic professional partnership.
It was Howards End, not a Branagh project, that propelled Thompson into the upper ranks of screen personalities. She won an Academy Award for her work in this Merchant-Ivory production of an E. M. Forster tale of the social classes in 1910 England. Thompson portrays a self-reliant woman of no economic means who marries a prosperous man (Anthony Hopkins) whose pleasant veneer hides a heartless nature. Thompson and Hopkins are brilliant together, with both characters storing wells of emotion under the constraints of Edwardian British custom.
She was splendidly re-teamed with Hopkins in another Merchant-Ivory film, The Remains of the Day, set between the two World Wars. Thompson is cast as Miss Kenton, the new housekeeper in the castle of a British lord. Miss Kenton just might be a potential romantic partner to the world's most perfect servant: Stevens (Hopkins), a reserved British butler who is single-mindedly dedicated to his employer. The Remains of the Day essentially is a character study of Stevens, who is steadfastly absorbed in his professional role to the exclusion of all else. Thompson brings intelligence and intensity to a role which might have been little more than a plain-Jane housekeeper in another actress's hands. Her layered interpretation of Miss Kenton helps to give dimension to Stevens's character and brings the film to a disturbing and extraordinary ending.
After earning more critical acclaim as a lawyer defending an accused IRA bomber (Daniel Day Lewis) in the U.S.-Irish production In the Name of the Father, Thompson surprised moviegoers who only were familiar with her Shakespearean and somber characterizations. Sharing the screen with "pregnant" Arnold Schwarzenegger, Thompson garnered laughs as an eminent British cryogenicist in the Hollywood farce Junior. In good spirited fun, she was given an opportunity to spoof the prim image she has gained during her screen career.
She returned to period filmmaking in Carrington, a film with lofty ambitions that is more interesting for what it attempts than what it achieves. It is a based-on-fact story, set in the early twentieth century, that charts the evolution of the deep love between a homosexual British writer, Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce), and a little-known painter, Dora Carrington (Thompson). This is fascinating material, but the film often is too slow-moving and unevenly paced. Still, Thompson (along with Pryce) offers an effectively subtle performance. She next scored one of her biggest hits with Sense and Sensibility, a pleasing, literate adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. Thompson not only stars as Elinor Dashwood but also scripted—and earned an Academy Award for her effort—lending to the material a refreshing contemporary air.
In the mid-1990s, Thompson was at the forefront of contemporary world cinema. Curiously, in the second half of the decade, she either has found herself miscast onscreen or has not won the high-quality, high-profile roles that enabled her to earn screen stardom. She worked with actor-turned-director Alan Rickman and her mother in the deeply personal but little-seen The Winter Guest, featuring the two actresses as mother and daughter. By far her highest-visibility role came in Primary Colors, a pithy satire of Bill and Hillary Clinton that was based on the notorious, best-selling novel. Thompson fell into trouble by taking on the role of Susan Stanton, the Hillary Clinton character. John Travolta, playing her husband, Clintonian presidential candidate Jack Stanton, imitates the real-life president to the point of caricature. Meanwhile, Thompson—who bears a resemblance to Mrs. Clinton—plays her character straight, and thus is overshadowed by Travolta and a strong supporting cast of character actors. Furthermore, her attempt to speak with an American accent is less than successful.
During her film career, Emma Thompson has proven her ability to play all sorts of roles. She can take a character from the pages of literature and make that personality live on-screen, or she can breathe life into broad comedy parts. She has shown audiences many of her talents, and one hopes that she will continue receiving the types of roles that will enable her to display those abilities.
—Audrey E. Kupferberg
British actor Emma Thompson (born 1959) has accrued a long and impressive list of film credits to her name, many of them literary adaptations. Early in her career she appeared in Shakespearean classics along with her then-husband, actor-director Kenneth Branagh, and won her first Academy Award for her lead in the film adaptation of an E. M. Forster story from 1910, Howards End. In 1995 she achieved an unusual distinction in Academy Award history when she won her second Oscar, in this case for the screenplay to Sense and Sensibility; with that win Thompson became the only person ever to have won Academy Awards in both the performing and writing categories.
Thompson was born into a family of actors on April 15, 1959, in London. Her father, Eric Thompson (1929–1982), was a television and stage actor, and during Thompson's childhood served as the narrator for a much-loved children's television series, an animated French import called The Magic Roundabout. Her mother, Phyllida Law (born 1932), was a native of Glasgow, and the family—which soon included a younger sister, Sophie—spent their summer vacations in Scotland.
