There is a school of thought that says that Emma Thompson should win every award under the sun so that we may have the pleasure of hearing her acceptance speech. She thanked the Academy this way upon winning Best Screenplay in 1996 for Sense and Sensibility – “Before I came, I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral to pay my respects, you know, and to tell her about the grosses. And I don’t know how she would react to an evening like this but I do hope she knows how big she is in Uruguay.” YouTube her Golden Globes speech where she accepted the award in the persona of Jane Austen which starts like this: “4 a.m. Having just returned from an evening at the Golden Spheres, which despite the inconveniences of heat, noise and overcrowding, was not without its pleasures. Thankfully, there were no dogs and no children.”
This year we may have an opportunity to hear a terrific one as, for the eighth time, Thompson is nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. She plays the prim, starchy author of the beloved “Mary Poppins” books who is pursued by Walt Disney for two decades for the movie rights. Disney persuades Travers to come to Los Angeles to work on the script, and Thompson describes to the HFPA Travers’ attempts at impairing the process:
“She came over [to Los Angeles] overtly to collaborate and covertly really to sabotage the entire process. So that was what was so interesting is playing someone who is going, ‘right, now let’s read this. And this is rubbish. And no, we’re not going to have that. And you’re all dreadful. And of course, this isn’t really art. And I’m a poet. So fuck you all and actually can I go now?’ She was so awful to them.”
Thompson of course is no stranger to magical nannies, having starred in and written the screenplays for the Nanny McPhee movies based on the children’s books by Christianna Brand. With typical Brit wit Thompson remarks on the happenstance, “I wonder if behind every magical nanny there’s always a cantankerous old bag.” After taking a long break from acting to raise her daughter, Thompson decided to get back into the acting business and called her agent who presented her with three options. “One was a very old lady in a wheelchair, the other was Bradley Cooper’s mother, and the third one was Mother Teresa. I thought, I think they think I look like Nanny McPhee now.” We might suggest she change agents, were it not for the fact that in the end she got the Travers role.
For one of her early roles in the movie Peter’s Friends, the Washington Post critic lauded her for exuding “grace and an adroit sense of comic tragedy.” An examination of a few career highlights proves his point. For her breakthrough role in Howard’s End for which she was showered with awards, including a Globe, to the heartbreaking The Remains of the Day, to In the Name of the Father and Wit and Primary Colors and Angels in America and the Harry Potter movies and Love, Actually and Last Chance Harvey, she can summon the requisite British stiff upper lip, be ferociously funny, give the darkest character a sense of humor, portray painful vulnerability, or just be the friend that we root for, combining these qualities to create characters that are remarkably human and indelible. In early November, Thompson had her hand and foot-prints memorialized in concrete at the Chinese Theater, and co-star Tom Hanks made a speech at the ceremony begging her to move to LA: “Please, Emma, leave England. Come here. Live with us. Los Angeles and Hollywood need your sense and sensibility. [In] England, they don’t appreciate you like we do.”
While Thompson has no plans to move to the U.S. just yet, fans can see her in her New York stage debut for five days in March when she will play Mrs. Lovett in the New York Philharmonic’s production of Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center with Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role. And before then, of course, on January 12, 2014, on Golden Globes night.