> Chapter1-Take1: September 2018

Watching the Great American Read: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes #SaturdayMatinee #book2movie

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

Miguel de Cervantes, whose acclaimed novel Don Quixote gave us the word quixotic, was born on September 29th, 1547.  The novel has been translated into over 60 languages and according to some published more times than any other piece of literature outside of the bible. The book, on the top 100 list of PBS' Great American Read has been adapted for stage and screen multiple times, and so today, Don Quixote is our Saturday Matinee. There are a couple of recent versions, one starring John Lithgow, Bob Hoskins and Isabella Rossellini from 2000 which sadly doesn't seem to be available online. Lithgow got a SAG acting nom for his always fine work on this one.


exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.
"a vast and perhaps quixotic project"

A more recent version from 2015 featuring Horatio Sanz as Sancho Panza with Luis Guzman, James Franco and Carmen Argenziano is online and available to stream on Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and GooglePlay. Take a look at both trailers below and see if you agree the SNL alum doesn't look half bad! 

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald ... Racist casting?

Claudia Kim as Nagini in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Harry Potter created more than a bit of buzz this week when Warner Bros released the final trainer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. In the trailer, Nagini is introduced as a woman years before she becomes Voldemort’s snake and Horcrux. In the movie, Nagini is a Maledictus, a human cursed to change into a beast. The buzz—the negative buzz—came largely from the fact that the role is being played by South Korean actress Claudia Kim. 

The backlash noted that Fantastic Beasts has only two people of color in the main cast—Zoe Kravitz who plays Leta Lestrange being the other one—and to have one of them play a snake who ultimately is subservient to Voldemort felt wrong. Others said it perpetuated a dragon lady stereotype. 

A fan wrote on twitter—our new public square—listen Joanne, we get it, you didn't include enough representation when you wrote the books. But suddenly making Nagini into a Korean woman is garbage. Representation as an afterthought for more woke points is not good representation which elicited a response from J.K. Rowling defending the casting. Rowling explained that Nagini’s Asian heritage was built into the character from the very beginning.

“The Naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini,’” Rowling said. “They are sometimes depicted as winged, sometimes as half-human, half-snake. Indonesia comprises a few hundred ethnic groups, including Javanese, Chinese and Betawi. Have a lovely day.”

That, of course, won’t be the end of it, with people who never had any intention of seeing the film anyway weighing in. I’m one of those people. I’m just not a mega fantasy fan and as I’ve pointed out here earlier, all the CGI and special effects leave me cold. I’ll weigh in, in any case that while I understand the concern, I appreciate the fact writers are beginning to try to broaden their perspective and make efforts to be more inclusive in creating their characters and that film directors are making attempts to be more inclusive in their casting. It’s a start but clearly we have a long way to go. 

Watch the trailer and let me know what you think. Oh! And have a lovely day! 

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” 
opens nationwide on November 16.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald final trailer

Eddie Redmayne and Jude Law star in The Crimes of Grindelwald

I think you know that in general, I’m not a huge fan of films loaded with CGI and special effects. Still, there’s something even I find compelling about this final trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Could be the music or could just be the idea of escaping to “a safe house in Paris’’ if only for a cup of tea! What with the state of things and all.

Fantastic Beasts starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Johnny Depp, Zoe Kravitz and Dan Fogler opens November 16th.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Birthday: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & The Last Tycoon

Today, September 24th is the day, back in 1896, that the great F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. How ironic that Fitzgerald never knew success as a screenwriter but to this day his short stories and novels continue to be adapted for the screen? Tender is the Night, The Last Time I Saw Paris (based on Babylon Revisited), The Last Tycoon and of course, The Great Gatsby. While The Last Loves of The Last Tycoon (the full title) is got new life as a television series with Matt Bomer as Irving Thalberg. It was in Thalberg’s Santa Monica beach house that Gatsby began his unfinished novel.

Today in honor of the Great American Novelist’s birthday we’re screening The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The movie starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Taraji P. Henson was nominated for 12 Academy Awards including a Best Actor nom for Pitt and a Best Supporting Actress for Henson. 

Directed by David Fincher, adapted by Eric Roth from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella, the film took home the Oscars in the technical areas where it really did shine: Visual Effects, Makeup, and Art Direction. There was—it may not be there anymore—a documentary on the making of Benjamin Button—The Birth of Benjamin Button— on Netflix that I really recommend you check out. It’s magnificent.

Anyway, enjoy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which you can stream on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and maybe Netflix. You’ll have to check that out for yourself.

While Fitzgerald was born in the midwest (St Paul, Minnesota) he died here in Hollywood at 1443 Hayworth Avenue. He had suffered a heart attack—at Schwab’s drug store of all places—and moved into his mistress Sheila Graham’s apartment to save himself the stress of climbing the stairs at his own apartment just a block away. His wife Zelda was in a mental institution at the time. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald and gossip columnist Sheila Graham

It made no difference and on December 21st, 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald had another heart attack. He died leaving The Loves of the Last Tycoon unfinished. You can catch Matt Bomer in the dazzling looking series on Amazon. Much to its fans dismay, Amazon canceled plans for a second season.


Where'd You Go Cate Blanchett? Are you hiding out in The House with a Clock in its Walls?

Cate Blanchett stars with Jack Black in The House with a Clock in its Walls

Still, no trailer for Where’d You Go, Bernadette starring Cate Blanchett as the elusive Bernadette but we still have this rather clever trailer for the book from Orion Publishing. It’s not new but it’s all we have until the Richard Linklater directed adaptation of Maria Semple’s bestselling book comes out next spring. 

The film was originally set to open on Mother’s Day weekend in 2019, then it was moved up to October 19th—which is just around the corner. In June, when Linklater finally found Bernadette's daughter Bee,(Emma Nelson) the movie was been pushed forward to March 22. 

Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, and Owen Vaccaro in The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

If you’re a Cate Blanchett fan, jonesing for a look-see you can always check the acclaimed actor out in The House with a Clock in its Walls but you’ll have to contend with Jack Black so that’s your lookout. Based on the book by John Bellairs, illustrated by Edward Gorey, the reviews are mixed. 

