Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The normally happy and bubbly Emma Thompson was in sombre mood the other day as she told me about an incident in her childhood which she still
remembers vividly.

    It happened 45 years ago but the sexual advances and unwanted kisses of the elderly magician at her eighth birthday party still burn
in her memory.

   “My parents brought a magician to the house for my birthday party,” she recalled, talking at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “He
was an old man with gray hair and he took me behind a door and said,
‘Would you like a sweetie?’ I said, ‘Oh yes please,’
but I had a funny feeling. He gave me the sweet and said, ‘Will you
give me a kiss?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’

  “So I went up to kiss him on the cheek and he planted his mouth on
mine and stuck his tongue in my mouth and wiggled it about.

   “And I thought it was my fault; children always think it is their fault.”

   The Oscar winner was telling the story to illustrate the perils
children face, which, she said, are so much more prevalent today with
the onset of social media.  It is something she feels so strongly
about that she has written a handbook for her 13-year-old daughter
Gaia advising her on sex and emotions.

   “It has changed so much since we were young and there are so much
more pressures. The sort of sexual questions being put to young kids
is horrifying to me, but we’ve all got to deal with it because that’s
what’s out there----boys and girls watching pornography, boys showing
girls hardcore porn on their iPhones. A young kid will watch and not
know what to do with those images.

 “I’m in a constant state of anxiety but I know these kids have to
negotiate these thickets by themselves. We can only help by listening,
by being aware, by not turning away and by not saying, ‘Oh, that’s all
so disgusting I can’t even think about it.’

  “So I wrote my daughter a handbook about emotions, about where
emotions are felt in the body, about sexual feelings and about the
connection between sex and emotions. And I drew pictures and said,
‘You know, you can sometimes feel things in you loins you don’t feel
in your heart, and you need to look at that. Look at your body and
think of it as a map and if you really listen to what’s going on
inside your body, your emotional language, then you will be able to
negotiate your own life and keep the sexual activities safe. Because
if you're emotionally safe, then  you're OK."

   Thompson and her husband of ten years, actor Greg Wise, have two
children, Gaia and Tindy, a former Rwandan boy soldier they adopted
when he was 16. Now 26, he is a human rights lawyer, and, said
Thompson with a laugh, ‘He is the only one in our family who knows how
to clean and load an AK-47 which is something I’m quite relieved about
because I feel sure we’ll need it at some point.”

  She rarely gives interviews nowadays but has been lured away from
home to  talk about Saving Mr. Banks, the movie in which she portrays
P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins who had a bitter creative
struggle with Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) over bringing the book
to the screen.

   When she travelled to Hollywood in 1961 to discuss the filming, she
had massive clashes with Disney, the writer and the composers, and
according to the movie, the movie while there she reflected on her
childhood in 1906 Australia, that inspired the characters in Mary
Poppins. Colin Farrell plays her alcoholic banker father, who was the
basis for Mr. Banks, the father in Mary Poppins.

   “I didn’t know anything about her until I started research for the
movie and she was an extraordinary woman,” said Emma Thompson. “For the era she
was born into, she got a lot done. She never married, never had anyone
to look after her and she was a difficult and troubled person, but
groundbreaking in many ways."

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