'Why I've bared all at 62!' Emma Thompson

‘Why I’ve bared all at 62!’ Emma Thompson on going full-frontal naked in her new movie about a repressed widow’s sexual awakening

  • Emma Thompson, 63, plays a sexually frustrated widow in her new film 
  • The film explores the rare subject that a widow may still have sexual appetite 
  • In this role, Emma goes full-frontal nudity and a no-holds-barred sex scene too

The film doesn’t run to two hours, it won’t wow you with special effects and it mostly consists of two people sitting in a hotel room talking. 

But since one of those people is Emma Thompson, the other being the much-heralded rising star Daryl McCormack, and the plot involves a 55-year-old widow who’s never had an orgasm and a twentysomething sex worker, the chances are high that when Good Luck To You, Leo Grande opens on Friday, it’ll have people talking from Land’s End to Lochaber. 

Emma plays Nancy Stokes, a faithful wife (although the sex with her husband was lacklustre at best), devoted mother and dedicated RE teacher who, for all her life, has put other people first. 

But now her husband has died, her children are grown up and she’s retired, it’s time to finally look after Nancy. Time, in fact, to splash out on hiring an impossibly handsome young man to initiate her into the joys of sex. 

Emma Thompson, 63, (right) plays a sexually frustrated widow in her new film. The film explores the rare subject that a widow may still have sexual appetite

The film will see jaws dropping to cinema floors for two reasons. Firstly, it openly explores a subject rarely seen on-screen: the fact that a retired widow might still have a sexual appetite and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to satisfy it. 

But perhaps even more shocking is that Dame Emma Thompson, the buttoned-up star of The Remains Of The Day and Sense And Sensibility, not only does full-frontal nudity but a no-holds-barred sex scene too. 

‘Nancy’s a searcher,’ explains Emma. ‘She’s someone who’s led a very restricted life. 

‘She’s ticked all the boxes in order to pass as someone who can be acceptable. I know these sorts of women from the shires so well. 

‘They’re women who have lived their lives according to the rules and then suddenly find that the rules have not served them, emotionally or physically. They have in fact just locked them into a female stereotype.

‘Nancy looks at this and suddenly thinks, “I need to change this.”’ 

In real life, there are surely not many nice middle-class English women of a certain age who would dare hire a sex worker to teach them how to enjoy themselves. Emma says that this flight of boldness on Nancy’s part was one of the things that attracted her to the role. 

‘It was very easy for Nancy to have been repressed, because one of the things that’s not regarded as acceptable for women is that they might have appetites of any kind. Nancy’s never had an orgasm, and I don’t think that’s unusual, even in modern life.

‘If you don’t know how and nobody’s said, “Look, this is how you do it,” then you’re not going to learn! But then she chooses suddenly to unleash herself – to unzip herself. 

‘It’s very courageous because what she’s doing is contrary to everything she’s been brought up with. She’s really breaking out of something, and I found that completely irresistible.’ 

The film was written by comedian Katy Brand, and Emma was thrilled when she sent her the script. ‘She’s a wonderful writer,’ she says. 

‘She wrote this script, sent it to me, and said, “I wrote this with you in mind, what do you think?” I read it and immediately wrote back and said, “You have to make this!”’ 

She says the film would have been impossible without her co-star Daryl McCormack. The 29- year-old Irish actor plays sex worker Leo Grande, who during the course of the film reveals he’s facing demons of his own. 

‘Chemistry’s a tricky one, isn’t it?’ muses Emma. ‘Daryl won’t mind me saying he wasn’t the only actor we saw, but there was something about him. 

‘He and I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath, which was very muddy at the time, and ended up just sliding about and sniggering. It was important to find out that we could just hold onto each other and laugh – in a way it was kind of emblematic of the whole film, because that was really what we did for the entire time.’ 

Emma says that before the age of 63 she wouldn’t have been able to go full-frontal nudity for a role 

The biggest challenge she had to face was a scene where her character strips naked. ‘Oh, God. Well, it’s very challenging to be nude at 62,’ sighs Emma, who is now 63. 

‘Especially in a world where nothing has changed in the dreadful demands made on women to look a certain way. It’s something I’ve been thinking about writing on since I was in my 20s, and the young female actors I speak to now still suggest there’s the same thing going on, a sort of tyranny to make women lose their self-confidence. 

‘It was very interesting to me, because I realised that if I’m not near any mirrors and I look down at my body, it looks fine. I can see my toes and it doesn’t look horrible. 

‘But as soon as I look in a mirror, I see nothing but flaws. It was definitely an interesting thing to experiment with.’ 

She says that in order to counter their embarrassment, director Sophie Hyde set about making both actors as comfortable as possible with being nude from the very beginning. ‘For nearly all of our first day of rehearsals, Sophie, Daryl and I rehearsed entirely nude, which was amazing. 

Emma says the film would have been impossible without her co-star Daryl McCormack (left). The 29- year-old Irish actor plays sex worker Leo Grande, who during the course of the film reveals he’s facing demons of his own

‘We talked about our bodies, our relationship with them, the things we like about them, the things we find difficult about them. It was a wonderful experience – although I don’t think I could have done any of it before the age I am now.’ 

So that’s full-frontal nudity ticked off. But ask Emma what she plans to do next and she shrugs. 

‘I don’t really have a wish list,’ she says. ‘I would like to direct one day, but it’s got to be the right thing. 

‘Maggie Gyllenhaal just directed The Lost Daughter, and she told me, “I’ve never felt so alive.” I suddenly felt deeply envious and thought, “I must immediately write a film and direct it right now.” Because I want to feel that too!’ 

Watch this space… 

  • Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is released in cinemas on Friday 

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