Emma Thompson

She’s still one of the smartest actresses around, but now she’s glamorous too. At 46, Emma Thompson is finally letting go and loving her life.

By Sabine Durrant
She hoots when she remembers turning up for the Academy Awards, at which she won best actress, in a Caroline Charles trouser suit: "The fashionista on the steps said, ‘Gawd love her, she looks dowdy in anything.’" She’ll happily divide the world into Elinors and Mariannes (Jane Austen’s embodiments of sense and sensibility), pitting herself firmly in the former camp, certain other actresses in the other: "Do you think Liz Hurley’s an Elinor or a Marianne? She’s a Marianne, isn’t she?" But she admits that her own brand of anti-self-consciousness is a sort of vanity: "This is probably snobbery and pride, but I couldn’t stand the thought of getting on a set and saying, ‘No, no, no, you can’t show that side,’ because then you’re not an actor anymore, are you?" She pauses, and then in a characteristic Thompson aside — in conversation, she often takes a topic, holds it up to the light and turns it around — she says, "But then think of somebody like Faye Dunaway in Three Days of the Condor — fantastic — and she probably spent the entire time going, ‘You’ve really got to shoot me from there,’ so that idea about who is really an actress is all bollocks too."A Day in the Life of EmmaWe’re meeting on what may be a typical Friday afternoon in the Thompson household. There are papers all over the table: diaries from a trip to Ethiopia for the charity ActionAid International. A few hours earlier, she was cleaning out her closets, receiving "tremendous satisfaction from throwing out all my old vests." Her 6-year-old daughter, Gaia, is at school, and the nanny and her baby (Thompson’s goddaughter) are out shopping. But Thompson’s husband, the rascally handsome actor Greg Wise (seven years her junior), is in and out of the room, shuffling through papers, checking for phone messages, occasionally striking a pose and saying things like, "We’ve got a lovely white pigeon in the garden." ("Ahhh, beoootiful," Thompson replies.)Their relationship "sort of exploded into being" in 1994 on the set of Sense and Sensibility. He seems a bit gloomy today. "That’s what I told him this morning," Thompson says. "I said he’s a grumpy old bugger at the moment, and he went off and got me a bunch of flowers and my favorite perfume and a decongestant because I’ve got a cold." But there’s a tiny note of softening in her voice when she adds, "He’s done more for my confidence as a woman than anything else." It seems no coincidence that since their marriage in 2003, she has started dolling up when going out in public — expensive dresses, blonde hair, that sort of thing. "You know, I was too proud to be seen as a woman who cared about her appearance. I was not going to be doing that because there are too many people doing that, and it’s all a crock. But" — she collapses her shoulders — "I can’t be bothered with that anymore. And then, Kathleen [her makeup artist] said, ‘I’m gonna dress you.’ It was like being a gigantic Barbie. We would shriek with laughter and have a ball." The press went wild for it. Did she enjoy the reaction? "The photographers — those boys in London, of course — I’ve known them for a long time, so they’re in paroxysms: ‘You look fantastic, you do. What have you done?’" She grins in pleasure at the memory but can’t resist deflating it. "‘I’ve shaved my legs,’ I said, ‘and got into a bit of a frock. You can’t see my varicose veins, can you?’"Thompson has always "absolutely adored boys" and still can’t believe she’s married to "the ultimate boy. And I’ll turn round and think, ‘Bloody hell, you’re gorgeous. How?’" In her 20s, Thompson wasn’t encouraged to think of herself as sexy, "or maybe I was embarrassed by it. Certainly my mother [the actress Phyllida Law] is very embarrassed by ‘feminine behavior.’ She told me when I was young about some posh actress she watched getting a cigarette out and waiting for someone to light it and then saying things like, ‘It’s a bit hot in here’ and waiting for somebody to open the window.

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