Illustrations by Edward Gorey

Not being a fan of fantasy in general, as much as I admire Blanchett, I have zero desire to get into a theater to see this. But you do you!

Emma Thompson plays a judge in The Children Hour

Emma Thompson stars in The Children Act

I’m quite done in this week from watching the dramatic turn of events surrounding Bret Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. As I write this the president is questioning Professor Ford’s veracity, tweeting out that he has ‘‘no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn  date, time, and place!’’

My anger, my daily disgust with the procedures knows no bounds. 

I stand with Professor Ford, firmly believing this whole ‘boys will be boys’ attitude is one that must not be reflected in the makeup of our Supreme Court. While my fervent hope is that most women and men share my viewpoint I seriously doubt anything will sidetrack the party in power from pushing this nomination through and therefore having not one, but two Supreme Court Justices with a serious stain against their name. So fed up, tired, hopeless with this whole affair.

As a country, we really seem to have learned nothing from the Anita Hill hearings.

I’m really having trouble shaking this feeling off. I imagine many of you are feeling exactly the same. 

Let’s watch some Emma Thompson videos. Thompson—who always cheers me up with her wit and wisdom and whom I would happily nominate to take Kavanaugh’s place—stars as a family court judge in The Children Act based on the book by Ian McEwan. She and Fionn Whitehead talk about the film below in the second clip. In the final clip there’s a few minutes of Emma Thompson’s appearance on the Stephen Colbert show. First up, the trailer.

The Children Act starring the inimitable Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Fionn Whitehead is in theaters now. 

Connecting with British Isles Friday 

Julianne Moore channels opera star Renée Fleming in Bel Canto: #book2movie #basedonabook

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I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto several years ago; it took my breath away, capturing my imagination as thoroughly as the terrorists capture the hostages when they storm the house in the midst of the South American jungle in Patchett’s novel. I haven’t re-read the novel, and perhaps I’ve romanticized it but I recall the book with lofty words like soaring and incandescent. A magical mix where music and love transform the reality of the captors and their captives. 

Julianne Moore, Christopher Lambert, Sebastian Koch, Olek Krupa, Ken Watanabe, and Tenoch Huerta in Bel Canto (2018)

Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe star in Bel Canto

In the film version, Julianne Moore plays Roxanne, the opera star at the center of the drama. Real life opera singer Renée Fleming provides the voice. Below is an interview from Town & Country between the two stars. Before you go there have a listen to this clip showing Moore lipsynching to Fleming’s voice. Is it just me or as luminous as Fleming sounds, is it odd to hear that glorious sound coming from the balcony of the home in the middle of the jungle? It sounds as if it’s been recorded in a studio—which of course it has been. I wonder if they had brought Ms. Fleming to the filming location and recorded it there, would it have been a more authentic and thereby affecting scene? Or am I just quibbling? What do you think? With apologies for the small size, you can check out the full-scale version via the link below the clip. Don't forget to come back to read the interview.


I guess I'm going to have to get myself out of the house and into the theater to see the actual movie to know for sure. The movie is playing in theaters now. Unfortunately not in my neighborhood! 

Here’s the interview, copied in full from Town & Country.

Julianne Moore is at the center of Bel Canto, a stylish and affecting drama, out this month, based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling 2001 novel of the same name. Moore plays Roxane, a world class opera singer taken hostage while performing at a politician’s party in South America, but it’s a role she did not create alone. Roxane’s singing voice—the thing that has made her famous and that, in a way, could save her life—is provided by the opera star Renée Fleming, whose own soprano is the voice Patchett had in mind when she wrote the character.

“It was a specific decision to ask Renée to do the voice of the character. What I was hoping for was some sort of alchemy,” says the film’s director, Paul Weitz. “With actors you’re always hoping to get out of their way to help them find their character. I knew that if I got out of the way of Julianne and Renée, that’s what would happen.”

During a long conversation at Fleming’s Manhattan home, she and Moore discussed the film, the differences between acting and singing opera, and the importance, in both, of making sure your voice is heard.

Renée Fleming: Bel Canto is coming out, and I’m glad. I know Ann Patchett has waited for this for so long.
Julianne Moore: Have you spoken to her?

RF: We’re in touch on a regular basis. I’m sure she’s happy that it’s happening with you. My story of how I found out about Bel Canto is that people thought the book was written about me. You must have thought I wasn’t a very nice person when you read it.
JM: That’s not true!

RF: Were you familiar with the book, or any of Ann’s work?
JM: It was one of those books that I remember coming out. There was a big to-do about it, but I hadn’t read it because it always seemed like it was on the verge of being made into a movie. But then it kind of went away. I also thought it was supposed to be about you; I had picked that up somehow.

Before I had a family I would find myself in a location all by myself and think, This isn’t the kind of life I want to have. She lives without any kind of community.

RF: Well, some of the musical choices were very specific to my ­recordings.
JM: And the idea of an American opera star, too. Paul Weitz approached me about doing the movie, and I was like, “Absolutely,” and that’s how it came about. For me the most exciting part was getting to meet you and getting to be involved in your process.

RF: Did you find it daunting to play an opera singer?
JM: Yes!

RF: People have done it in the past, and sometimes it’s successful, but it’s very hard.
JM: I studied with a coach, Gerald Martin Moore, who was so lovely and generous, and really taught me the same way he would teach a singer.

RF: Have you remembered the music you learned?
JM: Some of it. What’s interesting is that the piece that ended up moving me the most and staying with me the longest is the one that I thought would be the most difficult, which is the last piece I sang in the movie.

RF: Because it was in Czech, which was the most challenging language?
JM: I don’t speak any of these languages, so I learned by sound—almost by syllable. I did sing it myself, but underneath your voice.

