Emma Thompson was born on 15th April 1959 in Paddington, London, England. She is the eldest of two daughters born to the late Eric Thompson, creator of the children’s programme The Magic Roundabout, and actress Phyllida Law, with whom she has frequently appeared on screen. Her sister is actress Sophie Thompson. Emma attended Camden School for Girls and then went on to Cambridge University, studying English Literature, and graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge University in 1982. She had intended to become a writer, however whilst at Cambridge she was persuaded to join the Footlights and so impressed agent Richard Armitage that he signed her to a contract while she was still two years away from graduation.
After leaving Cambridge Emma embarked on her career in entertainment, beginning with stints on BBC radio and touring with comedy shows. She spent several months as a stand-up comic but eventually joined up with her fellow former Footlights colleagues Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry for a sketch comedy television series called Alfresco in 1983. This led to her own TV special Up For Grabs.
In 1985 Emma appeared in the West End revival of Me and My Girl with Robert Lindsay which was a huge success. It lead to many television offers including in 1987 Tutti Frutti and her first dramatic role as Harriet Pringle in Fortunes of War with Kenneth Branagh. In 1988 Emma played the part of Catherine in the TV film The Winslow Boy and had her own TV series called Thompson.
During the filming of The Fortunes of War Emma and Kenneth fell in love and were finally married in August 1989. Emma made her feature film debut as Katherine in Kenneth’s widely acclaimed adaptation of Henry V. She also appeared in two other movies directed by Kenneth in which they played romantically involved characters – Dead Again (1991) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Emma also belonged to Kenneth’s Renaissance Theatre Company and appeared on stage with him in several plays including Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing.
During 1989 Emma also appeared as Alison Porter in Look Back in Anger and as Kate Lemmon in the film The Tall Guy. In 1991 she appeared in Impromptu and in 1992 she made another film with Kenneth, Peter’s Friends, in which once again worked with her Footlights companions Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. She also appeared in an episode of Cheers in 1992 titled “One Hugs, the Other Doesn’t”.
In 1992 Emma won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for her role opposite Anthony Hopkins in Howards End. She followed this in 1993 with Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gareth Pierce in In the Name of the Father with Daniel Day-Lewis, and Best Actress for the role of Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day again with Anthony Hopkins. In 1994 she made another television film, The Blue Boy and two more films, My Father the Hero and Junior with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Emma’s first attempt at writing a screenplay resulted in the box-office smash hit Sense and Sensibility in 1995 in which she played the role of Elinor Dashwood. Her screenplay won her a second Oscar and she also received a nomination for Best Actress.
In 1995 her marriage fell apart after a rumoured extra-marital affair between Kenneth and Helena Bonham Carter (his Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein co-star). Since 1996 Emma has been living with Greg Wise, who played Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility.
Following a year’s sabbatical in 1996, Emma performed alongside her mother, Phyllida Law, in Alan Rickman’s The Winter Guest which she then followed in 1998 with her portrayal of Susan Stanton in Primary Colors with John Travolta, and Judas Kiss with Alan Rickman.
On 4th December 1999 Greg and Emma became parents when Emma gave birth to daughter Gaia Romilly, a healthy 7lb baby born in a private hospital in St. John’s Wood, London, who has inherited her father’s dark hair. The baby’s arrival was extremely welcome to Emma who had a miscarriage back in 1997. She took the decision to put her career on hold for a while in order to be “in the right state to conceive”. Emma and Greg finally got married on 31st July 2003 in a ceremony in Scotland. Three year old Gaia was flower girl.
In 2000 Emma played Druscilla in the comedy film Maybe Baby with Hugh Laurie, Joely Richardson and Joanna Lumley. This was followed in 2001 with the TV drama Wit in which she played Vivian Bearing alongside Christopher Lloyd and Eileen Atkins; and Amnesty International’s TV movie We Know Where You Live. In the same year she started filming the comedy romance Love Actually with Hugh Grant and Imagining Argentina with Antonio Banderas. She also supplied the voice for Captain Amelia in the animated movie Treasure Planet. Her recent television work also included 2003’s Angels in America, playing multiple roles, including one of the titular angels. Her Emmy Award was as a guest star in a 1997 episode of the show Ellen – in this episode she played a fictionalised parody of herself: a closeted lesbian more concerned with the media finding out she is actually American.
Most recently, Thompson appeared in supporting roles such as Sybil Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The film Nanny McPhee, adapted by Emma Thompson from Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda books, was first released in October 2005. Thompson worked on the project for nine years, having written the screenplay and starred alongside her mother (who has a cameo appearance). In the film Stranger than Fiction she plays an author planning on killing her main character, Harold Crick, who turns out to be a real person. Most recently, Thompson made a short uncredited cameo as a doctor introducing the cure for cancer in the form of measles in the latest film adaptation of I Am Legend, and starred in Last Chance Harvey opposite Dustin Hoffman, Eileen Atkins and Kathy Baker. She will appear in An Education and The Boat That Rocked, the new Richard Curtis film which also stars Gemma Arterton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, January Jones, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Jack Davenport and Rhys Ifans.