We picture Oscar®-winning actress Emma Thompson in dramatic roles: Howard's End, Sense and Sensibility, Much Ado About Nothing. She's got a warm but spellbinding dignity about her, the kind that makes you want to call her Dame Emma, though she's been awarded no such title. Not yet, anyway.
But Emma isn't all serious. In Nanny McPhee, which she wrote and stars in, she plays the title character: a tough but loving caretaker. One look at her character, and it's easy to forget that underneath the warts is one stunning actress. Oprah.com caught up with Emma in advance of the film's release to talk motherhood, big-screen nannies and, of course, Harry Potter.
Rachel Bertsche: You're a mother, and so many of Oprah.com's users and Oprah Show viewers are moms trying to figure out the struggle of balancing work and family and making time for themselves. This is also a central issue in Nanny McPhee. Mrs. Green, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is trying to run the family farm while her husband's away at war. It's a very real problem. How do you resolve it in your own life?
Emma Thompson: Well, that's one of the major moments in this film, when Nanny McPhee comes and says to Mrs. Green, "I'm going to put the children to bed early, and you can have a little time to yourself." Mrs. Green doesn't understand what time to herself means anymore, because as any mom will tell you, especially a mom with lots of children, you don't have any time to yourself. That's literally not possible, because it's not in the nature of motherhood to choose to take time for yourself. It just feels wrong and selfish, and we've all been brought up to believe it's wrong and selfish. I don't think it is, actually, but there you are. You have to think about it in the sense of the oxygen masks that come down in the plane. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first in order to be able to help the others. If you don't put the oxygen mask on, you'll be dead on the floor while everyone else is managing perfectly fine.
It's like when moms first give birth and they're thinking: "Oh my god, what am I doing? I'm going to kill my baby," and they don't know that the baby is as strong as 10 oxen carrying 15 men and will absolutely suck you dry, and you're the one who's just been traumatized by basically pulling your lip over your head. It's an unbelievable thing, giving birth. I had no idea it was so traumatic. I was in shock for ages because I gave birth without painkillers, and I was 40 years old. The thing I'm most proud of in the world is having done that, but my goodness it was a trauma.
There's a big debate in my country about women who choose not to have children, which is a perfectly legitimate choice. It's very important to be able to do that without encountering hostility and prejudice. Why shouldn't women choose not to have children? And also, people who don't have children are fantastically useful to people who do, because they don't have the parenting anxiety and they're great for kids to be with. Children have great relationships with aunties and uncles who don't have kids. My daughter has a wonderful auntie who doesn't have kids and who, of course, is literally her favorite person. And then she gets to give my daughter back, she doesn't have to live with her all the time, and then she gives her the most fantastic time.
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