RF: I remember, when I read the book, thinking that I didn’t want to be that diva, but she really is more than just a typical narcissist. Did you have any difficulty with the challenging parts of the character?
JM: One of the things you said to me that touched me when we first met was about working with young singers who reach out to you and ask, “Am I always going to be this lonely?” A character who had been in Paris by herself, that was something I could relate to, because before I had a family I would find myself in a location all by myself and think, This isn’t the kind of life I want to have. She lives without any kind of community.

RF: Absolutely. And the people who surround her make their living off of her doing her job well.
JM: So when she gets involved with this community in a hostage situation, it becomes something that she values, and it’s the first time she’s had that.

RF: How did you research this role?
I was asked how I thought they could get more young people to come to the opera, and I said, "Make it shorter."

JM: I learned about you, I spoke to you, I listened to your music, I sat in classes with good opera teachers and young students. I worked with Gerald, I talked to directors, I went to the Metropolitan Opera and spoke to everybody who was there. One of the things that I find in research is that if you ask a question, someone will answer it. People are generally open and helpful. They want you to get it right.

RF: They also all like saying, “I helped Julianne Moore.” One of the things I really loved was when you and your husband Bart came to a rehearsal. Your responses fascinated me. You talked about how on television all the voices are flattened and equalized, but in a live situation you can really hear the differences between the singers.
JM: I think that’s the tragedy of opera in the modern day, that most people’s access to it comes through TV, and it all sounds, unfortunately, the same. But being so close to these musical masters, you hear the different qualities of their voices unamplified.

RF: Do you feel differently about the art form now?
JM: I do. But I wish it were more accessible.

RF: You came to Der Rosenkavalier last year…
JM: Yes, that was so beautiful.

RF: Mike Nichols came once and said, “You know, I really love this. Can’t you cut it?”
JM: That’s what I said too! Isn’t that terrible?

RF: That’s not terrible!
JM: I was asked how I thought they could get more young people to come to the opera, and I said, “Make it shorter.” And they said, “You can’t do that, because people don’t want you to destroy the opera.” But it’s too long.

RF: It’s historic art, and therefore there’s a reticence to changing it.
JM: It’s unfortunate. I so loved the opportunity to be introduced to people who can make these sounds with their bodies. You have such a keen musicality to you; it was fascinating to hear you record.

RF: You were five feet away from me when I recorded the music, really watching what I do. That had to be helpful.
JM: Very. It’s surprising how different your singing is from your speaking. Your voice sits so differently when you speak.

RF: My speaking voice is terrible.
JM: Well, you have an upstate accent. Your singing voice has a clarity that’s very different from your speaking voice. And to see that, to see you sing and then speak and go back and forth, how you behave in the studio, your incredible degree of professionalism… It was everything.

RF: Prior to Bel Canto, did you know about the Peruvian hostage crisis?
For an actor, it is always said that people don’t come to see you—people come to see themselves.

JM: I knew about it only very vaguely, so I was fascinated to learn more. What I loved about Bel Canto also is that it’s not just an ensemble piece, it’s an international story.

RF: It’s people put together in a space for a long while who come together because of that. Ken Watanabe’s character travels across the world just to be in the same room as Roxane. What do you think would draw him to do that?
JM: Fanaticism.

RF: A great star said to me not long ago that her audience feels desperate for beauty and melody and the emotional catharsis that art can bring. Does that make sense to you?
JM: It does. For an actor, it is always said that people don’t come to see you—people come to see themselves, and you become their avatar. As a singer or as an actor, I feel as if we are just vessels for things that are human, and people project their own humanity onto that.

RF: Does that exist for you in film as well?
JM: I’m not really thinking about the audience, but I am trying to think about what’s most human, what’s most universal in a story, and where can I find the reality.

RF: What drew you to Roxane and this story?
JM: It was an adult love story, and you never get to see that. So often with love stories it’s young people, and this was an interesting, sad, complicated love story with middle-aged people who didn’t think something like this was ever going to happen to them.

RF: You’ve played some amazing characters from the 1950s and ’60s. Do you think of yourself as having an era?
JM: No, but, oddly, a lot of my roles get clumped together. There was a series of 1950s housewives that were all thrown at me at the same time. Or you do a bunch of funny things all at once. My daughter recently asked me about a project, “Do you die again, Mom? I feel like you always die.” I don’t, but there were a couple of movies where that happened.

RF: You told me a story about how you’re not afraid to be a tough mom. I have been lenient over the years, feeling guilty about having this career. I look back now and wonder, Should I have made them clean their rooms?
JM: I find it challenging. What are you going to get hung up about, the ­cleaning-their-rooms thing? [My daughter] Liv recently came back from being away a couple of weeks, and she needed to do her laundry. She said, “I need to do my laundry,” and I said, “Okay, I’ll help you. I’ll put it in.” Then, before I knew it, I’d done it all. Then Bart asked, “Why did you do her laundry?” and I said I couldn’t help myself and I wanted to help her. But I probably shouldn’t have.

RF: A director said that one of the things he loved about working with you is that you come prepared. Is that always true?
JM: For me the most important thing is to do my research. If I’m playing an opera singer, I better learn what it is to be an opera singer or be able to approximate it. I’m going to know my lines. I’m going to know the music. I’m going to know all of that stuff. But then that preparation allows you to drop it on camera.

RF: I’ve always felt that my characters came at funny times in my life. I had a sense of being guided. It’s interesting that I’m playing a certain character when I’m personally going through something that relates.
JM: I used to say that I felt as though I was always playing my future, not my past. I did sometimes wonder why I was choosing a role, but then something would be happening to me later, and I’d go, “Ohhhh…”

RF: Do you choose projects with your audience in mind?
JM: Recently, when I read a script, I asked, “Who are you making this movie for?” Because one project is not for everybody. Somebody was complaining to me about a movie that was for teenagers, and I said, “Please stop. That movie is not for you. Of course you feel dissatisfied watching a young-adult movie, because you’re 45, and that movie is for someone who is 16.” It’s not the same thing.

