Emma Thompson — Extraordinary Talent, Extraordinary Mom

by Jennifer Donovan

Emma Thompson came into the room where the mom blogger roundtable was waiting for her to discuss her new movie Nanny McPhee Returns. Before she sat down, she circled the table, shaking each hand and getting each of our names.

She sat down, and we all stared at her. After all, she’s a huge star with multiple Academy award nominations and 2 wins for both acting (in Howards End) and screen adaptation (for Sense and Sensibility). She looked beautiful in a navy button up shirt and a chunky silver chain necklace.

Emma Thompson

“It’s quiet,” she said. “So what should we talk about?”

It was the last time for more than half an hour that it was quiet. She talked, we laughed and nodded in agreement, and we asked her questions — or at least gave her a jumping off point to share her thoughts with us about:

  • Her new movie Nanny McPhee Returns — the scene where the pigs do synchronized swimming is her favorite
  • The joy and terror of being a mother — “I can never not be there. I will always feel this terrible, terrible irreversible and overwhelming love, and I’ll have that feeling until I die.”
  • Acting — “Don’t forget that all actors are quite odd. Why would you wish to be someone else, to incarnate an entire other psyche. It’s a very odd thing to do.”
  • Women’s rights — “Having fought and fought the agony of what wifehood and motherhood once was — having fought our way out of that — we now find ourselves in a different sort of frying pan, where we are expected to be able to tackle everything and do everything, and that’s not possible either.”
  • On being a working mom in Hollywood

    At moments you have to make sacrifices for our children. In our case it would be to sacrifice work that we want to do, a great job. And then you look at the timing of the job and realize it’s when one of your kids is starting school, and you think, ‘I can’t do that’.

    There are sacrifices we have to make for our children, for work that we might not be able to do. Because the one thing you aren’t going to be thinking on your deathbed that you wished you’d made another film. You’re going to be remembering, hopefully, all the lovely times that you said, ‘No I’m not going to do that, I’m going to trot off to Spain and learn Spanish with my daughter.’

    That life is short-lived, because then they leave. You just put that first, and see what else you can manage. And then don’t overeat. Don’t think I can manage more than I can. I’m learning that — I’m a half a century old, and it’s taken me a long time, but I’m learning that I can’t do everything.

  • On balancing work and family

    Writing is a gift. I can write and be entirely available. I can get my daughter to school, be there weekends, pick her up from school, cook dinner, chat, put her to bed. So I can do that job and a mother – I can both of those things, and I love it.

    Acting is different. Not only are the hours different, but you are actually pretending to be someone else, which is psychologically very demanding, and I found that my attitude changed completely when I became a mother, because it was a role I couldn’t slip out of.

  • On overprotective parenting

    Children often feel their limitations too strongly.

    As we become more and more protective, because we are so frightened, because the world is so difficult, we’re always trying to protect our children. There are all sorts of health and safety things in my country that drive you insane. You can’t have a climbing frame for the kids in my child’s primary school, because they might fall off it and die. It’s a completely wrong thing. If you’re not allowed risk as a child, you will not develop independence, you will not make the mistakes that will save your life later on.

    Accidents are like vaccinations. You remember. It’s a muscle memory. That’s what saves your life. Not someone going ‘We can’t have anything in this room that might possibly hurt someone. Let’s just carpet the entire city.’

When the interview wrapped up, sensing a kindred spirit, I had to give her further empowerment of her ideas. I recommended the book Free Range Kids (linked to my review) — the way to “give our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry.” (So if you hear Emma Thompson endorsing Lenore Skenazy’s crusade, you’ll know that I was the matchmaker).


Nanny McPhee Returns opens Friday August 20. Click over to read my review of Nanny McPhee Returns. Check out Emma’s Advice to Aspiring Actors as well.

Disclosure: Universal Pictures invited me to pre-screen the movie, and then arranged the interview with Emma Thompson over tea at a posh hotel in New York City.

Email Author    |    Website About Jennifer Donovan

Jennifer Donovan has been a part of the 5 Minutes for Mom team since 2007. She writes product reviews, covers events, and manages the 5 Minutes for Books weekly column and website. She lives in Houston and blogs at Snapshot about life with her family.

View all articles by

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lisa Sundell August 19, 2010 at 7:44 am

Hooray! GREAT article:) Wonderful woman (both of you)!


2 morninglight mama August 19, 2010 at 8:16 am

What a fabulous opportunity, Jennifer!! You must be getting used to hanging with the stars, huh? :)


3 Jennifer August 19, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I wouldn’t say that I’m “used” to it. However, I am getting more excited by the fact that they are interesting and fascinating and intelligent (as Emma Thompson definitely was) than the fact that they are “stars.”

Do you like her even more that you know she’s a fellow “free range” spirit??


4 morninglight mama August 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Hee hee! Yes, I do love her even more! I just watched “Much Ado About Nothing” last month and was awed by her then. :)


5 shelly August 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

Ok, that is just completely crazy awesome that you got to meet Emma Thompson! So jealous!


6 Jennifer August 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm

She was SO down to earth, but it’s so obvious that she’s so talented and intelligent.


7 Tarasview August 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm

what a great interview!! thanks!


8 Jennifer August 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Thank you. I liked it too :)


9 Janice August 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Fantastic interview Jennifer! I ADORE Emma Thompson! (You get all the great gigs girl!)


10 Jennifer August 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm

You just need to move to NYC. . . .


11 Jennifer August 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Oh–and did you notice my shirt??? It’s the same one that you had on in your KMart upcoming fashion video!! My capris are Kmart too, and they fit great.


12 Jennifer August 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm

It really was a lot of fun!


13 Kelli August 19, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I am so jealous! You girls should write some tips on how to get the goods like this. LOL! I have never been invited to a pre-screening and would LOVE that opportunity!


14 Jennifer August 20, 2010 at 5:15 pm

You know, Kelli, I have been surprised when I’ve been at these screenings. There are maybe 5 – 20 “Press” people, and the rest are just “normal” people. You should ask your local theater if they ever do pre-screenings. They are always free, and I think that they fill the theaters different ways. When I went to Despicable Me I think it was just first come, first served!


15 Kelli August 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

LOL! I live in the Boondocks of Southern Alabama…. our local high school is fed by 7 towns. :-) We don’t have a “local” theater, but the closest one doesn’t do that. :-)


16 se7en August 19, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Now that is so cool – I love Emma Thompson… and my kids would just about die to meet Nanny Mcphee!!! Wonderful!!!


17 Jennifer August 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm

She was just as kind as Nanny McPhee, but much much prettier :)


18 Stephanie August 24, 2010 at 2:39 am

She is lovely – and looks so elegant in that navy suit.


19 Jennifer, Snapshot (&5minutesformom) August 24, 2010 at 7:44 am

She looked SO good (especially after seeing her as Nanny McPhee). It was actually a dressy casual look — that navy button down shirt with dark jeans and heels.


20 bskwfny August 25, 2010 at 2:30 am

I liked it just as much or more than the first one. Like I said, I was struck by the whole production of this one.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: