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Andrew Marr interview with Emma Thompson

28 March 10 09:32 GMT

On Sunday 28 March Andrew Marr interviewed actor and writer Emma Thompson.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

EMMA THOMPSON: The thing that influenced me most in relation to 'Nanny McPhee' were the Westerns I watched with my father.


EMMA THOMPSON: All the Spaghetti Westerns; all the Virginians; all the High Chaparrals. Because if you think about the form, it's stranger from out of town …

ANDREW MARR: (over) Stranger comes into town - yeah, I see.

EMMA THOMPSON: … comes in. Sorts conflict out using unusual methods.

ANDREW MARR: That's right.

EMMA THOMPSON: And then must leave or die.


EMMA THOMPSON: And that's, that's the format, in fact. So to me, it's a Western.

ANDREW MARR: Sergio Leone is the last of the influences I spotted, I have to say.

EMMA THOMPSON: (over) You see! It's the last … You're all thinking oh Edwardian …

ANDREW MARR: Yeah, yeah … yeah.

EMMA THOMPSON: … Raffles, Mary Poppins, and I'm going sorry, Clint Eastwood more like.


ANDREW MARR: There are dark parts of it beyond the sort of leave or die thing at the end: the missing father; earlier on, the dead mother. Children do need a bit of darkness in a story, don't they?

EMMA THOMPSON: Oh absolutely. You can't write a story for everyone. I mean I have to make it clear that I don't write for children. I write … I have to write for everyone. What really fascinates me is how you make films or make stories that can genuinely be shared by different groups. I can't stand being divided, constantly divided into groups - you're 17, so you're going to get this; you're 35, so you're going to get this; you're 50, you're going to get this - and that's all you're going to get because that's how consumerism works. So films are so often so clearly and frankly cynically directed at a particular group; and my aim, my goal is to make things that, that … Because can you remember sitting in the cinema and looking round and you can see that your parents, their faces are towards the screen, and they're watching it and they're enjoying it as much as you are? And that bond to the side, as well as with the screen, is what I'm aiming for.

ANDREW MARR: Is really important, yeah.

EMMA THOMPSON: That's what I want.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah. 'Remains of the Day' still one of the great, great roles; and you're in service, and of course Nanny McPhee in a sort of way is in service. And you had a granny who was in service, I think, and I'm just wondering if there's a connection there as well? Is that something that was in the back of your mind?

EMMA THOMPSON: No it wasn't, but it's interesting that you point it out because I think that that all comes through. Whatever you decide to write, there's always a reason. If you're allowing your … if you're actually allowing your creative part to control your writing rather than a more commercial instinct or motive, then you'll find that all sorts of interesting things will bubble up to the surface. And I was … I mean 'Remains of the Day', which is one of my favourite experiences and films actually because I think Anthony Hopkins is … it's his greatest performance …

ANDREW MARR: (over/not fully audible) Absolutely astounding performance.

EMMA THOMPSON: … and it's a masterpiece of withheld emotion.

ANDREW MARR: I think you did alright yourself in that, I have to say.

EMMA THOMPSON: Well yes, absolutely. I mean it was a great … It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.


EMMA THOMPSON: My Gran, whose story is fascinating because she went into service when she was 12, and was used in this sort of strange experimentation, as it were, in early surrogate motherhood because she was in fact raped by her employer.


EMMA THOMPSON: During the First World War when the wife would go and stay … She was afraid of the zeppelins and she would go and stay away, and the husband would make his way up into my grandmother's attic room and have his evil way with her. She became pregnant and her family … father was a clergyman and said, "It's fine. You know you can come back to the house. You can have the baby" - my Uncle Fred who later went into the RAF. But then they found out that this couple who were childless had done it with three other tweenies who had all kept their babies, but that you could see that the …

ANDREW MARR: (over) Astonishing story.

EMMA THOMPSON: … what it was was her being used as … Because they said, "Please, we'll keep the baby. We'll keep the baby." So they were trying to have a child using a surrogate mother, but obviously in a very unsavoury way, damaging way. So you know that's just two … I'm just two generations away from that kind of gothic behaviour.

