Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR News

Emma Thompson on her new film — and the idea the female orgasm has to be performative

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson star in the film, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande.
Nick Wall
/
Searchlight Pictures
Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson star in the film, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande.

In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Emma Thompson plays a woman who decides to embark on a journey of sexual self-discovery and acceptance.

This period of introspection unfolds almost entirely inside one room with two people: Nancy Stokes (Thompson), a recently widowed woman who is reckoning with her marriage that lasted three decades without her experiencing a single orgasm, and Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), the young sex worker who she has hired to teach her what she's been missing.

The Academy Award and BAFTA-winning actor spoke with All Things Considered and described the joy of portraying a woman on screen who is focused mostly on one thing: her own pleasure.

This interview with Mary Louise Kelly has been lightly edited for length and clarity. It contains some adult content.


Interview highlights

On why she wanted to play this character

She's bliss, she was bliss from beginning to end. She's a decent, ordinary, responsible woman. She represents an awful lot 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.

On what resonates for women who have watched the film

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's supposed to do for the woman.

To be honest, brutally honest, an awful lot of men don't concern themselves with female orgasms, they don't care. It's remarkably kind of un-emotionally 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 is not there to give Nancy her orgasm, that's not his purpose.

McCormack, Thompson, and film director Sophie Hyde attend the <em>Good Luck To You, Leo Grande</em> premiere in New York City.
Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for Tribeca Festiva
/
Getty Images for Tribeca Festiva
McCormack, Thompson, and film director Sophie Hyde attend the <em>Good Luck To You, Leo Grande</em> premiere in New York City.

Another thing that's so irresistible about the film is that Leo's interested in pleasure for its own sake, and a feeling that 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, for Leo, the examination of pleasure, particularly of female pleasure, is intimately connected with the fact that it would make the world a better place. And I feel that he's right about that. How he says, "Oh, imagine how much less BS there would be." And I also imagine how much less sexual violence there would be.

On the role of nudity and representing an older woman at peace with her own body

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.

Thompson says she found her character to be "irresistibly delicious."
Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Thompson says she found her character to be "irresistibly delicious."

Oddly enough, I went quite into sort of the past. I thought, "How am I going to do this?" I don'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." It was all male artists, but at the same time, all those medieval Eves and Adams, they just stand with one leg slightly bent, very relaxed. And that's what I took for my inspiration for her stance.

On how the role changed or liberated her in her own life

I think what it did for me, certainly, was it made me re-recognize 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 the iconography that surrounds us is absolutely inescapable. They 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.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.