Joined Cambridge Theater Group
As a teen, Thompson attended the Camden School for Girls near her north London home. In the mid-1970s she visited the United States for the first time when her father took a stage directing job in Los Angeles, a city she later described as "the strangest, most alien place I'd ever been to. My sister and I went down to [the] supermarket one time and came back with sliced bacon and ice cream and makeup," she told Robbie Coltrane for Interview magazine. "I couldn't believe you could get them all in the same place."
Though her sister, Sophie, was determined to follow her parents onto the stage from an early age, Thompson had little interest in the performing arts. Instead she majored in English literature at Cambridge University, where her quick wit prompted friends to persuade her to audition for Cambridge Footlights, the school's renowned amateur theater club. The annual Footlights Revue had become a noted showcase for up-and-coming comedians, and had previously helped launch the careers of members of Monty Python. Thompson's stint during the late 1970s and early 1980s was another notable era for the troupe, which included future talents Stephen Fry (born 1957) and Hugh Laurie (born 1959). In the summer of 1981, Thompson and the group took their revue to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won a festival prize and was offered a London theater run.
In 1983, her degree finished, Thompson became part of a short-lived television comedy sketch series with Fry and Laurie called Alfresco. Over the next few years her career progressed steadily, and she won rave reviews for a 15-month stage run as the lead in a revival of the 1930s musical Me and My Girl alongside Fry. Following that, she was cast in the lead in a 1987 BBC television miniseries, Fortunes of War, as one-half of a pair of British newlyweds who find themselves stranded in Romania at the start of World War II. Her co-star was Kenneth Branagh (born 1960), a native of Northern Ireland who was being hailed as Britain's next great Shakespearean actor. The pair became romantically involved and married in 1989.
Earned First Oscar
Over the next few years, Thompson's union with Branagh resulted in several film projects and an immense amount of press coverage. They were described as the modern-day successors to other notable husband-and-wife teams such as Alfred Lunt (1892–1977) and Lynne Fontanne (1887–1983) and even Richard Burton (1925–1984) and Elizabeth Taylor (born 1932). Their work included an impressive Henry V in 1989, a Hollywood thriller from 1991 called Dead Again in which they played dual roles, and Peter's Friends, about a reunion of English university friends whose re-enactments of their days in a comedy troupe rang quite credibly on screen, for the cast included Fry, Laurie, and several other onetime Footlights members.
Thompson turned in a brilliant comedy bit in a 1992 episode of Cheers, in which she played Frasier Crane's former wife, a children's folk singer named Nanny Gee, the same year that a relatively unknown actor named Sharon Stone became famous for her lead in Basic Instinct, a role that Thompson had turned down. She also declined The Piano, the melodrama that earned Holly Hunter an Academy Award. Instead, Thompson had chosen to work with Ismail Merchant (born 1936) and James Ivory (born 1928), the acclaimed filmmakers who cast her in Howards End. This 1992 period drama, chronicling three separate English families whose lives intersect, paired her with Anthony Hopkins and won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Reviewing it in the New York Times, Vincent Canby mentioned her previous films with Branagh but noted that in this one she "comes into her own as the wise, patient Margaret Schlegel. Hers is the film's guiding performance. Ms. Thompson even manages to be beautiful while convincingly acting the role of a woman who is not supposed to be beautiful, being all teeth and solemn expressions."
A year later Thompson appeared in another Merchant-Ivory project alongside Hopkins, The Remains of the Day, and with her husband in Much Ado About Nothing. Despite their respective career successes, the couple were often the target of jibes in the British media, mocked for their dedication to their art and for Thompson's habitual appearances in anything that her husband directed for the screen. Though her career was well on its way by the time she met Branagh, she was often accused of riding on her spouse's coattails to stardom. One well-told comedy skit mocking the pair had Thompson returning home, at which Branagh called out, "I'm in the kitchen," to which her reply was, "Oh, can I be in it too?." Both were sometimes derided as "luvvies," a pejorative British slang term for actors who project an uncomfortable amount of flair while not performing. At some point, Thompson stopped doing press in Britain altogether, but she did display a sense of humor when Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum asked her about the ribbing, remarking that "it would perhaps be a little unhealthy if one weren't satirized and lambasted regularly."