New trailer for Beautiful Boy starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell #book2movie #trailer

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy (2018)

Beautiful Boy stars Timothée Chalamet & Steve Carell

Amazon Studios released a new trailer for Beautiful Boy after its debut this past week at the Toronto International Film Festival. The big buzz is that both Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet turn in deep and powerful performances with Chalamet who was nominated last year for his work in Call Me By Your Name has done it again, Best Actor nominations are expected.

Nic and David Sheff, the father and son duo behind Beautiful Boy

The film, which also stars Steve Carell, Amy Ryan, and Maura Tierney, is based on memoirs written by the real-life father and son affected by addiction: David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy and Nic Sheff’s Tweak.

Beautiful Boy opens in theaters on October 12. It looks pretty powerful. Have you read either of the books? 

Mary Poppins Returns: The Official Trailer (because the world needs a heaping spoonful of sugar.)

Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Ben Whishaw, and Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Mary Poppins Returns stars Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda

We’ve seen a teaser trailer before but Disney has now released the real thing, the first official trailer for Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt in the role Julie Andrews made famous. If you follow me chances are you know how important Mary Poppins was to my girlhood. No Barbies, I was a parasol and carpet bag fan all the way.

Image result for Mary Poppins: The Original Bestseller

In this new story, Mary Poppins returns to look in on the grown-up Banks children, bereft after the loss of Michael’s wife. It’s a star-studded production including appearances by Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters, Emily Watson and the legendary Dick Van Dyke—dancing on a desktop no less—but the trailer emphasis is on Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda with Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer in the key roles. Like the recent Goodbye Christopher Robin, Mary Poppins Returns is a kids' movie made for the adults in the room. Because life is hard and we need a hug.

Lauren Bacall: Born on This Day

Today we're paying tribute to the legendary Lauren Bacall on what would be her 94th birthday. We’re watching The Big Sleep starring Bacall and the love of her life the equally iconic Humphrey Bogart. 

The movie is the novel by Raymond Chandler. The acclaimed author William Faulkner wrote the script and the film great Howard Hawk directed. With all those legends you’d think the movie would have garnered a few awards back in the day, eh?

But take a look at this excerpt from a review that ran in the Times in 1946: 
Through it all, Humphrey Bogart stalks his cold and laconic way as the resolute private detective who has a mind and a body made of steel. And Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Bogart) plays the older of the daughters languidly. (Miss Bacall is a dangerous looking female, but she still hasn't learned to act.) A dozen or so other actors play various tramps and tough guys acidly, and the whole thing comes off a poisonous picture lasting a few minutes shy of two hours.
 Yikes! Well, you know the question those old Blackglama ads ask about legends?

Maybe the answer is time.

At the end of the day, who cares what the critics say? Awards or not, The Big Sleep endures not because of what the NY Times called ‘‘so much involved and devious plotting that the mind becomes utterly confused’’ we love it because it’s the sizzling chemistry of Bogey and Bacall together. Maybe one day in the future cinema lovers will celebrate Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in By the Sea. Then again, probably not.

 Now, check out this vintage trailer. I love it, not only for the heat of their chemistry but because the trailer itself opens in a library. What becomes a movie based on a book more?!

 You can stream The Big Sleep on Amazon, Vudu and iTunes. Check Netflix for current listings.

Can't get enough Lauren Bacall? Here you go ...

Agatha Christie was Born on this Day: Celebrate with a Saturday Matinee

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Happy Birthday Agatha Christie!

Today marks the birthday of Agatha Christie, the grand dame of the modern mystery. What to watch in her honor? Far be it from me to tell you what to watch, how to choose from the plethora of adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work. You could watch any of the page to screen renditions of And Then There Were None After all the book is the Agatha Christie classic that made the Great American Read's top 100. I quite enjoyed Ordeal by Innocence with Bill Nighy, Matthew Goode, Morven Christie and Eleanor Tomlinson on Amazon. Murder on the Orient Express, the 1974 version with Lauren Bacall and Albert Finney, the Murder on the Orient Express episode of the acclaimed TV series with David Suchet as Inspector Hercule Poirot, all available on Amazon prime. Or the most recent Kenneth Branagh directed version. Despite critics, my hubs and I quite enjoyed it.

Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Terence Stamp, Amanda Abbington, Christina Hendricks, Max Irons, Honor Kneafsey, and Stefanie Martini in Crooked House (2017)

The last Christie mystery I watched was Crooked House also on Amazon: a very stylish affair with Max Irons as a detective called in to investigate a murder inside one of those grand old family estates where literally everyone is a suspect. Including his former lover Sophia (Stefanie Martini).

The cast includes Christina Hendricks as the American widow of the murder victim Aristides Leonides. Being the gorgeous buxom woman she is, naturally she’s the prime suspect. 

The super strong cast includes Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Julian Sands, Terence Stamp and was well worth watching. Lots of fun trying to guess whodunnit, and a satisfying, if slightly disturbing ending.

What's your favorite Agatha Christie adaptation?

Emma Thompson: On Hoffman, Hopkins and Hillary Clinton

Emma Thompson in The Children Act (2017)

Emma Thompson stars in The Children Act

Sometimes the absolutely best part of an actor promoting a film is hearing that what actor has to say about things other than the actual movie they’re promoting. Especially if it’s someone beloved and feisty and feminist like Emma Thompson and the interview is long and lovely. I’m such a fan of Thompson’s I’m sharing the entire interview she did with David Marchese for Vulture magazine. The movie Thompson is promoting in The Children Act based on the  Ian McEwan book, opening here in the US today, Friday September 14th. It’s McEwan’s year with three projects that came to the screen: in addition to The Children Act, we had the heartbreaking On Chesil Beach as well as The Child in Time starring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Before you check out the interview I’ve posted the trailer for The Children Act for my fellow British Isle Friday followers. Those of you in the UK and other places where the film opened earlier this summer, I would love to hear your thoughts:

The way in which I frame my past,” says Emma Thompson, sitting in her cool Manhattan hotel room on a sweltering late-summer day, “is always changing.” And yet some things stay the same. The poise, intelligence, and warmth of the British actress’s breakout early-’90s work in Howards End and The Remains of the Day has never diminished, and radiates throughout her performances in The Children Act, an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel that’s in U.S. theaters September 14 (and on DirecTV now), and as Goneril — opposite her old sparring partner Anthony Hopkins — in King Lear (streaming on Amazon Prime Video beginning September 28). Such consistent excellence is a rare thing, and as its purveyor knows, worth enjoying. “I don’t think,” says Thompson, a bawdier conversationalist than some of her screen roles might suggest, “that I have ever enjoyed being alive as much as I do now.”

