Brideshead Revisited - Emma Thompson interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
EMMA Thompson talks about playing Lady Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited and why she doesn’t necessarily view her character as a cold one…
Q. How did you take to playing someone older than yourself?
Emma Thompson: It was a struggle [smiles].
Q. When you looked in the mirror for the first time with your make-up on, did you find your mum looking back at you?
Emma Thompson: She certainly did. She pursed her lips and said: “You’re just right.” It was very alarming. I was a bit alarmed about playing a mother, I’ve tried to avoid it. But we [her fellow cast members] did have a very nice time and they didn’t treat me as though as I was the old bag not worth talking to, so I was very grateful for that.
Q. Had you seen the original TV series?
Emma Thompson: I didn’t see the TV series. I was 20 and I was a punk rocker. I was trolling around London in a lot of zips.
Q. How helpful was being able to shoot at Castle Howard?
Emma Thompson: Castle Howard is so interesting because it’s run as a business now. The difference between swanning around when Lady Marchers was in charge was that she lived in it in the way that the Queen doesn’t even live in Buckingham Palace – it’s like “they will have to the gilt room open for you”. Whereas Missus would have been wandering around wherever she wanted with a vast quantity of servants like Lady Astor, who used to ask the butler to make punch out of the Chateau La Tour 1914, because she was a teetotaller and didn’t know any better.
We were living partly in that bit, which is run like a theatre, and partly in the bit where they keep the J cloths and the linoneum. I’ve been backstage at Windsor Castle and there is a lot of linoneum. There is a backstage bit that is completely disconnected, and that’s what I found fascinating – that it’s like a theatre.
Q. Would you describe Lady Marchmain as a cold character?
Emma Thompson: The thing about Marchers is that she really does believe that if she doesn’t do right by her children, they will go to hell. In the same way as I believe that if I do not prevent my child from running out into the road, she will get run over. So I pursue her with the same vehemence in relation to cars as Lady Marchmain pursues her children in relation to anything really from food to sex to marriage. She believes she is doing the right thing – she’s giving them the tools with which they can save themselves. She’s giving them the religious version of the Green Cross Code. So, whilst her emotional methods with her children are cruel and dysfunctional to the point of psychosis, she does believe that she’s doing the right thing, for all the right reasons.
Q. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Emma Thompson: I hope that they all leave with a strong and violent urge to down a large vodka martini, because of the emotional drainage… that you’ve experienced something emotional, and you need a drink.
Q. At the film’s London premiere there were photos of you dancing around a pole. Would you care to explain [laughs]?
Emma Thompson: Well, there was a pole there, there was a bike there, there were two bollards and a bin! What was I to do? When we were walking in, there was a press line of photographers, and I had to walk past in quick succession a lampost, a no parking sign, two bollards, a bicycle – which obviously I had to get on, because it would be funny – and a bin!