Emma Thompson: "He rode his bike into my bedroom"

Image credit: Garry Knight

Emma Thompson took the time to speak to TCS during her visit to Cambridge, talking about her admirers, her writing process, and her opinions on ageism in the film industry. As a Cambridge alumna herself, Thompson spoke both at her old College, Newnham, and then at the Cambridge Union, before rounding off her night with a dance at the club Kuda, known to Cambridge students as Life. During her time in Cambridge Thompson read English and was a member of the Footlights. 

I meet Thomspon, who is one of Britain’s best-loved actresses, in a busy room at the Cambridge Union. There is no doubt that she loves being interviewed. I ask her whether it’s true that she once rode through Newnham on a motorbike, and she enjoys telling me “I had, for want of a better word, an admirer. He rode his bike into my bedroom. I said ‘get out! Quickly! I’ll be in such trouble’ but he said ‘only if you get on the back and ride out with me’. So it was all a bit sort of Austen, but not, and with a bit of a dick….”

I ask her about her writing process, and she says “when I wrote comedy I used to write in cafes. I can’t do that anymore, because they’re too noisy. I used to write in public places, but now I just write in a small space. I have a little desk and I write everything longhand. I did a Q&A at BAFTA about writing, and just got out two boxes of Sense and Sensibility drafts. I find it interesting because we don’t see that anymore because everything is digital.”

But surely the redrafting process differs when writing longhand? “It is different! I mean I think there is a connection between the brain and the hand and the pen, so I find that I have to write my first creative thoughts longhand, or I just simply don’t have a relationship with them. “If I write a creative book on the computer I don’t know what it means to me. It looks too neat. It’s too real. It’s a bit like those insults on Facebook that have been typed up, and then become all the more vicious and dreadful because they look concrete."

"The relationship with the pen is important to me. Other writers do it… but they’re all old… Chris Hamilton and Alan Bennett write long hand too.” 

Computers, Thompson admits, scare her. “When I’ve finally got [the draft] into shape then I’ll put it onto the computer. I just don’t trust computers. My computer hid my last draft of Sense and Sensibility. I woke up one morning and the whole thing was in hieroglyphs, and I just didn’t understand what had happened. I took the whole computer to Stephen Fry and said please help me. It took him seven hours to find it!”

What’s important to her, she explains, is seeing her writing brought to life. Whether she prefers writing or acting is a hard question for her. “The best thing is writing something then seeing it made. Seeing things you have written is a rarity.”

One thing is sure. Thompson doesn’t give a damn about ageing. Asked about her feelings on ageism and sexism in the industry, she retorts “‘I imagine I feel much the same as you. Irritated by it… and bored”. “The anti-ageing thing is just hilarious,” she goes on to say. “You just go what’s wrong with us all… what are you trying to say to young people when you say anti-ageing?"

"I have to say I’m very grateful to be alive and I’m grateful to be able to be this age and sit back on a certain amount of wisdom and knowledge.” 

 

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