Emma Thompson and the challenge of being nude on screen at 63

Special for Infobae of New York Times.

The first thing that catches the attention of Emma Thompson is her white hair, a much more elegant tone than the one that a 63-year-old person would dare to choose, but that does not ignore her age either. Plus, she then notices that wide smile and sly look, which suggest both a wry wit and a willingness to joke around.

Thompson, however, begins our video call by impromptu but effectively covering his computer monitor with a piece of paper and duct tape so as not to see himself on the screen. “The one thing I can’t stand about Zoom is having to see my face,” he said. “I’m going to cover up my image.”

We’re here, across two computer screens, to talk about perhaps his most revealing role to date. In the new movie “Good Luck Big Leo,” directed by Sophie Hyde, Thompson strips down emotionally and physically, and not in a sexy, low-light way.

Thompson plays Nancy, a recently widowed former religious school teacher who has never had an orgasm. Both a devoted wife and a responsible mother who harbors deep regret for what she didn’t live and the bland, dependent children she raised, Nancy hires a sex worker—a much younger man played by the relatively newcomer. Daryl McCormack (“Peaky Blinders”)—to give her the pleasure she craves. Audiences come to understand this relatable woman (she could have been your teacher, your mother, or even you) who, in Thompson’s words, “has crossed every line she’s ever had in her life,” while faces this monumental act of rebellion.

“Yes, he made the most extraordinary decision, to do something very unusual, brave and revolutionary,” Thompson said from his north London office. “Then he makes at least two or three decisions not to go through with it, but he’s lucky because he’s chosen someone who turns out to be quite wise and instinctive, with an unusual level of understanding of the human condition, and who understands it, understands what’s going on. , and is able to subtly suggest that there might be a reason behind it all.”

Thompson met the challenge with what she calls “healthy terror.” She knew this character on a cellular level: he was the same age, the same background, the same drive to do the right thing. “Just a little piece of paper and chance separates me from her,” she joked.

However, the role required her to reveal a level of emotional and physical vulnerability that she was not used to. (To prepare for this intimate, sexually positive film, which takes place almost entirely in a hotel room, Thompson, McCormack and Hyde said they spent one of their rehearsal days working in the nude.) Despite having a four-decade career that has been praised for both its quality and its irreverence and has earned him two Academy Awards, one for acting (“Howards End: The end of the game”) and another for authorship (“Sanity and Feelings”), Thompson has only appeared nude on camera once: in the 1990 comedy “A Tall Guy,” opposite Jeff Goldblum.

For “Big Leo,” the decision to strip was his, and though he did it with trepidation, Thompson said he believes “if he didn’t, the movie wouldn’t have been the same.” Still, the moment when she had to stand completely naked in front of a mirror with a serene and accepting look, as the scene called for, was the hardest thing she’s ever done.

“To be honest, I will never be happy with my body. It will never be like this,” she said. “I was brainwashed too soon. I can’t undo those neural pathways.”

However, you can talk about sex. Both its absurd appearance and the complexities of female pleasure. “I can’t just have an orgasm like that. I need time. I need love. You can’t just run to the clitoris and smack it and hope that’s enough to get the job done. That’s not going to work, guys. They think: ‘if I touch this little button, the woman is going to explode like a fireworks explosion and it will be wonderful’”.

There is a moment in the film where Nancy and Leo dance in their hotel room to the tune of Alabama Shakes’ “Always Alright.” The two are seeing each other for the second time, an encounter that is accompanied by a list of sexual acts that Nancy wants to immerse herself in (pun intended). The dance is supposed to relieve all her stress as an organized teacher that she threatens to spoil the session. Leo wraps her arms around her neck and sways with his eyes closed as a look of both gratitude and longing crosses Nancy’s face, along with a hint of concern.

For screenwriter Katy Brand, who co-starred with Thompson in “The Magic Lullaby Returns,” Nanny McPhee’s second film, and who envisioned Thompson as Nancy while writing the first draft, that look is the point of all the movie.

“It’s everything,” Brand said. “She feels that her youth is lost and she realizes the kind of organic and natural sexual development that she might have had, had she not met her husband. There is also a tingling sensation of not only what she could have been, but what she could be from now on.”

Brand is not the first young woman to write a script specifically for Thompson. Mindy Kaling also did it in “They rule”, attesting to the love she has felt for Thompson since she was 11 years old. Writer Jemima Khan told Thompson that she had always wanted the actress to be her mother, so she wrote her a role in the upcoming film “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

“I think what Emma gives to everyone and what she provokes you in person, and also through the screen, is that she always, in some way, makes you feel that she is on your side,” Brand commented. “And I think people actually respond to that. She will meet you on a very human level.”

In her review of “Leo Grande” for The New York Times, Lisa Kennedy called Thompson “highly agile with the script’s quips and revelations,” while Harper’s Bazaar called Thompson “a timeless treasure whose Oscar nomination is already in the offing.” earring”.

The obvious trajectory for a film like this should be a tour of the awards circuit that would likely earn Thompson his fifth Oscar nomination, but the film, which opens Friday on streaming service Hulu, will not be shown. in theaters in the United States.

Thompson doesn’t care. “It’s a small movie with no guns, so I don’t know how many people in America would actually want to come see it,” she concluded with a wink.

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Emma Thompson and the challenge of being nude on screen at 63