Emma Thompson was born into a leading British theatrical family. Her father, Eric Thompson, was an actor who became famous for narrating the popular animated childrens’ series, 'The Magic Roundabout' during the 1960s and 1970s. Her mother, Phyllida Law, was also an actress, and Emma had one younger sister, Sophie, who is also an actress too.
Thompson has described her family background as cheerful, clever and creative. She also spent part of her childhood years in Scotland, and has often said that she “feels Scottish”. Sadly, Thompson’s dad died in 1982, and did not live long enough to see his firstborn daughter strike gold at the Oscars.
As a teenager, Thompson attended Camden School for Girls, and then went on to read for an Honours degree in English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge. She also joined the university’s famous theatrical club, the Footlights, where many famous British comedians - including John Cleese, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and more recently Sascha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) had first flexed their acting muscles. Thompson subsequently became vice-president of the Footlights and was soon talent-spotted by showbiz agent Richard Armitage, who offered her a contract with his agency whilst she was still an undergraduate. Thompson also achieved fame with the Footlights at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where, along with Stephen Fry, Tony Slattery, Hugh Laurie, Paul Dwyer and Paul Shearer, she won the first ever Perrier Award.
Thompson’s acting career proper began in 1980, soon after she graduated from university. She started out doing stints on BBC Radio, as well as touring with various comedy shows, and got her first proper slot on television in the comedy sketch show, 'Alfresco', in 1983. The following year, Thompson was a guest star alongside Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie on the highly popular sitcom, 'The Young Ones', which also aired on the BBC.
She soon achieved critical acclaim when she took the lead in a West End revival of the popular show, 'Me And My Girl', where she played opposite Robert Lindsay. She went on to star in the BBC drama series, 'Fortunes of War'. Here, she played an English expatriate living in Eastern Europe just as the Second World War began. This was also a highly momentous role for Thompson as far as her personal life was concerned, for it was whilst filming this series that she first met the actor Kenneth Branagh, who she went on to marry in August 1989. Thompson and Kenneth set up their own production company, and frequently worked together on hit movies, including 'Dead Again', 'Henry V' and 'Much Ado About Nothing'.
During her time spent working at the BBC, Thompson frequently found herself acting on a range of comedy review programmes alongside many of her former Footlights buddies, including Hugh Laurie (whom she also dated for a time), and Robbie Coltrane, with whom she would later act in several of the Harry Potter movies. Thompson achieved the ultimate television accolade when she succeeded in landing her own TV series, called 'Thompson', which featured many of her own sketches and characters that she had created. Sadly, Thompson’s TV series was not very well received, and did not return for a second series. But far greater successes were just around the corner.
It was surely only a question of time before Thompson graduated from the small screen to the big screen. Her first major film role came in 1990, when she played opposite Jeff Goldblum in a movie called 'The Tall Guy'. But although Thompson made her feature film debut as a comedy actress, she was soon to become famous for playing more serious dramatic roles. In 1992, she took the role of Margaret Schlegel, in the Merchant Ivory screen version of E.M. Forster’s famous novel, 'Howard’s End'. Here, she played the role of older sister to her headstrong younger sibling, played by Helena Bonham-Carter, also acting alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thompson’s stellar performance in this role won her that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.
'Howard’s End' brought honours for Emma on both sides of the Atlantic, as she also received a BAFTA Award here in England for the film; it also firmly established her as a leading movie actress. Thompson went on to act in a movie about the Guildford Four called, In 'The Name Of The Father'. She then played opposite Sir Anthony Hopkins again in the dramatisation of the Booker Prize winning novel, 'The Remains Of The Day'. Her next serious role was that of the painter Dora Carrington, the muse and friend of the famous gay writer, Lytton Strachey, in the movie version of her life, called 'Carrington'. Meanwhile, Thompson’s first marriage had run into problems, which unfortunately attracted more than their fair share of attention in the tabloid gossip columns, owing to “Ken and Em”’s celebrity status. The couple eventually divorced in 1995, but Thompson was soon to find love and happiness again quite soon - along with yet another Academy Award success.
