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Encore: Actress Emma Thompson on her movie, 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to talk now about a new movie that involves some pretty adult content. It is called "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande." And it unfolds almost entirely inside one room, a hotel room. Inside that hotel room are two people. They are Nancy Stokes, recently widowed after a marriage that lasted three decades and during which she experienced not one orgasm, and Leo Grande, the young sex worker who she has hired to teach her what she's been missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE")

DARYL MCCORMACK: (As Leo Grande) So what is your fantasy?

EMMA THOMPSON: (As Nancy Stokes) I'm not sure you could really class it as a fantasy as such. It's a bit mundane for that.

MCCORMACK: (As Leo Grande) OK, well, what would you most desire? I mean, desires are never mundane.

THOMPSON: (As Nancy Stokes) To have sex tonight with you. That's about it, really, for the moment.

MCCORMACK: (As Leo Grande) Great.

KELLY: That's Emma Thompson, who stars as Nancy Stokes. I welcomed her to the program to talk about this movie when it first came out a couple of months ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KELLY: Emma Thompson, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

THOMPSON: Hello, darling. It's lovely to be here, really, a great pleasure.

KELLY: It's lovely to have you with us. Can I just say it is so striking to listen to that, to a woman of that age and, as we come to know through the film, of such dignity sounding so very unsure of what she wants and what she is allowed to ask for? I mean, I hear that and I hear this story of 31 years of marriage of - I don't know - hundreds, thousands of nights that she went to sleep after unsatisfying sex. Why did you want to play her?

THOMPSON: She's bliss. She was bliss from beginning to end. She's a decent, ordinary, responsible woman. She represents an awful lot, I think, certainly of women in my country. She's unintentionally, mostly, funny. But the situation that she's in was irresistible to me. It was so unusual. I've never seen these two people in this situation ever. It's sort of irresistibly delicious. It's delightful. It gives so much pleasure, and yet there's so many conversations that can come out of it that go very deep into the female experience and the male experience of sex.

KELLY: On the question of sex, on the question of pleasure and the female experience, orgasm, she says, quote, "I won't be faking it. I don't do that." And you delivered that line, and you let it sit there for just a sliver of a pause. And then you added, not anymore.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Yes, loaded with meaning, your question, Mary Louise - emotional meaning, yeah.

KELLY: I'm trying to figure out how to frame my question quite. But let me put it this way. What have you heard from women, older or otherwise, about what resonated to them there?

THOMPSON: What resonates is the idea that the female orgasm somehow has to be performative because the female orgasm is there to convince the man that he's managed it, he's achieved it. He's done the thing he supposed to do for the woman. To be honest, brutally honest, an awful lot of men don't concern themselves with the female orgasm. They don't care. It's remarkably kind of unemotionally developed and yet a sort of shared experience that leads to that kind of intense and releasing pleasure is actually available to us all. And it would be nice if we could find a way towards it that was a little bit more skillful. And Leo is very, very skillful. What's so wonderful about the story is that Leo's not there to give Nancy her orgasm or - that's not his purpose.

KELLY: Yeah. She says upfront, this isn't the goal. It's not going to happen. So let's just set it aside.

THOMPSON: That's right. And another thing that's so irresistible about the film is that Leo's interested in pleasure for its own sake and a feeling that somehow it's something that everyone can have but that a lot of people find difficult to access, which we know to be the case. So therefore, the examination of pleasure, particularly of female pleasure, but for Leo, anyone who needs him is intimately connected with the fact that it would make the world a better place. And I feel that he's right about that. He says, oh, imagine how much less BS there would be. And I also imagine how much less sexual violence there would be.

KELLY: The closing scene is you completely naked, completely on camera, staring at yourself in a full-length mirror. I read one comment from an interviewer at the Times of London who said, to my knowledge, it is the first time we have ever seen on film an older, naked woman look at herself with such simple joy. To you, did it feel radical?

THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. Yes, it did. Yeah. It is radical because, normally, the bodies that we choose to put on screen have been treated in some way. They're either bodies that conform to what we've decided is the ideal, which is impossible for most people to achieve, which is why most women will look in the mirror or not look in the mirror because they experience a kind of loathing or hatred or, at the very least, a dissatisfaction. Oddly enough, I went quite into sort of the past. I thought, how am I going to do this? I didn't know how to do this because I can't do it. But how does Nancy get there? What's going on inside her?

And I decided that because she had experienced this joy, that suddenly she's looking at her body without any filters. She's seeing it for the first time as her home, the place where she lives, the place where she can experience joy on her own or with someone else, should she choose.

And when I was trying to work out how I wanted her to stand, I went and looked at all the old medieval pictures of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Because I thought, well, she wasn't self-conscious. I wonder how - I know it's all male artists, but at the same time, all those medieval Eves are standing kind of - and Adam - they just stand with one leg slightly bent, very relaxed. And that's what I took for my inspiration for her stance.

KELLY: Did making this movie change you in any way, liberate you to have any new adventure?

THOMPSON: (Laughter) No, I haven't hired any sex workers recently. Although, you know, it's obviously deeply tempting. I think what it did for me certainly was it made me re-recognize - not 'cause I don't live with it every day - the waste of time that non-acceptance of one's body is. It's a waste of our time. And God knows I've wasted a lot of time. And, of course, that's not my fault, actually, because it's - the iconography that surrounds us is absolutely inescapable.

It gave me the opportunity to put my body where my mouth is and to allow a film to be made that I hope will be of some assistance indeed to young women and indeed to young mothers whose 8-year-olds are saying, I don't like my thighs. So everything about it, I hope, will give people a release and a kind of desire to appreciate themselves, to appreciate their bodies and what their bodies can do for them and not to continually want them to be something else.

KELLY: That is Emma Thompson. We spoke to her a few months ago about her movie, "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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