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.
“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).
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.