Emma Thompson Charms BAFTA Crowd With Tales of Oscar Wins, Acting Pet Peeves and Being Angry at John Travolta

 Jamie Simonds/BAFTA

LONDON -- Double Oscar-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson regaled a packed British Academy of Film and Television Arts HQ in the British capital Sunday with Oscar tales, stories about being pissed at John Travolta and her take on why being a woman of a certain age means meaty roles are hard to come by.

Having won three British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards herself, Thompson is no stranger to the corridors of British Academy power. Over the course of an hour and a half, Thompson breezily and humorously discussed her 30-year screen career onstage Sunday.

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Stopping to chastise the enthusiastic audience in the front row at the midway point for not letting her know her bra strap was visible in her chic black dress, Thompson said she was doing her hardest to entertain in spite of the fashion social faux pas.

Thompson, who won her first Oscar just after a Golden Globe in 1993 for her turn in Howards End, described that win as a "totally surreal" experience. She said that back in the early 1990s, the Academy Awards were a "very faraway thing" and that the Oscar statue was an icon "that belonged to Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn," not her.

Thompson said she took her mom with her to the ceremony and had gotten dressed up in "posh frocks" at around 11 a.m., ahead of the ceremony. She said she remembered her mother's dress had a particularly long train, which caused her to choke "like a bulldog" when someone trod on it. But Thompson said all was not lost because nearly everyone that stood on the gown's train was famous, "which meant we stopped and chatted to a lot of very talented people" on the red carpet.

It was when she went backstage after her winner's speech at the ceremony -- her mother had turned to her just before the winner's envelope was opened to tell her she had a snowball's chance in hell of winning -- that the magnitude and importance of the Oscar statue hit home.

"I handed [the Oscar] to a security guard while I hiked up my tights -- there were no Spanx in those days -- and he looked at me like no one has ever looked at me. It was like I'd handed him the Ark of the Covenant or something," she said, laughing.

Thompson wrapped the trophy in some socks and put it in her carry-on luggage to take through LAX. Everyone in security wanted to hold "what must have looked like a nuclear warhead" on the scanners.

"Even the captain on the flight home came down to see me and asked me if he could see it and hold it," she said. "I said I would prefer it if he went back to the cockpit and keep his eyes on the road."

But her answer to the question of whether the Oscar win had been life-changing was succinct. "No," came the response.

Thompson noted that the Oscar legend goes that actors don't work for a year after winning one, but she recalled that curse did not hold true for her.

Her next screen role was in James Ivory's The Remains of the Day, a movie that reunited her with Anthony Hopkins onscreen. Thompson's mother sent Hopkins a note asking that he not "eat her," considering that he had just starred as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs prior to shooting Howards End.

In one of the interview's most revealing segments, Thompson grew visibly moved talking about her grandmother, who had spent her entire life in servitude from age 14 and had been raped and birthed a child by one of her masters. But asked if this knowledge had informed her portrayal of Miss Kenton opposite Hopkins' socially and sexually repressed character in Remains, Thompson said she simply tried to play the scene in front of her and bring the character and words to the screen.

In 1996, Thompson won her second Oscar, this time for writing, picking up the best adapted screenplay statuette for Sense and Sensibility, the Ang Lee-directed movie in which she also starred. She won her second Golden Globe for the same work and picked up her third BAFTA for best actress for her turn in her own script.

When asked to adapt Sense and Sensibility, Thompson turned to her friend and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to ask her what to do "because she didn't know where to start."

"She told me, adapt the whole book and then go from there," Thompson said, adding that her first script came in at around 500 pages before smiling to the audience and saying: "They're meant to be 90, you know."

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