Endured Highly Publicized Divorce
When Thompson's marriage began to falter amidst rumors of infidelity on both sides, the press coverage was brutal. Thompson had been slated to take a role in Frankenstein, which Branagh would direct and star in, but the part went to Helena Bonham Carter (born 1966), who played Thompson's sister in Howards End. On the set of Sense and Sensibility, meanwhile, Thompson became involved with actor Greg Wise, who played the handsome rogue John Willoughby in the Jane Austen story that Thompson had adapted for the screen—her first writing project since an ill-fated British sketch-comedy series back in 1988. Her work won her a second Academy Award, which made her the first person ever to win an Oscar statuette for both performance and writing.
Thompson's career slowed down for a few years, partly as a result of her plan to become a mother, which took somewhat longer than she would have liked and was finally done with the help of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). She and Wise became parents in 1999 to a daughter they named Gaia Romilly Wise. During these years she worked on several writing projects, including a telefilm adaptation of a stage play, Wit, that won acclaim when it ran on HBO in 2001 with Thompson in the lead as a cancer-stricken scholar. She made another appearance in another one of the cable channel's much-admired projects, the 2003 miniseries Angels in America. Both of these were directed by Mike Nichols, who knew Thompson from working with her on the 1998 political comedy Primary Colors, in which she played the beleaguered spouse of a randy U.S. presidential candidate.
Nichols was just one among a long list of Thompson's well-connected professional colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, whose devotion to her as a friend and respect for her as an actor would result in a rich range of parts. Another was the actor Alan Rickman (born 1946), who made his directorial debut with the 1997 drama The Winter Guest starring Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law; Rickman later played her cold-hearted husband in the 2003 ensemble romantic comedy, Love Actually; in 2004 she joined him as one of the staff at Hogwarts School in the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which she played Professor Sybil Trelawney. A co-star from Love Actually, Colin Firth, was the other lead opposite Thompson in 2005's Nanny McPhee, in which she took the title role as the new caregiver to a brood of monstrous children. Thompson had written the screenplay from a children's book series called Nurse Matilda.
Took on Diverse Projects
A year later Thompson appeared in a Will Farrell comedy, Stranger than Fiction, as the unlikable, tormented novelist whose most popular character turns out to have a real-life counterpart in Farrell's lead. In 2007 she appeared in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth movie of the series and one that teamed her with another old friend, Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane (born 1950). Two other long-term projects were a reworking of a story about the Black Death epidemic in London in the 1660s, tentatively called Harrow Alley, and another about a Chilean dissident folk singer who died in the 1970s. Political causes have long interested Thompson. In 1983, fresh out of Cambridge, she was one of the comedy writers for An Evening for Nicaragua, a benefit for leftist groups in the Central American nation; in 1991, she joined in the London street protests against the first Gulf War; and a 2003 film she appeared in alongside Antonio Banderas, Imagining Argentina, earned a mixed reaction when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival for its mix of torture scenes and magic realism in a tale of missing political dissidents.
Thompson and Wise wed in 2003, and make their home on the same North London street as her mother and sister, and where she had previously lived at two other addresses. Unafraid to take on distinctly non-glamorous parts, such as the gruesome Nanny McPhee, Thompson has avoided the pitfalls that have reduced many female stars to supporting roles as mothers-in-law or the ingenue's boss as they enter their 40s. As far back as 1994, the year she turned 35, Thompson was already appreciative of the fact that her screen career might only last so long, which is why she returned to her original plan to write for a living. "Actresses have a short shelf life," she told New York Times journalist Brenda Maddox. "It stops at about 40, apart from those at the very top, like Anjelica Huston or Glenn Close. An actress has to find a future for herself." She was somewhat surprised a dozen years later, to realize that she was offered "better roles now than when I was younger," she told Entertainment Weekly writer Christine Spines in 2006. "It used to be that if I got a script that said, 'A fabulously beautiful woman walks into the room,' I'd stop reading."
Entertainment Weekly, June 25, 1993; November 24, 2006.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), October 8, 2005.
Interview, May 1993.
New York Times, March 13, 1992; November 20, 1994.
Observer (London, England), March 24, 1996.
Sunday Times (London, England), February 8, 2004.
WWD, March 16, 2001.