In The Children Act, Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a judge in the midst of both professional and personal turbulence: At the same time as her marriage is slowly dissolving (Stanley Tucci plays Fiona’s husband, Jack), Maye is presiding over a case in which she must determine whether an ailing 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness can, against his and his family’s wishes, be administered a blood transfusion that will save his life.

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Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson in The Children Act

Your character in The Children ActThompson plays Fiona Maye, a judge in the midst of both professional and personal turbulence: At the same time as her marriage is slowly dissolving (Stanley Tucci plays Fiona’s husband, Jack), Maye is presiding over a case in which she must determine whether an ailing 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness can, against his and his family’s wishes, be administered a blood transfusion that will save his life. is in a marriage where the couple’s love evolves in a way that isn’t usually shown in film. Did portraying that make you think about how your own view of love has changed?

Absolutely. What we see in the film is the relationship between my character and Stan’s [Stanley Tucci’s] crumbling, and then a new one starts to grow. Which is what happens in all long-term relationships. Or if it doesn’t, someone’s in denial.

You think a “crumbling” happens in every long-term relationship?
Not necessarily crumbling, but if the relationship hasn’t changed for long periods of time then the people in it are probably serving a facsimile of what the relationship used to be. People change and life changes and you can’t have the same relationship as when you first met. When people say, “Our relationship has been bliss,” I just go, “I don’t believe you.”

This is reminding me of an old op-ed you wrote — I want to say it was more than 30 years ago — where you argued that “love is converted into romance and romance is a con.” What were you referring to?
Romance is a very interesting subject. I don’t know whether I’d say it’s a con now. Back then I was challenging romance for all the right reasons. I was angry about the lies and fairy tales that were sold to young women — that romance was the be-all and end-all. Now I’d say that what happens after happy-ever-after is where love begins. Falling in love is an exalted state, but it is a temporary state, and I suppose what I was taking issue with was the idea that this temporary state was supposed to last. Nobody told us it doesn’t. It’s like childbirth: Everybody lies. Nobody tells you the truth.

What are the lies people tell about childbirth?*
Maybe lying’s not — no, they do tell lies. There’s no honesty about “yes, it’s painful” and people are now terrified of that pain. So you’re getting an awful lot of elective C-sections, which is a huge operation and very difficult to recover from. The pain of giving birth is now “optional” and yet there’s no honesty about what that option can actually do to your body. It’s odd how frightened we’ve been made to feel about the pain of it [childbirth].

In the press materials for The Children Act you talk about the time you spent with women judges in preparation for playing one, and how you wanted to honor those women’s work. What was it specifically about women judges that you wanted to do justice?
I always want to do justice to women because we’ve been so unspeakably oppressed for so long — and still are in so many ways. So there’s that, and women judges have often managed to enter into an exceptionally male bastion by doing twice as much work and being twice as competent. And the women I know have children. The way in which women have to run their lives in order to be able even to step foot in a courtroom is heroic and we don’t talk about it. It’s doubly difficult for women. That’s why I wanted to do them justice.

Has your thinking about feminism changed over time?
Oh yes. I find it incredibly exciting at the moment because this new generation of girls — Generation Z, I believe — are challenging me all the time. I’m learning new things. Gender fluidity is fascinating to me. Every time someone says you’ve got to learn words like cisgender or trans, or when someone asks me to refer to “thee” or “thou” I get so excited. This is where we might be able to leapfrog some of the rigid definitions of what it is to be human. We might have a generation — and God knows we need it — that may help us leapfrog the death throes of the old ways. I mean, Brett Kavanaugh coming is just fucking hell, but at the same time other things are happening. You think about what might happen here with Roe versus Wade, and then also think about what happened in Ireland where abortion and gay marriage were made possible — extraordinary. The shifts in the sands of our development are so interesting at the moment.

I heard a colleague describe the current situation with women’s rights in America as extremely upsetting but also long-term hopeful. Insofar as we’re likely going to end our lifetime behind where we started on things like abortion, but 100 years from now we could be much further ahead.
That’s right. The thing is, you were asking how my thinking has changed: I was reading The Madwoman in the AtticProfessors Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s landmark 1979 book in which they reexamined Victorian literature from a feminist perspective.  when I was young and I suddenly realized there was a whole other way of seeing the world, which filled me with joy and absolute rage — and I still feel that rage — about how women are treated. I get very passionate about this stuff. I reread Betty Friedan’s book. That’d be, of course, 1963’s The Feminine Mystique.  recently. It’s so fucking brilliant about the 1950s — the ways in which women were completely brainwashed about what it was to be female. Then I think about the women I’m listening to on The Guilty Feminist podcast and I go, “This is fantastic! There are new voices describing what it’s like to be female.” So women are less lonely, less fearful, less weirded out by themselves. There’s less going, “You mean I’ve got to fit into that mold?” Which is good, because these gender roles that we’ve created are so reductive and painful and dull. They’re so fucking boring.

Speaking with BBC Newsnight, Thompson referred to Weinstein as “at the top of the ladder of a system of harassment and belittling and bullying and interference and what my mother would have referred to in the olden days as ‘pestering.’” 

I read a quote of yours about Harvey Weinstein, where you said he was at the top of a ladder of systemic misogyny, but that the system was larger than one man. Have we seen changes to that system beyond the removal of the most egregious offenders?

No. That’s going to take a while because you’re talking about power structures that have been around for millennia. Our power structures aren’t healthy. So we have to undo them, and that’s going to take an awful lot of imagination and work. We have a party in the U.K. called the Women’s Equality Party, which is very interesting.

