Emma Thompson on friendship, accepting change and surviving divorce

Emma Thompson

by Gabrielle Donnelly, Alison James, Claire Tapley and Carole Richardson |

As a forthright national treasure, Emma Thompson shares some of her worldly wisdom ...

On the importance of accepting change

I’ve discovered, if you’re in a long-term relationship of any kind, you’ll have more than one relationship with that person. I married Greg (actor Greg Wise) in 2003 and I’ve learned you’re not going to have the same relationship now as the one you had when you met – people change and it’s important to be honest about that.

When couples say they’ve had two decades of unbroken bliss, they’re lying! Within that time your relationship will die and come back as a new one maybe four or five times. If you’re lucky, it will be with the same person. When things do go peculiar, the world isn’t falling apart; the old relationship is making way for the new one.

Don’t ignore injustice

There’s this belief that you can’t have or hold moral principles – ones you’ve had for decades – if you’re also trotting up red carpets. That’s mad. I don’t have access to acting, that thing I do, without the moral thing. I can’t extricate it (Emma has spoken out about Harvey Weinstein in the past). The energy that comes from one’s perennial fury at what’s done in the world – to women in particular, but all injustice – informs my decisions and my writing and everything I do.

On the guilt of motherhood

emma thompson

Everyone thinks they’re a terrible parent. Mostly I was ignorant and learnt the hard way. While we were ‘good enough’ parents, I wish I’d known more about children’s brain development. It’s also helpful to look at your own parents, consider where you think they got it right and wrong, and try not to repeat their mistakes – but that’s another whole nest of vipers! If a parent can be observant but non-judgemental, so a child feels seen and loved but not defined, that’s great.

Learning to be yourself

At my first Oscars, a fashion reporter said as I passed her on the red carpet: “God love her; she always looks so dowdy in anything.” And I’d made an effort! I wore that as a badge of honour. I’m grateful when stylists help me, but I’d be perfectly happy not bothering.

Self-confidence and loving yourself

We women have been brainwashed to hate our bodies our whole lives. So women, you try standing in front of a mirror, take your clothes off and don’t move. Just accept it and don’t judge it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do (Emma does just this playing widowed Nancy (55) in her latest film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande). I can’t do it. Nancy does something I’ve never done. When I’m looking in the mirror, I’m always trying to make myself look better – turning this way or that, pulling something in.

Keeping your friends close

I’ve had the same three best friends since my teens. They are the rock upon which I put my feet, especially if I’m feeling wobbly. I’ve known my best school friend since I was nine. Now our children are nearly grown up, we’re going to be able to holiday together again!

How to survive divorce

I don’t feel anger or depression about it now (her divorce from actor Kenneth Branagh). We place a lot of pressure on ourselves and our relationships. Yes, it was painful, but it was also something that happens between people a lot. Sometimes things go wrong and it doesn’t last, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Emma stars in the film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, in cinemas from June 17. You can watch the trailer to her latest film here.

Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull

We were so shocked to see the first glimpse of Emma as the iconic Miss Trunchbull in the new and upcoming Matilda film.

The new film is based on the Matilda musical, so will feature all the songs and lyrics, in this screen adaptation.

As you can see from the trailer, Emma has undergone a huge transformation for the role, we almost didn't recognise her!

Matilda will be released across the UK and Ireland exclusively in cinemas on December 2, 2022.

Emma in Cruella

We’re more used to seeing Emma Thompson playing sympathetic characters such as Nanny McPhee or the cheated-on wife in Love Actually rather than an out-and-out baddie. However, we loved seeing her star in the Disney film Cruella in a very different light.

Off-screen, however, Emma Thompson could not be less frightening if she tried. She’s warm, friendly, and immensely approachable.

“I’m not a very formal sort of person,” she agrees, smiling. “When my parents were young actors they would have to wear hats to rehearsal, and you called people Mr Gielgud or Miss Bloom, and it was all very formal. But I’m fine with being called by my first name – anything else feels odd to me, actually.”

In the film, Emma Thompson’s Baroness and Emma Stone’s Cruella are at each other’s throats – something that Emma T says she didn’t always find easy.

Speaking recently, she said: “It was quite hard for me to have any friction with Emma because we’re such good friends and we love each other. I met her long before this project so I knew we were going to have a very good time.”


The daughter of Magic Roundabout creator Eric Thompson and his actress wife Phyllida Law she was brought up with books at the forefront and conventional formalities coming a very distant second.

“I’ve always been a reader,” she nods. “When I was a young girl, I would get so absorbed in books that people used to be able to come up to me and literally shout in my ear and I’d be so far gone inside the book that I wouldn’t even hear them. I still do read a lot – generally speaking. I have a few books on the go at any time. They’re immensely therapeutic.”

Away from the glitz and glamour of the film world Emma says she loves the wilds of Scotland, spending time at her home just outside Dunoon with husband Greg Wise, daughter Gaia and Tindyebwa Agaba, who they adopted from Rwanda when he was in his teens.

When I was a young girl, I would get so absorbed in books that people used to be able to come up to me and literally shout in my ear

“It’s a place where we just relax completely. Gaia loves it and so does Tindy. We make hay, we plant things, we swim in the river and just relax. One of the best times (when we were up there for seven weeks) was when I wore my husband’s old shirts the whole time. I didn’t wash my hair for six weeks, and Greg grew a beard. To tell you the truth, I almost grew one too!”

Emma Thompson and her family

She talks often and fondly of Greg, although she does admit with a sigh that, in terms of emotions, he can be a little ‘buttoned up’.

“Greg is a wonderful man, but living with him is sort of like living with a clam. I try and try to open the shell and, yes, after all these years, I have managed to get it very slightly open, then sometimes it shuts back and I have to start all over again. Don’t get me wrong – I’m fine with it, and very happily married. It’s just the way it is.”

And if you’re starting to feel just a little bit sorry for Greg here, be assured that he can give as good as he gets, as Emma gleefully recalls from the time she was about to travel across the pond to film Saving Mr Banks, the story of author PL Travers, who created Mary Poppins.

“Just before I left for America, Greg said to me, ‘Isn’t it interesting that in the Nanny McPhee films you’ve written a magical nanny, and now you’re playing someone who’s written a magical nanny. I wonder if behind every magical nanny there’s a cantankerous, opinionated old bag?”

“I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go and get on a plane now’,” she laughs.

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