Thompson, Emma 1959-
THOMPSON, Emma 1959-
PERSONAL: Born April 15, 1959, in London, England; daughter of Eric (a director) and Phyllida (an actress) Thompson; married Kenneth Branagh (an actor, producer, and director), 1989 (divorced, 1994), companion of Greg Wise; children: one daughter, Gaia Romilly (with Wise). Education: Newnham College, Cambridge, studied English literature.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Hamilton Asper Ltd., Ground Floor, 24 Hanway Street, London W1P 9DD, England.
CAREER: Actress for stage, television, and film. Began career as a performer with Cambridge University's Footlights revue. Stage appearances include Me and My Girl, 1985; Look Back in Anger, 1989; A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1990; and King Lear, 1990. Television appearances include Fortunes of War, 1988; "The Winslow Boy," 1990; Cheers, 1992; Look Back in Anger, 1993; "The Blue Boy," 1994; and Wit, 2001. Film appearances include Henry V, 1989; The Tall Guy, 1989; Impromptu, 1991; Dead Again, 1991; Howard's End, 1992; Peter's Friends, 1992; Much Ado about Nothing, 1993; The Remains of the Day, 1993; In the Name of the Father, 1993; Junior, 1995; Carrington, 1995; Sense and Sensibility, 1995; The Winter Guest, 1997; Primary Colors, 1998; Judas Kiss, 1998; Maybe Baby, 2000; Treasure Planet, 2002; and Love Actually, 2003.
MEMBER: Screen Actors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for best actress, 1986, for Fortunes of War; New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actress, 1992, Academy Award for best actress, BAFTA Award for best actress, and Golden Globe Award for best actress in a drama, all 1993, all for Howard's End; Academy Award for best screenplay adaptation, 1995, for Sense and Sensibility; Humanitas Award for co-writing, 2001, for Wit.
Sense and Sensibility (screenplay; adapted from the novel by Jane Austen; Columbia, 1995), published in The Sense and Sensibility Diaries and Screenplay: The Making of the Film Based on the Jane Austen Novel, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Wit (teleplay), HBO Films, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Emma Thompson, a critically acclaimed and award-winning actress for film, stage, and television, wrote her first screenplay for Ang Lee's 1995 film adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel Sense and Sensibility, in which Thompson also played the role of Elinor Dashwood. The Academy Award-winning screenplay, along with the journal Thompson kept during the production of the film, was published in 1995 as The Sense and Sensibility Diaries and Screenplay: The Making of the Film Based on the Jane Austen Novel. Stanley Kauffmann, in his New Republic review of the film, noted that Thompson "spent five years working intermittently on the script while she acted in seven films."
Remaining faithful to Austen's original story with only "very slight" alterations, Thompson's Sense and Sensibility screenplay "can easily be chided by maniacally zealous Austenites," observed Kauffmann, "but such folk probably should not go to films of Austen unless they want to sneer." Richard Schickel, writing for Time, found Thompson's adaptation "impeccable" and comparable to the romantic comedies of Frank Capra and Leo McCarey, adding that viewers "don't expect to find [this kind of joyous catharsis] in adaptations of classic literature" or "in modern movies." Dana Kennedy in Entertainment Weekly thought Thompson's adaptation "so crisp, merry, and timeless that it might inspire those who think of Austen as high school syllabus material to read the book." In his Newsweek review of the film, Jack Kroll called the screenplay "vigorous, faithful," and related Thompson's attitude toward critics who label Austen films as period pieces: "You don't think people are still concerned with marriage, money, romance, finding a partner? Jane Austen is a genius who appeals to any generation." Commenting on the actress's "restrained" performance in the role of Elinor, New Yorker cinema reviewer Terrence Rafferty remarked, "Thanks to Thompson's exertions—both as actress and screenwriter—the heroine's goodness never seems implausible, and Austen's quiet but insistent polemical fervor is never permitted to overtax the story's delicate comic structure." Janet Maslin summarized in her New York Times review of the film: "Thompson . . . proves as crisp and indispensably clever a screenwriter as she is a leading lady."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, December 22, 1995, pp. 60-61.
New Republic, January 8, 1996, pp. 34-35.
Newsweek, December 18, 1995, pp. 66-68.
New Yorker, December 18, 1995, pp. 124-127.
New York Times, December 13, 1995, sec. C, pp. 15, 19.
People, February 12, 1996, pp. 38-39.
Time, December 18, 1995, pp. 72-74.*