HUMANITAS Winner Emma Thompson Discusses Writing at BAFTA


emma-t-mainQuirky is possibly the best word to describe Emma Thompson‘s BAFTA Screenwriters’ Lecture, hilariously delivered tonight in London. It included a physical demonstration of her writing process; pearls of wisdom shared with the filmmaker attendees; and an anecdote about how a period sketch she wrote featuring a Victorian-era virgin encountering a penis led to her penning Sense And Sensibility.

The event, a Thompson-directed variation on a regular series of screenwriter conversations, continued a mini-season of high-wattage names visiting the British Academy, which started with James Schamus on Thursday and David Fincher on Friday. And Thompson tapped her acting and sketch comedy background to give the sell-out crowd a good show.

She was already on stage as the audience started filing in, dressed down in denim overalls and a thick navy coat so that few noticed her at first. She sat barefoot at a tiny writing desk, and in between scribbling on a notepad, she dabbed her eyes with tissues, mouthed lines to herself and occasionally stepped up to pace the stage, or practice a yoga pose on a bright purple mat. She then got a vacuum out and swept the stage before finally stepping out of the theater altogether, to laughs and applause.

When she returned, after the audience was played an episode from children’s classic The Magic Roundabout – a series written by her father Eric – Thompson explained that she’d been briefed to give an insight into her writing process. Her little piece of theater was her process, she said. “That’s how I write. I’ve got a purple yoga mat, and I have a little table about that size. That’s sort of what it looks like. I hoover; I find odd places to polish. Places that I haven’t seen in a long time; sometimes parts of my own body. And there’s a lot of crying in fetal positions.”

In conversation with Jeremy Brock, Thompson discussed her youth and the early days of her writing and performing career as part of the Cambridge Footlights sketch comedy group with talented comics like Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Sandi Toksvig. She showed The Magic Roundabout because, she said, it was important to note how much of an influence her father has been on her writing career. “I think it’s very interesting where your relationship with words comes from, and mine comes from my father, who was given these little French films by the BBC and was asked to write [English] scripts for them.”

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UncategorizedJosh Neimark