Emma Thompson on the difficulties of fame and new romcom What's Love Got to Do with It?
On The Radio Times Podcast, Dame Emma Thompson talks to Kelly-Anne Taylor about meeting contemporaries Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie and how she never sought out the limelight.
Coming off the back of her BAFTA nominated work in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, and her acclaimed turn as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical, Emma Thompson will next be seen in romcom What's Love Got to Do with It?
The film also stars Lily James and Shazad Latif, and follows James's filmmaker as she documents her childhood friend's arranged marriage.
Ahead of the film's release, Thompson spoke with The Radio Times Podcast about what she's been enjoying on TV, what it was like being in the Cambridge Footlights with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie and what her new film has taught her about love and marriage.
You divide your time between north-west London and Scotland — which living room do you prefer?
"Oh, God – they’re different! Our living room in London is our kitchen as well – everything happens in there. In Scotland, you eat in the kitchen and then sit in front of the fire releasing whatever needs to be released – ideas, wind, windy ideas…"
What have you been watching on telly?
"Happy Valley gave me such pleasure. It was so brilliantly written and beautifully performed – just fantastic."
Who controls the remote?
"Neither of us [Emma and her husband Greg Wise] has any kind of relationship with the remote. Both of us spend the entire time wandering around, clapping our hands to the carpet, going, 'Where’s the remote?' We’re both utterly pathetic."
Which TV shows have marked your life?
"Monty Python’s Flying Circus got me through school. I wrote to Michael Palin about it when I was in my 30s and he, and the others, sent me a bill. It was essential through my teenage years – school, on some level, is deeply unbearable for all young people because it’s so rigid and Victorian."
When did you know you wanted to act?
"When I was 16, I saw Racine’s Andromaque. It was brilliant. I watched it so many times. All the actors took their clothes off at one point and were all just gorgeous – that had something to do with it… I wrote to my father [actor Eric Thompson] saying, 'I’m going to have to do something in this field.'
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"When I got to Cambridge, I wanted to write. I’d seen Lily Tomlin in an extraordinary piece called Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. All these incredible female comedians expanded the idea of 'the female' for me. I was going to be a comedian until I was at least 27, which is when I first acted."
Being in Cambridge Footlights with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the early '80s must have been formative…
"Stephen and Hugh were remarkable. Those times were magical. We did it for fun – we weren’t waiting for people to come and see the show and pick us up."
Did you have any doubt that you would be able to make a career out of acting?
"I had no ambition of wanting to be a movie star. It didn’t occur to me. The first acting I did on telly was Tutti Frutti  with Robbie Coltrane. I got that by accident because they needed a woman who could do a Scottish accent and Robbie said, 'Ask Thompson.'"
Has fame been difficult to grapple with?
"Both times I had to do the Oscars I got seriously ill. I found the pressure and glare of it too much. It’s astonishing – and then afterwards you want to lie down in a dark room. You think, 'Please don’t ask me any questions or make me talk about myself.' I quickly developed a sort of allergy to that part of the job. I’m lucky – I think it must be awful if you’re James Bond."
Tell us about Cath, the character you play in your most recent film, What’s Love Got to Do with It?
"She’s so inappropriate! She’s got absolute cloth ears. She’s the sort of person who’ll say, 'The nice thing about a burka is it’s just wonderfully forgiving, isn’t it!' And you just groan.
"But I find myself saying something and my daughter will say, 'Mum, you actually can’t say that.' Cath represents all of us as we get older, because we’re always saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing."
What has this film taught you about love, companionship and marriage?
"It’s philosophically helpful and uplifting to remember that romantic love is a myth and quite dangerous. We really do have to take it with a massive pinch of salt. To think sensibly about love and the way it can grow is essential. Long-term relationships are hugely difficult and complicated! If anyone thinks that happy ever after has a place in our lives, forget it!"
Listen to the full episode of The Radio Times Podcast below:
What's Love Got to Do with It? is in UK cinemas from Friday 24th February. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast today.
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