Even with multiple Academy Awards under her belt, when Emma Thompson entered the room to talk about her new film, Nanny McPhee, she made sure to come up to each of us, shaking our hands and introducing herself.
She sat down and asked, "Well, what should we talk about?"
With the tendency to fly a little off topic -- "Oh, dear, I've gone off again, haven't I?" -- for the next 45 minutes, the endearing actress chatted to us about everything from overprotective parenting to flying pigs.
On balancing being a working mother:
It works two ways I suppose. At moments you have to make sacrifices for the children, and in our case, it'd be a sacrifice of work. You think, "Oh, I'd love to do that job, I'd get such pleasure out of it," but then you look at the timing of the job, and if it falls on when your child has to start school, you think, "I can't do that."
Because the one thing you're not going to be thinking on your deathbed is "Gee, I wish I made more films, or I spent more time at the office, or wrote more articles." You're going to be remembering all the lovely times you said, "No, I'm not going to do that I'm going to trot off to Spain and learn Spanish with my daughter!" The things you do with your kids are the things you remember. You put that first and then you see what else you can manage. Just don't think "I can manage more than I can," which is my big problem. I think I can be a wife, and a mom, and do my paid work. But I can't. I'm learning, but I'm half a century old, it's taken me a long time to learn this lesson that I can't do it.
Which is more demanding: writing or acting?
Well, writing is a gift because I can write and be entirely available. I can take my daughter to school, be there on the weekends, cook dinner, chat, so I can do both of those things. And I love it, it's great.
Acting is different. Not only are the hours different because sometimes you leave before your kids get up and get home after they've gone to bed, but also, you're actually pretending to be someone else. Which is psychologically very demanding.
I noticed that my attitude in relation to acting changed completely when I became a mother because a new identity was born, one that I couldn't slip out of. Now don't forget that all actors are quite odd, why would we wish to be someone else? Why would you literally want to incarnate an entirely different psyche? It's a very odd thing to do, I now realize. But when I had my daughter, I suddenly thought, "Oh I can't escape from this one." And it's not that I wanted to, though possibly from time to time I did, which moms are never allowed to admit to. I remember thinking, "What have I done? I can never not be this. I will always feel this terrible, terrible, irreversible and overwhelming love for this person." That's a huge thing, it's an extraordinary step.
On overprotective parenting:
I think it's important that children know their own capacities. As we become more protective because we're so frightened that the world is so difficult. The sorts of health and safety things in my country would drive you insane! It's so stupid! If you're not allowed risks as a child, you won't develop independence and you will not make the mistakes that will save your life later on. Let's just carpet the entire city!
What was your favorite scene from the film?
The pigs' synchronized swimming! I know we've been talking about very serious things but the pigs doing synchronized swimming is definitely my favorite scene. When their little trotters come up, and then they cross their legs, I just love that!
I wrote, "The piglets perform a short but stylish synchronized swimming routine," and thought, "Ha ha! You try that one!" and I had no idea that they [the CGI designers] would do so well. I never know what to say when children ask me how we got the pigs to swim, because I don't want to admit to the fact they are actually drawn.
What's next on your agenda?
I'm writing the new Nanny so that's my next absolute job. The new My Fair Lady will be made at some point, but I've written that and am very pleased with it. And, gosh, George Bernard Shaw was interesting but boy was he dysfunctional.
This film is marketed to kids, but can be equally enjoyed by adults. Why was it important for you to have that broad audience range?
My dad wrote for children but he would say, "I don't see why we should be writing for children as if they're from another planet, they're just small people who haven't lived as long as we have," so he wrote an animated series about a French puppeteer -- Dad hated the French, he was a Frankaphobe, a lot of English people are. But I'm not! Just want to make that clear. I don't want to be responsible for the next war! His series became so popular with older people that when they tried to change the time, BBC got so many complaints from businessmen that they had to switch it back to being after the news. So it was that sort of thing that influenced me as a child, somehow inspired me to write things like that that are those exquisite and rather rare things that children get an even more of a kick out of it because their parents are getting a kick out of it.
I think we're not given enough in film that we can all go see and actually really love. Pixar has changed that a lot with things like Toy Story. But that's animation and that's different. I'm sorry, but it is. Animation for me is a whole other thing. It can be brilliant and great, but live action movies that try to do that are rare. That's why I love doing them.
Nanny McPhee opens in theaters Friday, August 20. Stay tuned for our review tomorrow.
Image via Big Honcho Media