They’re who you supported after leaving Labour?
Mm-hmm. Their leader, Sophie Walker, is a terrific woman and one of the first things noticeable about her is that she really isn’t interested in power.

What does it mean for the leader of a political party to not be interested in power?
It means that she wants everyone to be powerful. Here’s a story to describe what I mean: I was in Ethiopia doing some work for an NGO and I met a woman who was very good at healing. She was taking us around, showing us what plants she used, and I said, “How have you managed to avoid being picked upon for having that power? How have you managed to avoid becoming the witch of the village?” And she said, “I show people the plant, and then I tell them what to do with the plant, and then they do it.” That’s what I mean. Sophie shows people the system and how to do things.

But with the entertainment business, do you have a sense of what will cause the systemic changes that haven’t happened yet?
Well, Frannie McDormand had a very good point about inclusion riders. An inclusion rider is a stipulation that actors and actresses can have inserted into their contracts which demand certain levels of diversity among those hired to work on a film: Make sure that you include people. It’s about behavior, too. You have to challenge behavior that’s entitled or bullying or sexist or racist or homophobic — all the time. Because if you don’t challenge it, as repetitive as that might get, the behavior becomes normalized. If a bullying producer is not called on it by groups of people saying, “You can’t behave like this,” then they carry on and it just gets worse.

One more question on this topic — and if you don’t want to get into it, I understand. But somebody with whom you’ve worked a couple times, Dustin Hoffman had a situation last year where it seemed that he didn’t understand what he was accused of having done wrong and why it was coming to light years later. The answer is because it took that long for the accuser to feel able to bring the accusations up. But there are generational differences about these things, for men and for women, and there’s the understandable desire now to draw hard lines and say, “Get rid of all these people.” But Dustin Hoffman aside, not every situation is the same and maybe every response can’t be the same — I’m really sorry; I’m conflating way too many things. I have no idea what my specific question is. This is such a complicated subject.
But what you’re identifying are, indeed, the complications. And the complications are the things that we need to discuss. There’s no clear pattern to all these situations. We have to recognize that Dustin might well have felt very confused. But also that John Oliver, (While hosting a panel discussion prior to a 20th-anniversary screening of Wag the Dog, Oliver questioned Hoffman about the allegations made against him. Hoffman responded to the allegations (“It is not reflective of who I am”); Oliver continued to press (“It is reflective of who you were.”)  when he challenged him, was extremely brave. As a woman, I was very proud of him [Oliver] for doing that even though I love Dustin. Dustin and I haven’t talked about this. I don’t know what he would have said to me about it. But if you think about — okay, another story: I was doing a thing with trafficking.

You were trafficking?

[Laughs.] It’s just when I’m a bit low on cash. But, no, I was at a do raising money for victims of gross human exploitation, and I was sitting next to a terribly posh Englishman. I immediately made assumptions: Oh, Christ. This fucking asshole. Probably went to Eton. I started talking to him and he was saying, “Surely these women know what’s happening… ” I said, “Well, no, often not because there are certain vulnerabilities …” I banged on. Then he said to me, “I was abused for years at Catholic school and it affected me all my life. Thirty years later a group of us got together and brought a civil suit against our abuser and it was thrown out of court because it [the abuse] was too long ago.” So woe betide you when you judge, because it always comes back to bite you on the arse. This man — the pain, the horror he felt. And when you’re young, you think everything is your fault. That’s why people don’t say anything. We are given to feeling ashamed. So when things do come to light, we have to recognize the fact that it is confusing. But let’s listen to who’s talking and work with them. And let’s talk. The conversation that is perhaps missing at the moment is the conversation with Weinstein, with [Kevin] Spacey. They need to talk: Where does their entitlement come from? No matter how dreadful the behavior, you’ve got to learn why it happened.

Well, I very much appreciate your ability to make something useful out of my fuzzy cloud of a question. But to get back to your career, I think it’s fair to say that from about your first Oscar nomination in 1992 to Primary Colors in 1998 was the period when you were most in the Hollywood fame spotlight. I’ve read you talk about that period as being difficult. Why was that?

I can’t remember saying it was difficult.

Wasn’t it around that time that you also became clinically depressed?
I forget — let me think. Certainly I have had clinical depression, but for all sorts of reasons. The thing is, I don’t think of my career in phases. There’s a great interview between [Henri] Cartier-Bresson and a young journalist who said something like, “Oh, monsieur Cartier-Bresson, you said in 1965… ” “What I said in 1965 is irrelevant. It is 1985.” And this young journalist says, “Yes, but you said … ” and Cartier-Bresson said, “Mon ami, there is the moment and there is eternity and that is all.” So I always get infinitely depressed when I have to think about things I said 30 years ago because I’ve forgotten what it was.

I’m sorry for asking.
No, please don’t apologize. I’m explaining that I have changed, and my ideas have changed, and my memories have changed. I don’t even think of myself as ever having had a Hollywood career on any level. I felt like an outsider and I liked that. I always lived in Europe and being a visitor meant I was always welcomed here. The best bit of working in America was meeting and working with Mike Nichols.

How come?
Because one of the greatest connections I ever had in my working career and my personal life was with Mike and [Nichols’s wife] Diane [Sawyer]. And to me he represented — he was so connected to what I thought of as Hollywood. That’s a Hollywood career. Actually, I’ve been rewatching great ‘70s movies like All the President’s Men and The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor.

Thompson had quite a run in the ’90s: Between 1992 and 1995 she was nominated for five Oscars, winning two. She took home trophies for Best Actress (for her role as Margaret Schlegel in Howards End) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Sense and Sensibility). Thompson remains the only person to have won Academy Awards for both writing and acting.  

Those movies certainly fit today’s mood.
Yes, I just happened to be watching those. Gosh, they’re good. You should watch The Parallax View again. It’s amazing. Anyway, we’re straying away. I can’t honestly, hand on heart, look back and say anything was particularly bad about that period you mentioned. I did find the Oscar stuff quite hard. I got ill every time. I used to get chest infections. That glare — I don’t think I would have liked the fame that Dustin and [Robert] Redford had. The effects are often deleterious, shall we say?

