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Emma Thompson: ‘I claim the right to pleasure’

"There is little attention paid to a woman's sexual needs, it almost seems as if we should be ashamed of having them," explains the British actress, who in the new film – to raise awareness of the issue – has (literally) laid herself bare. 'I prepared for the role by comparing myself with friends. Discovering surprising things…"

Emma Thompson, 63, tells us: "Try standing still, naked, in front of a big mirror for a few seconds. I'm sure you'd move, stand in profile, maybe run your hand down your side focusing on a few details so you don't dwell on the big picture. There is always something wrong with our bodies, we don't want to have it in front of us for long, we often find it horrible. I did it because The Pleasure is All Mine (Good Luck to You, Leo Grand) is a film and Nancy a character: in front of the camera I found that courage that I don't know if I could have achieved at home, alone. Yet it would be so important to be able to do it, for real, without excuses!".

Emma Thompson is never banal

She is not banal in talent, objectively out of the ordinary and embellished by two Oscars (including one as screenwriter for Sense and Sensibility) and a mountain of other awards; she is not banal in her artistic choices and she is not banal out of the spotlight either, when speaking publicly or with journalists.

For more than 40 years – 1982 is the year of her first roles in theatre and television – her name has gradually become linked almost exclusively to level-headed, serious, intellectually interesting projects, even when light in tone, as in the case of the aforementioned Il piacere è tutto mio, to be released in Italy on 10 November. Written by Katy Brand, it tells the story of a widow's series of hotel dates with a gigolo more than 30 years younger. She, in her sexually monotonous life, has never reached orgasm. He hides a past that only the long talks, before and after the various amplexions, will reveal.

Emma Thompson, The pleasure is all mine

If the cue is apparently all here, the development instead is an intense exchange of jokes and discoveries, of bodies, of regrets and fantasies that sketch a theme, female pleasure so little dealt with, especially when the point of view is that of a woman over sixty.

"But to prepare myself for the role I talked to many friends and acquaintances and some, well into their thirties, confessed to me that they had never reached orgasm. The point is that there is less focus on the woman's satisfaction, sometimes in some relationships it is taken for granted that only the man has the right to achieve full enjoyment'.

The adult orgasm calls everything into question

Did you find out anything else from talking to them that you didn't already know?
Many women don't know what they want, they are not used to wondering. If, on the other hand, we talk about sex, I realised that reaching orgasm for the first time when you are already an adult questions everything, or almost everything. Unfortunately, we are used to a world where knowing whether a woman 'liked it' is still taboo. You don't ask your man or even your mother when you are still a girl and she finds out that you are having your first times. I'm not saying it's like that everywhere, but it is in many contexts. And yet it would be so nice, so healthy, to talk about it!

Her daughter is 22 years old. Do you remember if she talked to you, when she was in high school, about how sex education was treated?
Not specifically, but I do know that in many schools when it comes to masturbation it only refers to male masturbation. It almost seems that female pleasure is something to be ashamed of.

Pleasure is a gender problem

Is it a gender problem, then?
Undoubtedly, although I don't hope that women will become a bit like men, but that men will become a bit like women: that they will ask themselves more often whether their partner enjoyed it.

What did you feel for your character, Nancy, in The Pleasure is All Mine?
Initially tenderness, then also a touch of envy for the enthusiasm that the discovery of her body brings. It's like when you regret having seen a beautiful film because you no longer have the chance to watch it for the first time. Nancy has waited a long time, but now she has a world in front of her.

Emma Thompson, full nudity at 63

Did she have any doubts about shooting a full nude scene?
We are not used to seeing unkempt bodies in the cinema, there is an obsession with physical form that, if I could look back and talk to the me of forty years ago, I would say is completely unnecessary, sometimes even harmful. It is important to accept yourself for who you are. This film – and that scene in particular – helped me to do that and I kind of expected it, I accepted the part without thinking too much about it. That sequence then is fundamental to the character's journey.

How did she build such a convincing intimacy with her on-screen partner, Daryl McCormack?
He is a unicorn, a beautiful man with a perfect body, but he is also a caring, kind person with a look that puts you at ease.

Is that enough?
Absolutely not. The premise is that we filmed during the most acute phases of the pandemic. Meeting someone outside the house was forbidden except for business reasons. And so, even when we were on set, there was an intimacy, but that's not all. The main credit goes to Sophie Hyde, our director. We then had a week of rehearsals. The day before the one where we had to be completely naked, Sophie took some very large sheets of paper and made us draw our bodies, marking the places we liked and those we didn't like. We thus discovered that everyone has parts of themselves that they don't like but that others find perfect. It was very educational, it lowered the tension, the expectations we have of ourselves.

Let's put this film aside: what is your favourite eros-laden scene seen in the cinema?
I don't know if it's my favourite, but I certainly remember a sex scene on a construction site with Eminem and Brittany Murphy in an 8mile sequence.

What is your relationship with advancing age?
Often, alone or helped by my daughter Gaia, I shower my mother, who has Parkinson's disease. It is at times like those that I realise I am still young, that there is still a next phase of life, that it is all about perspective.

Her parents, Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law, are actors; her husband, Greg Wise, is an actor. Now her daughter Gaia has also thrown herself into acting with small roles in TV and film. Does acting run in the family?
It's just that we like the same things, and so we end up doing them, although very rarely all together. Only my son Tindy has saved himself and works for a humanitarian organisation. (Tindyebwa was adopted by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise as a teenager in early 2000 after being exploited as a child soldier in the Rwandan genocide, ed).

You have signed several films as a screenwriter, the last one with your husband: have you ever thought of directing one?
Yes, but I don't think I will now. If I were young, yes, I would still have time to improve. It's the right time then for new stories, you can make feature films with little, even with your mobile phone, and there is so much new to tell, especially about women. The era of cinema dominated by plots about the western white man is ending, we are already in a new phase.


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