Biography: Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson is one of the world’s most respected talents for her versatility in acting as well as screenwriting.

In 1992, Thompson caused a sensation with her portrayal of Margaret Schlegel in the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End.  Sweeping the Best Actress category wherever it was considered, the performance netted her a BAFTA Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Award, New York Film Critics Award, Golden Globe and Academy Award®.  She earned two Oscar® nominations the following year for her work in The Remains of the Day and In the Name of the Father.  In 1995, Thompson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee, won the Academy Award® for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and Best Screenplay awards from the Writers Guild of America and the Writers Guild of Great Britain, among others.  For her performance in the film she was honored with a Best Actress award from BAFTA and nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award®.     

In 2008, Thompson starred with Dustin Hoffman in director Joel Hopkins charming romance, Last Chance Harvey, and was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress for her performance.  In 2006, Thompson co-starred, to critical acclaim, with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction, directed by Marc Forster, and produced by Thompson’s frequent collaborator, Lindsay Doran.  In 2004, she brought to the screen JK Rowling’s character of Sybil Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for director Alfonso Cuaron, and in 2007, she reprised the role in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for director David Yates.  In 2004, Thompson appeared in her own adaptation of Nanny McPhee, directed by Kirk Jones and then again in 2010 in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, for which she also wrote the screenplay and acted as an Executive Producer.

Thompson is currently writing a new film version of Annie for Columbia Pictures.

Thompson was born in London to Eric Thompson, a theatre director and writer, and Phyllida Law, an actress.  She read English at Cambridge and was invited to join the university’s long-standing Footlights comedy troupe, which elected her Vice President.  (Hugh Laurie was President.)  While still a student, she co-directed Cambridge’s first all-women revue Women’s Hour, made her television debut on BBC-TV’s Friday Night, Saturday Morning as well as her radio debut on BBC Radio’s Injury Time.

Throughout the 1980s Thompson frequently appeared on British TV, including widely acclaimed recurring roles on the Granada TV series Alfresco, BBC’s Election Night Special and The Crystal Cube (the latter written by fellow Cambridge alums Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie), and a hilarious one-off role as upper-class twit Miss Money Sterling on The Young Ones. In 1985, Channel 4 offered Thompson her own TV special Up for Grabs and in 1988 she wrote and starred in her own BBC series called Thompson. She worked as a stand-up comic when the opportunity arose, and earned £60 in cash on her 25th birthday in a stand-up double bill with Ben Elton at the Croydon Warehouse. She says it’s the best money she’s ever earned.

She continued to pursue an active stage career concurrently with her TV and radio work, appearing in A Sense of Nonsense touring England in 1982, the self-penned Short Vehicle at the Edinburgh Festival in 1983, Me and My Girl first at Leicester and then London’s West End in 1985, and Look Back in Anger at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in 1989.

Thompson’s feature film debut came in 1988, starring opposite Jeff Goldblum in the comedy The Tall Guy.  She then played Katherine in Kenneth Branagh’s film-directing debut Henry V and went on to star opposite Branagh in three of his subsequent directorial efforts, Dead Again (1991), Peter’s Friends (1992), and Much Ado About Nothing (1993).

Thompson’s other film credits include Junior (1994), Carrington (1995) and The Winter Guest (1997). She has starred in three projects directed by Mike Nichols: Primary Colors (1998) and the HBO telefilms Wit (2001, in a Golden Globe-nominated performance) and Angels in America (2002, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and EMMY Award nomination).  Also in 2002, she starred in Imagining Argentina for director Christopher Hampton and Love, Actually for director Richard Curtis.  The latter film netted Thompson a number of accolades, including Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 2004 Evening Standard Film Awards, a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2004 BAFTA Awards, Best Supporting Actress at the 2004 London Film Critics Circle Awards and Best British Actress at the 2004 Empire Film Awards.

Thompson is Chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a UK-based human rights organization, formed in April 2005, to help rebuild the lives of, and inspire a new self-esteem in, survivors of gross human rights violations.  On behalf of the Foundation, Thompson co-curated Journey, an interactive art installation which uses seven transport containers to illustrate the brutal and harrowing experiences of women sold into the sex trade.  Thus far Thompson and Journey have traveled to four international cities for exhibitions and interviews (London, Vienna, Madrid and New York) with the Netherlands scheduled for this fall.

Thompson is also an Ambassador for the international development agency, ActionAid, and has spoken out publicly about her support for the work the NGO is doing, in particular, in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that continues to sweep across Africa. She has been affiliated with the organization since 2000 and thus far has visited ActionAid projects in Uganda, Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Thompson is also the 2010 President of the Teaching Awards.  Founded in 1998, these awards are open to every education establishment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland teaching pupils between the ages of 3 and 18, to nominate and celebrate teachers (and schools) who transform lives and help young people realize their potential.

This biography of Emma Thompson is courtesy of Amblin Entertainment and Men in Black 3

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