Emma Thompson Entertains BAFTA Audience

Emma Thompson Entertains BAFTA Audience

Actress-writer says star system is 'revolting'

LONDON — Emma Thompson told an audience at BAFTA in London Sunday how much she disliked the star system.

“The star system is not a good system. It’s all hierarchical. I think that’s just revolting. It is revolting for actors to become grand,” said Thompson, who claimed that she was the only star to have ever asked for a smaller trailer.

During the interview, which was part of BAFTA’s “A Life in Pictures” series, in which top talent talk about their careers, she paid tribute to those actors who were “great” without being “grand,” such as Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins. She recalled how Hoffman was once stuck in traffic while travelling to the set of “Last Chance Harvey,” and got out of the car, took his shoes off, and ran in his socks to get there in time. “He just wants to do it so much,” she said.

When she played in “Howards End” alongside Hopkins, just after he’d played Hannibal Lecter, her mother sent him a note that said: “This is my daughter. Please don’t eat her,” Thompson joked.

Thompson described Hopkins, when playing a key scene with her, as being “like a little volcano.”

She had secured her role in “Howards End” after writing to director James Ivory to tell him, “I know who this woman is,” she said.

Thompson spoke about the “hypocrisy that stalks society” and the “deformity of servitude.” She told the audience about the experience of her grandmother, who had been a servant in a large house and had been raped by her employer. “It’s slavery of a kind,” she said.

Thompson’s role in “Howards End” won her an Oscar. She said people treated the statuette like “the ark of the covenant.” “You realize what a powerful object it is,” she said.

Thompson said that when she came to adapt “Sense and Sensibility” — for which she won an Oscar for adapted screenplay — she had gone for advice to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who had written the screenplay for “Howards End.” Prawer Jhabvala, whom Thompson described as “hugely influential,” advised her to “adapt the whole book and see what works.” Thompson took the advice and wrote a first draft that was 500 pages long, which she then had to cut to around 90 pages. Thompson said the process of adapting a book was a “very mysterious journey.”

She found that the director of “Sense and Sensibility,” Ang Lee, came from a very different cinema culture, where actors “were slaves to the director.” But nevertheless they got on well with each other. She said some of his notes to her included, “Don’t be so old,” while Kate Winslet was told, “It’s alright you’ll get better,” and he said to Hugh Grant, “Now do one (take) like a bad actor,” to which Grant replied, “That’s the one I just did.”

Thompson said that Kelly Marcel’s screenplay for her latest film, “Saving Mr. Banks,” which is attracting awards season buzz, was “one of the best scripts I’d been offered in a long time.” Speaking about her character, P. L. Travers, she said she is “so complicated and she’s so inconsistent.” She said both Travers and the character of Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, had “daddy issues” and showed the effect that parents have on their children. She added that “we were all surprised that Disney let us make the film in the first place.”

Thompson kept her audience amused and entertained throughout the event, and was self-deprecating, for example referring to her teeth as being like those of the alien in Ridley Scott’s film, and describing her dress as a “posh sack.”

She said that humor improves everything. Without it, it is like “eating food without salt and pepper,” she said.

However, she added that she had found out at an early stage in her career that she couldn’t do stand-up comedy. “Nothing is so frightening,” she said.

After a clip from “Love Actually” in which her character weeps, Thompson discussed how actors dig into their own psyches and experiences for their performances. “I think most actors are fundamentally inconsolable,” she said.

She compared the role of a thesp to that of a magician as they develop their craft.

“The trick that you are playing on your own psyche becomes easier to play, so you become a master of your own magic tricks,” she said.

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  1. niki says:

    ..nice interview

  2. M Chan says:

    This is not true. In Asia, the relationship between the actor and director has never been as she described “Slavery”
    If you ever read Ang Lee’s biography and read his American producer’s notes, you would find out a true story about shooting “Sense & Sensibility”. During the time Ang Lee shot “Sense and Sensibility”, Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant were big movie stars, but Ang Lee was an unknown director. From the beginning of the shooting, these two “Big Movie Stars” tried to challenge Ang’s directorial authority, they criticized Ang’s English accent and the vision he had to the film. They kept interrupting the shooting and telling Ang how to act and how to shot an “English” film. Ang lee respected their views but insisted on doing his way, and that was why this film became so successful.
    Now Emma Thompson claimed that “in Asia film directors do not allow actors to speak out” to cover up her ignorance towards Ang Lee? Shame on you, Emma Thompson! Very soon, the film studios will find out, because of her, they lose billion and billon dollars ticket sells in Asian Market- just like other films she made these years.
    A gentle reminder to big movie stars, do not be racist if you still want to sell your film tickets in Asia.

    • June says:

      Relax! You really can’t tell a joke or a compliment when there is one, do you?! Emma really like the notes and instructions Ang gave her. I read both Ang’s Biography and Emma’s screenplay and diaries about sense and sensibility, and I think they’re really good friends and really appreciate each other’s talent. What you mentioned is the cultural differences and different methods in the process of producing a movie. I’m Chinese, and I do think director has absolute authority(my view), but I think it’s a cultural thing. There are always will be cultural conflicts and misunderstandings when people come from different cultural backgrounds meet at the first time, but I think they all did a pretty amazing job. I remember Alan Rickman once mentioned the note Ang gave him:”be more subtle, do more.” What Ang meant is to do more the subtle stuff. But do you really expect Alan to understand Ang at the first time? I think only friends can joke about each other, and they’re friends. I remember Ang and Emma still joked about “don’t look so old” ten years later, because they think it’s very funny. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong for actors to speak out about their opinions. Plus, I think emma is very considerate too, because she wrote to Ang and apologized later that night, and he was moved too. See, how important are communication and understanding?! And Ang and Emma are both very amazing people. I love them both!

      • M Chan says:

        Do you get my point?
        The place where the film directors acted as dictator or tyrant must be China, not New York or Taiwan where Ang Lee filmed his “ Pushing Hand” and “Wedding Banquet” before “Sense and Sensibility”. Many friends of mine who were graduate students at the time of filming “Wedding Banquet” in New York, were helping Ang all the ways including contributed different views of filming, but no one looked down or distrusted the director like Emma Thompson did by insisting on using her own vision and methods!
        Now she claimed that Ang Lee was used to the method of “Traditional Dictatorship” of filming, therefore it was hard for him to listen to her opinions. Is this a joke? I am not a Chinese, I am a Taiwanese American born in Europe, educated in Taiwan, Europe and USA. I get used to look at things from three continents/dimensions. Europeans can be mean, and they can make mistakes or say something stupid too. But if they don’t admit it, someone must point it out.
        Ang Lee always uses a humble manner to deal with all evil criticisms. This is something no other movie stars or directors can compete.
        C’est tout !!

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