November 20, 2008

Emma Thompson is so Smart

There are days when I feel really lucky to do what I do. Most days I toil at my home office trying to come up with interesting things to blog about and of course trying to figure out how to make a living...but there are some days that make it all worth it. Tuesday was one of those days. That is the day when I met Emma Thompson. See the cool picture of us together (She is way tall.)

The occasion was the press conference for the release of her upcoming film Last Chance Harvey which will open in NY and LA on December 25 and the rest of the country throughout January. I loved this film, (I will have a review when it comes out) but suffice it to say that it's thoroughly refreshing to see a well written, well acting, interesting story of two people who just connect on a very adult level. PUT THIS FILM ON YOUR MUST SEE LIST.

Here are some of the interesting things said at the press conference which was also attended by Liane Balaban, Dustin Hoffman and writer/director Joel Hopkins.

Joel Hopkins making only his second film (the first is Jump Tomorrow which I have not seen but now want to) hit the jackpot when he got Emma Thompson interested in his treatment. He took the character of Kate Lemon from Emma's first film The Tall Guy and imagined her as an older person. He wrote the treatment before he saw Emma and Dustin together in Stranger Than Fiction. Joel said he "wanted to see more" (of them). I totally agree with that.

I don't get to meet a lot of actors and when I do they usually are trained to stick to the script of saying the same two sentences about their film. That's why Emma was so interesting and refreshing. She just talked and her intelligence just shown through. (The others on the panel were great too, but for me, it was all about Emma.) How many times in your life do you get to see someone who you really admire and they actually live up to your expectations?

The press conference started off on a funny note when they were all introducing themselves and Dustin Hoffman introduced himself as Barack Obama and Emma Thompson introduced herself as Hillary Clinton. It's even funnier if you remember that she did play Hillary in Primary Colors. It was just a total love fest with the actors that seemed genuine.

Here are some of the highlights:

Emma Thompson: I don't think either of us could have played these roles 20 years ago because it has to do with where we are in our lives now. It's one of those strange moments. It happened at the right moment and it's rare in our profession. I'm grateful for it.
When asked about why this movie is important now:
ET: Most of the movies I end up going to see, and I don't get to see a lot because I am a mum, involve a lot of fast moving around and noise often very well done. I rarely go see something that has huge emotional movement where your heart as a muscle moves inside you as you watch. That for me is essential. The first film I saw that made my heart lurch was Les Enfants du Paradis. -- Children of Paradise (which they discovered also happens to be Dustin Hoffman's favorite film). It has nothing to do with your age some people who are 27 are as rigid as they come and you can't shift them, they have latched onto something and won't let go. God love them it's not like we are providing a lot of entertainment that encourages them to explore.
When commenting on how youth centric culture is:
What are we trying to do to our young people by saying (youth) is the best bit because we are selling them down the river lock, stock and barrel...We need to talk about it, the joy of getting older. It is a dangerous thing to do, and as storytellers we must make sure we don't make it all youth centric because then they will believe that youth is the be all and end all and we are already a ways towards that already those of us in the so-called developed world.

I asked a question about why we don't see more realistic women onscreen:
Liane: I was just talking with my friend who is a screenwriter and she just wrote an indie script that she's having trouble getting off the ground because the lead role is a woman and there is not a lead role for a guy. Apparently there are only 4 actresses in the world who can greenlight an indie film with a heroine. I don't know why it is. It's just awful- awful for us as actresses.
Great honesty from a 28 year old.
Emma: When I was Liane's age I started a woman's group of actresses and my question that I started the group with was what constitutes the female hero?
What is heroism for women? After many years of discussion and examination we came up with it's an old idea extrapolated from the end of Middlemarch by George Eliot where she talks about how she was always trying to create female heroes and it was frustrating for her because she found that the heroines had to do with the smaller tributaries in life. It had to do with the details, every little action of every day.
It's something that bears a lot of thinking and examination. It's something that exercises my mind greatly, but clearly since I was Liane's age 21 years ago not a lot has changed. Maybe in the next generation it will change and our whole notion of heroism may change. We may go back to the ancient Greeks where the heroes and villains were interchangeable in the same way that the Gods and humans were interchangeable. It was far more interesting storymaking time back then. We've gotten terribly simplistic about heroism and what it is now. I would challenge our young writers and young women to ask that question - what is it and how can we reinvent it? I recommend something like Happy-Go-Lucky with Sally Hawkins who plays a character so irritating that you want to pluck your eyes out in the first reel, but as it goes on you realize that it becomes a kind of portrait of goodness. She is a hero and someone you never forget. It's a very clever movie.
She came back to the point again later:
Stories of women have not been told until recently...The definition of what it is to be a woman is very young. That is something we mustn't forget. You have to keep telling the stories...We'll get there. It's a process of discovery and we're all on that journey together, men as well. Why should men always be typical heroes?
How many actors (I know she's an Oscar winning screenwriter too) have you seen talking about the need to redefine how we write stories? It takes a lot of guts to talk that way. She also totally inspired me to take another crack at Middlemarch. If Emma Thompson can be optimistic about the future, I can be too.