Is it really true that Hillary Clinton was not a model for your performance in Primary Colors?
She wasn’t. I was doing a Chicago-y accent but I didn’t watch her or try to model my character on her even though John [Travolta] was doing Bill [Clinton]. I thought that was probably enough indicating. I also thought I might get sidetracked if I was trying to impersonate somebody. And Mike [Nichols] agreed.

So you don’t feel playing that role offered you any particular insight into Hillary as a person or public figure?

I’m not sure. I haven’t met her and I haven’t read her book. I imagine it’s got an awful lot of insights into what it’s like being married to someone who’s extremely powerful. The exploration of sex and power is something that, again, we’re very unwilling to face. I thought the sudden emergence of the new Puritanism following the whole Clinton scandale was extraordinary. The denial about what power is, what it does to people, how attractive it makes them. I wanted to ask people, “What on earth do you think goes on?” This is what happens and it’s always happened because our power systems have always been about a massive power imbalance. That’s the whole idea! It was all so fucking dishonest. Those politicians, the press — their dishonesty and hypocrisy fucking blew my mind.

And there’s been this bizarre turnabout where someone can be caught on tape saying “grab ’em by the pussy” and certain people just shrug their shoulders.
And say, “It doesn’t matter.” You want to say to those people, “You probably thought Bill Clinton was a really bad person and now you’ve voted for someone who …” It’s all so messed up.

Twenty-five years ago, when you won your Oscar for Howards End, you said in your acceptance speechThompson closed her Best Actress acceptance speech thusly: “And finally I would like, if I may, to dedicate this Oscar to the heroism and the courage of women, and to hope that it inspires the creation of more true screen heroines to represent them. Thank you so much.”  that you hoped winning might inspire more strong roles for women. All these years later, are things better creatively for women in the movie business?
Well, the problems have been identified more cogently and persuasively — largely by Geena Davis’s excellent institute: Young people are going to films and seeing a lot more men than women. It’s so annoying to be female and consistently going, “Have I got to see a fucking story again about a guy who does things that I’ve already seen a guy do a million times?” So I’m bored. The difference now, as I get older, is that I’m released by my boredom. I no longer bother. I’m free to go and look for new ideas and new voices. I’m able with absolute comfort and ease to reject so much. It’s fantastic being this age. I’m old.

You’re not that old! What are you, 57?
Fifty-nine. I mean “old” in the really good sense of the word. Ageism is another aspect of what we’re talking about. We’re constantly watching films where older men have wonderful roles and older women really don’t. But I’m a character actor, don’t forget. If you’ve got form and you’re a character actor, you’re much better off because you’re not fighting the way you once looked.

Does the prospect of turning 60 have any special significance for you?

It feels extremely fortunate. My dad died at 52. My uncle was 51. My sister-in-law, a couple years ago at 51. I’ve got quite a number of friends who have dropped off. You can’t take survival for granted. What else do I feel? The work I’m doing is more fulfilling and happy-making than ever. I think your 60s, if you are well, are the most fantastic decade. No more periods: resolved! Menopause over: hooray! Kids grown up: bye! Marriage, if you’ve managed that long — 20 or more years — you’re fine. So this should be one of the most powerful patches of your life, the youth of old age as it were. I’d say it’s the best bit ever.

This is going to sound trite, but sometimes I feel like appreciating one’s life is such an obvious thing to try for, but is so hard to actually do in any holistic way. I’ll have a moment of deep gratitude and then get on the crowded subway on a hot day and immediately I think screw this.
Absolutely, but you’re young. When you get older it’s much easier to hold onto that appreciation because you’re more mortal. I want to enjoy every minute and use the wisdom that I’ve accrued whilst acknowledging my fallibility and the continuance of all sorts of foolishness. It’s so enjoyable to be alive in this state.

You’re honestly bringing a tear to my eye.

Good. I hope it makes you feel optimistic about your own aging. So many young people are confused and unhappy. All the demands and the judgments and the better-than, less-than culture — it’s fucking disastrous. Although we mustn’t get gloomy. Lots of things are better today: dentistry.

Not a small a thing.
Not a small thing.

You started out in comedy, right?


Did you ever try stand-up?


Do you remember one of your jokes?

Sure: So my boyfriend, anyway, he gave me thrush, which is what you call candida. So I said, “Okay, go get some yogurt for me, so that I can you, know…” And he came back with tropical fruit and nut flavor. That’s a 35-year-old joke that I told on various occasions. I also remember I did a Reagan Out rally in Trafalgar Square — tens of thousands of people — and I did stand-up on Nelson’s Column. Such a stupid idea. Those people were angry. They didn’t want to listen to my jokes about herpes and Margaret Thatcher — both very big at the time.

Did you like doing stand-up?
It terrified me. But I did scary things like that when I was a young woman. I had all of my 20s to fail. I wanted to be a stand-up and then I wanted to be Lily Tomlin. I had a chance to experiment, and that’s riches beyond compare. Young people who are successful now can’t do that because the spotlight is there all the time.

What made you confident that you could pursue drama?
I was doing sketch comedy as well, and I worked with Robbie Coltrane. He was then cast in a wonderful thing that this Scottish artist called John Byrne had written. That’d be Tutti Frutti, a six-part BBC Scotland drama series about the tribulations of a rock band that aired in 1987.  They needed to cast a role, and he [Coltrane] said, “You should see Em for that because she’s half-Scottish; she can do a Scottish accent.” And I remember being there on the first day of shooting thinking, Oh, I’m scared, and then I realized that drama was just like doing a character in a sketch, only for longer than three minutes.

Drama wasn’t this whole other thing.
It absolutely wasn’t. Comedy is your best training anyway.

Because in performance, however serious, there has to be some humor underneath. I’m not describing something as obvious as being tongue in cheek. Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but the greatest actors I know have a sense of irony. Humor gives everything a real edge. I’ve always felt that humorlessness is the root of all fascism, really.

