Emma Thompson has definitely bared all, but she still struggles accepting her birthday suit. At age 63, the actress explains what it was like playing Nancy, a retired schoolteacher who hires a sex worker to help her achieve her first orgasm, in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Luckily for Thompson, she had already experienced filming in the nude with Jeff Goldblum once before, which helped prepare her. Here are Emma Thompson’s sex scene experiences, explained.
“I Spent Two Delightful Days Nude With Jeff Goldblum…”
Thompson told Vanity Fair that she once filmed fully nude with Jeff Goldblum when she was in her 20s. The experience left both actors feeling ill from their nervousness. It was for The Tall Guy, released in 1989. The British rom com also starred Rowan Atkinson.
“We were both so nervous,” she said. “We both had indigestion I think for two weeks beforehand. But once we got into it, we just had the best time. That has always stood me in good stead because I always remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’s okay, it’s fine. It’s all right.’ As long as you are calm, everyone else is calm.”
The sex scene that Thompson and Goldblum starred in wasn’t your typical sex scene. It wasn’t exactly the “steamy, sensual” kind of imagery typical of cinematic sex. When The Tall Guy came out, even the Campaign Against Pornography gave its blessing.
“My first film…was called The Tall Guy and there was a sex scene in it,” she said. “Because it was a comedy sex scene, we were shagging on the piano, we were shagging in the breakfast things. There was shots of my arse with bits of toast stuck to it. Two f—ing days of being nude on set. And when the campaign came out, the Campaign Against Pornography…said that if they were to show their children a sex scene, they would show that one, because it was fun, and funny, and full of humor. Because I noticed at the time that all sex scenes, everyone was so angry. They’re angry! You look at people’s faces, you look at Basic Instinct. Sharon Stone…livid! So cross!”
Playing Nancy in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Was “So Intense”
While Emma Thompson’s previous sex scene was all laughs and jest, playing Nancy was quite a bit different.
“We only had 19 days to shoot the whole thing, which was a lot,” Thompson told Vanity Fair. “We shot 12-page sections often, so the performance aspect of it was just so intense.” She explained that Sophie Hyde, the director, arranged everything and managed to make the rehearsal space “womblike.”
At one point, Thompson joked to Sophie Hyde that she, too, needed to get naked. Of course, Hyde refused… but then changed her mind.
“’Oh no, no, no, I’m not going to do that.’” Thompson said of Hyde’s response. “Then she thought about it, and then she said, ‘Oh, all right then.’”
The process by which everyone got comfortable with their nakedness seems on the opposite spectrum of having toast stuck to one’s arse. Instead, they all practiced affirmations in order to make themselves feel positive about their bodies.
“Sophie, Daryl, and I rehearsed entirely nude and talked about our bodies, talked about our relationship with our bodies, drew them, discussed the things that we find difficult about, things we like about them, described one another’s bodies,” Thompson said during a discussion with Cinema Café.
Emma Thompson on Nudity, Self-Acceptance
Emma Thompson told Variety Virtual Sundance Studio that she considers self-acceptance of her naked self to be one of the hardest tasks she’s had to do.
“Probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to act, is standing in a relaxed manner and looking at my body without judgment,” she admitted. “[Women are] used to not liking our bodies. We’ve been trained to hate our bodies from very early on, because they don’t match the impossible and actually cruel ideals that we are presented with.”
The actress, who has 95 credits under her belt, said she considers her character in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande to be less of a romantic heroine than a “repressed” one. The romance is “with herself” rather than with anyone else.
In a way, this ties in perfectly to people’s ongoing struggles with accepting ourselves in a society that continuously pressures us to be different than we are.
Thompson noted that social media has probably made everything worse. In the end, she attributed feeling comfortable enough with herself to be naked on-camera in this incredibly vulnerable way to the stage of life that she’s at.
“I don’t think I could’ve done it before the age that I am,” Thompson said. “And yet, of course, the age that I am makes it extremely challenging because we aren’t used to seeing untreated bodies on the screen.”
Speaking to People, the actress admitted that while courage has never been a problem for her (she used to write and perform stand-up comedy), she wishes her younger self would have been more self-accepting.
“I would certainly encourage a kind of far more neutral response to the body and just say, ‘Relax.’ You know? Don’t waste your time and your energy and your passion and your curiosity and indeed your purpose worrying about your body. Just accept and get on with it.”
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is available for streaming on Hulu.