Emma Thompson

Love Actually

Emma Thompson is no stranger to the Oscars.

Fourth-billed over a decade ago in the Merchant Ivory film of E.M. Forster’s “Howards End,” the then-barely-known Thompson trumped co-stars Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave to win the actress Oscar and went on to garner three more acting nods — including two in one year for “The Remains of the Day” and “In the Name of the Father” — before winning again, this time as a screenwriter, for Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” in 1996.

In “Love Actually,” she brings a delicate, even wounded, sensibility to an often raucously funny film, playing the wife of a man (Alan Rickman) whose romantic interests are starting to lie elsewhere.

“She’s the sad one,” Thompson, 44, says of her character, Karen, who, like the thesp, knows her Joni Mitchell. (“I lived through ‘Ladies of the Canyon,’ ” she deadpans.) And as a performer, she notes, “often you get more attention when you’re being sad. That’s a dreadful fact of life, I fear.”

So is the backdrop of the AIDS crisis informing Thompson’s concurrent appearance of the season: as the large-winged angel in Mike Nichols’ HBO feature “Angels in America.”

“Love Actually” writer-director Richard Curtis tells Variety he wanted someone “who could imbue the normal life of a housewife with something extraordinary — who would give Karen warmth and depth in 3-D.”

Thompson, says Curtis, who has known the actress nearly 25 years, “in a short time makes you feel so involved in Karen that it is painfully true when the crunch comes.”

Once touted as a possible Mary Poppins on the West End stage, Thompson is adapting her own nanny saga for the screen and will be seen in 2004 as a new recruit to the world of Harry Potter, playing Professor Trelawney in the third film in the ongoing franchise, this time directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

But with awards season approaching, the Oscar vet isn’t getting too distraught. “I fully expect Russell Crowe to win best supporting actress, anyway; he’s up for most things, so why not that?”

Coming attractions: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”

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