Which performances of yours stand out as personal breakthroughs? I mean in terms of your craft, not visibility or financial success.
There were two recently: Playing Robert Carlyle’s mum in the movie he made [The Legend of Barney Thomson]. I played a 77-year-old serial killer. I loved playing somebody so far removed from myself. And also doing Sweeney Todd in London and on Broadway. A lot of the time, even with something like The Children Act, you’re using particular colors in your palette because that’s the nature of that character. But those other two performances were full throttle. I could really let rip.

You enjoyed playing a part far removed from the real you. What about the converse: Which character of yours felt closest to Emma Thompson?
[Howards Ends’s] Margaret Schlegel was probably the closest: That sort of loud-mouthed bluestocking with the slightly conservative side, but who finally has to break the rules in order to survive. Yes, there was a lot of me in her. That was the only time that I actually wrote to someone and said, “Please give me this role. Because I know how to do it.”

At this stage of your career, do you feel like your acting is still improving?
Absolutely. I’m fearless now. I was doing King Lear with Tony Hopkins and he said, “Isn’t it great? I can do absolutely anything now.” That’s how I feel.

I know it’s hard to talk about acting in concrete ways, but can you explain what makes Anthony Hopkins so good, and so good to act with?
He watches and listens and he’s completely without defenses or any internal systems that might get in the way. He’s not protecting himself. You know that you can do anything and what will come back from him has nothing to do with the actor and everything to do with the part. He’s remarkable in that way.

This is maybe weird, but when I was watching Lear, I found Goneril’s metallic-blue nail polish striking. Can you tell me about that choice?
I loved those nails — claw-like. Mike Nichols had this wonderful way of describing people. He said they’re either metallic or porous. And of course Goneril is profoundly metallic because she’s had nothing but abuse since she was a child. She’s been ignored, she’s been rejected, she’s been belittled and has defended herself accordingly. Her nails were of a piece with the armor of her clothing.

In addition to those great nails, Thompson’s Goneril appears in this Lear in a series of imposing power dresses, which, when the film aired on BBC Two in May, some British viewers believed were intended to evoke clothing worn by Prime Minister Theresa May.

I realize this is a hackneyed question but I’ll ask it anyway because I’m interested: Do you see differences between British and American acting?  
I kind of do. Back in the day when Brando turned up there was a huge difference. That kind of film acting [Brando’s], which was born and bred in America, was a completely new thing in my country. And since then everyone says, “We’re all so old-fashioned in Britain. It’s all shouting and histrionics.” There was the belief that the more naturalistic style was better. For a while that belief persisted, but I think everyone’s beginning to realize that good acting can be all sorts of things. Sometimes naturalistic is great but other times you want someone to give a fucking performance, you know?

And what can you tell me about the Nanny McPhee musical?

I’m writing it at the moment and I think I’ll direct it, too. We’ve nearly got to the end of creating the music. We did the workshop for the first act in February and we’re doing the workshop of the second act in March next year. I’m using more or less the plot of the first film. What’s been interesting about adapting is how different it’s turning out to be. The characters change — it’s fascinating what happens when it moves into a different medium.

Along those lines, when you were adapting Sense and Sensibility, how difficult was it to write for the mind-set of characters created in 1811? Did you have to stop yourself and think, would they use this word or this is not an idea they would’ve had?
It’s a really good question. I’ve read so much literature from that period that I’m slightly more versed in that language than I am in the modern day. So writing Austen-ian I actually didn’t find that challenging. I mean, as I was growing up there was an internal moral pugilism going on in my head that was influenced by the writing of Austen and George Eliot, but also Henry James, Edith Wharton, and the Brontës. There was this battle going on inside where I was trying to be wild and free, and I had one voice going, “You slut. You’ll never be any good. You’re morally degenerate.” And another going, “Live! Live! You have to live!”

And as I’m sure you know far better than I do, the more you read about the preoccupations of people from earlier eras, the more you realize how little people have changed.
Yeah, there’s a very good book by Neil Postman called Building a Bridge to the 18th Century — I really get that. There’s also a fantastic book that was hugely influential on me called The Swerve [by Stephen Greenblatt]. The people who influenced me are those writers. And Montaigne.

During our conversation, Thompson also mentioned her admiration for Sarah Bakewell’s biography of the French philosopher, How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. (Bakewell’s follow-up, At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is also very, very good.)

I was reading Montaigne last night! I love how you’ll be in the middle of an essay of his about, I don’t know, the nature of fathers’ relationships to their children, and all of sudden there’ll be a digression about the best time to take a dump.
I know! He was an extraordinary figure. What I’d like to do in the future is a series of essays about what it’s like being human now. I’ve even started writing a few little vignettes on living in Scotland. The first one I wrote was about what happens when you’re up a glen in Scotland and it won’t stop raining and you get depressed and the things that go through your mind. You get bored of being depressed and you think, Actually no, I’m gonna clean out my cupboard. And you clean out the cupboard and you find something in it that leads you to another task, which you get terribly involved in, and you think, Great, that’ll take me another day. Then the following day the sun comes out and you can’t do this other thing because the sun’s come out and you’re depressed again but for a whole other reason. So it’s about weather in Scotland, but also about how contrary we are; what happens when you’re prevented from doing something that you imagined you wanted to do, and the journey to something that you do do.

Something just occurred to me. I think every actor I’ve spoken to has, in some fashion, said what you said earlier: that they feel like an outsider and that they’re a character actor at heart. Do people say those things because they’d feel too weird saying the opposite?
Actors shouldn’t fit in for God’s sake! Actors should be beyond the pale. That’s what we’re here for! I’m conjecturing about myself, which feels weird, but I wonder if all my challenging of issues is a way of placing myself somehow “outside.” I’m busy saying, “I don’t agree with this; I don’t agree with that. Don’t you fucking try and label me.” And yet, hilariously, now I’m a Dame.
Just this past June, Thompson was awarded damehood in recognition of her services to drama. Her citation hailed her as “one of Britain’s most versatile and celebrated actresses.”  So I guess my approach didn’t work. And I’m jolly happy about that.

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