Also in 1995, Thompson accepted the role of Elinor Dashwood in Ang Lee’s version of Jane Austen’s novel, 'Sense and Sensibility'. Whilst filming this movie, Thompson met and fell in love with fellow actor Greg Wise, who played the role of Willoughby, Kate Winslet’s paramour. 'Sense and Sensibility' became recognised as an all-time classic rendering of the novel; Thompson had also been hard at work behind the scenes, however, as it was she who adapted the novel for the big screen. Her excellent screenplay was justly rewarded when she received the Oscar for Best Adaptation for Sense and Sensibility. Soon afterwards, she received an Emmy Award for her role as a guest star in a 1997 episode of the show 'Ellen'; in this episode, she played a fictionalised parody of herself
Thompson’s career then changed pace and slowed down a little, and she also became a mother. Thompson and Greg’s daugher, Gaia Romilly Wise, was born on 4 December, 1999; incidentally, Thompson and Greg were married on 29 July, 2003. Meanwhile, Thompson began spending more time working in America. She took a leading role in the HBO series, 'Wit', where she played the part of a dying cancer victim. In 2003, she played several roles, including that of an angel, in the series 'Angels in America'. In Thompson’s next screen outing, however, she chose a lighter role, playing the part of Professor Sybill Trelawney, the vague psychic schoolteacher in the movie version of 'Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban'. This was a role that Thompson would reprise in 2007, when she starred as Professor Trelawney once again in 'Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix'.
Perhaps thanks to her academic grounding as an English scholar and Cambridge graduate, Thompson is also a highly talented scriptwriter and has also achieved independent fame for her adaptations and screenplays. In addition to her Oscar-winning adaptation of 'Sense and Sensibility', Thompson has also written outstanding original screenplays, the most notable being that of 'Nanny McPhee' (2005). Nanny McPhee marked a return to her playing the lighter, more comedic roles that had originally made her famous. As well as writing the screenplay, Emma also starred in the movie, and played the title role.
Teaming up with Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman, Thompson starred in 2006 comedy drama 'Stranger than Fiction', which led to three award nominations. The following year saw her step into the world of wizardry when she appeared in 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' before making a cameo in Will Smith’s post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller 'I Am Legend'.
A leading role in British drama 'Brideshead Revisited' (2008), which was based on the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh, won further critical approval as Thompson was rewarded with more award nominations. These included a British Independent Film Award, a London Film Critics Circle Award and a Satellite Award. A Golden Globe Award for Best Actress nomination was also secured by Emma for her following movie, 'Last Chance Harvey' (2008), an American romantic drama starring Dustin Hoffman.
Thanks to the success of the first film, it was just a matter of time before Thompson reprised her role as Nanny McPhee and this happened when she starred in 2010’s 'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang'. Thompson wrote the screenplay for the sequel, which was a commercial success and was largely positively received by critics.
Thompson returned for the final chapter of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' in 2011 and delved into the murky world of aliens in 'Men in Black III' in 2012.
Despite her high-flying Hollywood career, Emma Thompson is firmly down to earth, and also quite self-deprecating; indeed, she has frequently been known to satirise her own performances. She is also renowned for her modesty about her professional achievements and is reputed to be so embarrassed about putting her two gold Oscars on show that she elected to stash them in her downstairs bathroom, where hopefully far fewer visitors to her home would see them.
She lives with her husband Greg Wise and daughter Gaia in North London, is highly selective about the roles that she chooses, and spends as much time at home as possible. Emma is a keen cook and reportedly loves trying out new recipes in her well-equipped kitchen. One of the trademarks of Thompson’s career is that she frequently acts with the same people; she has played the role of Hugh Grant‘s love interest in 'Sense and Sensibility', and then went on to play the part of his sister in 'Love Actually'; she has acted with her mother, Phyllida Law in many movies, including 'Sense and Sensibility'.
Notwithstanding Thompson’s own modesty, it must be noted that she is the only person ever to win Academy awards for both acting and writing, notably the Oscar for both Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Thompson’s talent is multi-faceted and prodigious, since she is a gifted comedienne and serious actor, as well as a brilliant writer. Hopefully, she will continue to delight the movie-going public with her many gifts and talents.