ANDREW MARR: (over) I think a lot … Yes, that's an extraordinary story. Staying with the family, obviously one connection people have made again and again and again is between yourself telling stories, which will appeal to children even if they're not written just for children, and your father …


ANDREW MARR: … and The Magic Roundabout (Magic Roundabout Music) because I mean I'm of the generation brought up with your father's voice all the time …

EMMA THOMPSON: (over) Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: … I mean, you know. And I have to say a slight darkness because you knew the news was about to come on (Thompson laughs) and we were then sent to bed. So kind of Zebedee had a slightly funny …

EMMA THOMPSON: Time for bed. Dong! (laughs)

ANDREW MARR: And off you go - yeah, yeah.


EMMA THOMPSON: Well you know Dad's influence is key in Nanny McPhee because when he was writing 'Magic Roundabout', he again did not write for children and he'd use phrases like "hoist with your own petard" - at which point he would get irate letters from mothers or fathers in places saying: 'how can you use these long phrases when it's a thing for children?' And Dad would get out the OED and write a letter back with all the longest words he could find. And also had a letter from a little boy who said: 'My mum hit me because I called my sister a mollusc.' And Dad had to write back and say: 'Mollusc is not a bad word. This is what it means.'

ANDREW MARR: You're doing more and more writing at the moment, aren't you, clearly? And you've been working on 'My Fair Lady', a new version of 'My Fair Lady'. So you've been sitting there alongside George Bernard Shaw.

EMMA THOMPSON: One of the great humanists of all time, I think he was.


EMMA THOMPSON: So Bernard Shaw, who's so fascinating.


EMMA THOMPSON: I've trawled right the way through Michael Holroyd's extraordinary biography. And also all his letters, particularly to Ellen Terry.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, the actress - yes, yeah.

EMMA THOMPSON: Yes. Who … And the first letter I read, she said: 'You know I am but a 50 year old ageing actress with you know little in front of me. Lovingly, ET.' And I thought that's me! (Marr laughs) That's so strange. You know, so I got a bit of a shiver and thought George is trying to reach me! But he's fascinating! So I thought if I could take some of his emotional peculiarities - he's a very odd man emotionally - and introduce them to Higgins, which is clearly a part of his personality …


EMMA THOMPSON: … then I'll get something a bit more … Well what Sony wants is something more complicated emotionally, I think; more realistic emotionally. Because the film, lovely though it is in many ways, is quite clunky, is quite theatrical

ANDREW MARR: It's very Rex Harrison. It's very that era, isn't it, yeah?

EMMA THOMPSON: It's very that era. And those songs are so wonderful. That soundtrack needs to be heard again in a different context.

ANDREW MARR: You keep the same songs, keep the soundtrack?


ANDREW MARR: And can I ask if you've got an Eliza and a Higgins yet, or is it …?

EMMA THOMPSON: No. Well we have … I think Carey Mulligan's going to play our Eliza.

ANDREW MARR: Oh fantastic!

EMMA THOMPSON: But as yet, we don't know about Higgins.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah, yeah.

EMMA THOMPSON: He's very difficult to cast.

ANDREW MARR: Yuh, very difficult to cast. Your politics have gone much more … I mean you're interested in Greenpeace and the environment and the extinction of animals and all those sorts of things which do interest younger voters - or some of them at any rate - but never seem to be reflected in the party politics, do they much? I mean on the edge.

EMMA THOMPSON: (over) No. Party politics seem to me to be … continue to be parochial in the extreme, not in a good way. During an election, it's like they're doing my job: they're going around banging the drum for their party and selling their movie. You know, it's the same thing.


EMMA THOMPSON: So they have to stay on message. Sometimes you'll get publicity saying, "You must keep talking about the film." Which I can never manage. If there's an interesting thing to talk about, let's talk about that. And it seems to me that our political system at the moment - as soon as someone walks into it, they're swallowed by this vacuum where no-one can say what they really feel, no-one can say anything controversial, everyone has to stay on message. And no-one's talking to each other. I'm not hearing people say, "Well it's interesting you should say that. That's a different way of looking at it." "The reason I think this …" "Is there any middle ground?" There's no conflict resolution at all!

ANDREW MARR: (over) Or even, "I've changed my mind", yeah.

EMMA THOMPSON: Or even, "I've changed my mind."

ANDREW MARR: (simultaneously) "Changed my mind."

EMMA THOMPSON: Oh my god …


EMMA THOMPSON: … if only someone would just say, "I feel differently about that now because I've seen that in progress and it doesn't bloody work."

ANDREW MARR: (agreeing) Mmn, mmn. Alright, Emma Thompson, thank you very much indeed.


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