In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Emma Thompson was best known for serious film projects such as her Oscar-winning turn in Howard’s End and her starring roles in Much Ado About Nothing, The Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility.
She’s proud of those credits, but the 53-year-old British actor is extremely excited about her most recent work.
“In my 30s, I was more drawn to literary-type dramas. But this year I’m doing the most wonderful work of my life because I’m getting to do a little bit of everything,” Thompson told the .
That’s high praise, considering Thompson has starred in such a variety of movies, including the Harry Potter and Nanny McPhee films.
In Beautiful Creatures, Thompson does double duty as the Bible-thumping hater of all supernatural, Mrs. Lincoln, and the wickedly menacing witch Sarafine.
“The character was fun to do because it was this blend of sexy and a church lady,” she says. “That’s what sold me on doing the movie.”
There are points, such as when the witch inhabits the woman’s body, that Thompson plays the role with such unabashed fun she ends up skipping through the scene. She also had fun with the Southern accent, which to her is as much about attitude as it is about how you sound.
Although the film’s based on a series of teen novels by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, Thompson opted not to read the books before the filming started. She wanted to discover the character on her own. For her, there’s always the “wonderful opportunity to find things accidentally.”
One of the scenes in which she gets to have the most fun is a showdown between her character and the one played by Jeremy Irons. Beautiful Creatures is the first time they have worked together.
Thompson praised Irons for being the strong acting partner who helped her get the most out of the scene. Irons returned the compliment, saying that it’s lovely to work with great actors. “It makes acting fun,” he said.
There’s a heavy fantasy element to Beautiful Creatures, but director Richard LaGravenese was determined to use as little computer-generated imagery as possible. That put extra pressure on Thompson.
“When we got to the scene where I had to make this transformation, I did it all with just my face,” she says.
Thompson started her career on stage, but she made the jump to films in 1989 with Richard Curtis romantic comedy The Tall Guy, co-starring Jeff Goldblum. That opened the door for her to be in a movie that’s become a Christmas classic: Love Actually, also written by Curtis.
She describes working on Love Actually — a film that blends multiple love story lines, including hers as a woman whose husband has not acted faithfully — as a wonderful acting job because the movie can go from making you cry in the middle to laughing at the end.
Thompson’s career is heavy on drama. But those who have worked with her agree she has a wonderful sense of humor. Emmy Rossum, who plays another wicked witch in Beautiful Creatures, says: “You can’t get a more fun human than Emma Thompson. She’s intelligent, sensitive, smart, hysterically [wet]-your-pants funny.”