Dame Emma Thompson DBE (born 15 April 1959) is a British actress, screenwriter, producer, activist, author, and comedian. One of Britain's most acclaimed actresses, she is the recipient of numerous accolades, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, a British Academy Television Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award.
Born in London to English actor Eric Thompson and Scottish actress Phyllida Law, Thompson was educated at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she became a member of the Footlights troupe. After appearing in several comedy programmes, she came to prominence in 1987 in two BBC TV series, Tutti Frutti and Fortunes of War, winning the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for her work in both series. She starred in her first film role with the romantic comedy The Tall Guy (1989). In the early 1990s, she often collaborated with her husband, the actor and director Kenneth Branagh, with films such as Henry V (1989), Dead Again (1991), Peter's Friends (1992) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993).
In 1992, Thompson won an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress for the Merchant-Ivory period drama Howards End. In 1993, she had dual Academy Award nominations for her roles in The Remains of the Day as the housekeeper of a grand household and In the Name of the Father as a lawyer, becoming the eighth performer in history to be nominated for two acting Oscars in the same year. Thompson scripted and starred in Sense and Sensibility (1995), which earned her numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay—which makes her the only person to receive Academy Awards for acting and writing—and a second BAFTA Award for Best Actress. In 2013, she received acclaim and several award nominations for her portrayal of author P. L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. Other notable film credits include the Harry Potter film series (2004–2011), Primary Colors (1998), Wit (2001), Love Actually (2003), Angels in America (2003), Nanny McPhee (2005), Stranger than Fiction (2006), Last Chance Harvey (2008), An Education (2009), Men in Black 3 (2012) and the spin-off Men in Black: International (2019), Brave (2012), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Late Night (2019), and Cruella (2021). She has also starred in the BBC/HBO series Years and Years.
Thompson is married to actor Greg Wise, with whom she lives in London. They have one daughter and an adopted son. She is an activist in the areas of human rights and environmentalism and has received criticism for her outspokenness. She has written two books adapted from The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Thompson was born in Paddington, London, on 15 April 1959. Her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law, while her English father, Eric Thompson, was involved in theatre, and was the writer–narrator of the popular children's television series The Magic Roundabout. Her godfather was the director and writer Ronald Eyre. She has one sister, Sophie Thompson, who also works as an actress. The family lived in West Hampstead in north London, and Thompson was educated at Camden School for Girls. She spent much time in Scotland during her childhood and often visited Ardentinny, where her grandparents and uncle lived.
ADC Theatre, University of Cambridge, where Thompson began performing with Footlights
In her youth, Thompson was intrigued by language and literature, a trait which she attributes to her father, who shared her love of words. After successfully taking A levels in English, French and Latin, and securing a scholarship, she began studying for an English degree at Newnham College, Cambridge, arriving in 1977. Thompson believes that it was inevitable that she would become an actress, commenting that she was "surrounded by creative people and I don't think it would ever have gone any other way, really". While there, she had a "seminal moment" that turned her to feminism and inspired her to take up performing. She explained in an interview in 2007 how she discovered the book The Madwoman in the Attic, "which is about Victorian female writers and the disguises they took on in order to express what they wanted to express. That completely changed my life." She became a self-professed "punk rocker", with short red hair and a motorbike, and aspired to be a comedian like Lily Tomlin.
At Cambridge, Thompson was invited into the Cambridge Footlights, the university's prestigious sketch comedy troupe, by its president, Martin Bergman, becoming its first female member. Also in the troupe were fellow actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and she had a romantic relationship with the latter. Fry recalled that "there was no doubt that Emma was going the distance. Our nickname for her was Emma Talented." In 1980, Thompson served as the Vice President of Footlights, and co-directed the troupe's first all-female revue, Woman's Hour. The following year, Thompson and her Footlights team won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for their sketch show The Cellar Tapes. Thompson graduated with upper second-class honours.
In 1982, Thompson's father died aged 52. The actress has commented that this "tore [the family] to pieces",and "I can't begin to tell you how much I regret his not being around". She added, "At the same time, it's possible that were he still alive I might never have had the space or courage to do what I've done ... I have a definite feeling of inheriting space. And power.