But, you see, Mum’s point of view is compounded by the fact that her dad left her mum when she was 12, and she often said she felt it was because her mother had become tedious in some way. Mum had and still has a very, very sharp eye for the tiresome in a woman. I have followed suit partly in slavish devotion to my mother and also because actually I think feigned helplessness is tiresome." The Pain Lives OnThompson is still "slavishly devoted" to Law, who lives in an apartment across the street. Her own father, the director Eric Thompson, died when she was in her 20s. (Her uncle and her godfather died at about the same time: "Our lives were bleached of men.") She says, "I mean, we’ve had 25 years to get used to him being dead, but there’s always a hole," and her voice fades away. That was a horrible decade for her. If there have ever been tensions in the relationship with her sister, the actress Sophie Thompson, they came out then. And while Emma was feted as a serious actress (Fortunes of War, the sweeping television miniseries, introduced her and Kenneth Branagh to the world), her career as a comedienne came to a halt with her first television series, Thompson. "It was really torn to pieces. Oh yes, it was horrible. When you’ve done something that comes from your center and they hate you — and they did hate me…." Her personal life was also a mess. "Not having a domestic relationship with a man until I was 30 was quite unusual. My sister certainly did, you know, have normal boyfriend relationships; she shacked up with people and got to know them, whereas I only had deeply tortured unsuitable relationships with people who were not right at all. Whether to avoid, or whether to test or whether to punish, one simply doesn’t know."Her first marriage, when she was 30, was to the actor and director Branagh. They separated after his affair with the slightly younger and satisfyingly less successful actress Helena Bonham Carter. "He was profoundly exciting as a young man. I met him when he was 27. He just had this extraordinary charisma. He made things happen, and I’m addicted to experience." The breakup was bitter. Does she ever see him now? "I don’t really, no. A lot of damage was done, so maybe that’s why. But you can never tell with life. Things might turn up later, or we might work together again. I mean, as you get older, you think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I’d really like to see that person again.’ You know, someone who tore your heart out and chopped it up and ate it with bacon." She breaks off and once again hoots with laughter.A New PlaceHer life now, with Greg and Gaia, is a satisfying place to laugh from, though the fact that she and Wise have only one child is a source of sadness to her. Gaia was conceived by in vitro fertilization, but attempts to come up with a sibling for Gaia using the same method were not successful. "IVF is horrible, horrible, and all those drugs and the invasiveness of it. Blah. Having said that, we have this daughter who, you know, is the center of my existence, and there is nothing…I can’t even begin…" She stops, uncharacteristically lost for words.For a while, they considered adoption, but Thompson was already 43 and wouldn’t have been allowed to adopt from the UK. Instead she decided to analyze her motivations. "I thought, ‘What is this desperation, this grief?’ Helen Bamber, who founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and who’s a friend, said, ‘You are feeling this grief because you couldn’t keep your father alive, and you feel like you can’t keep babies alive.’ I started to think about the things I could do usefully to help children and be in that frame of reference, if you like, of being a mother." Thompson’s work in Africa for ActionAid International followed, and a year ago, she met Tindyebwa Agaba, a 17-year-old boy from Rwanda at a Christmas party she held for the Refugee Council, the largest such agency in the UK. This young man now spends most of his time with Thompson’s family. "Funnily enough, through finding something else to do with my mothering instincts, other children have come and there is something to offer them — a life with an extended family, which I think is preferable to an entirely nuclear family. Tindyebwa is doing brilliantly now.