Emma Thompson is an Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, BAFTA Award- and Golden Globe-winning English actress, comedian, and screenwriter. She is also a patron of the Refugee Council.
Thompson was born in Paddington, London, England. Her father was the actor Eric Thompson, best known for having written and narrated The Magic Roundabout, shown on BBC children's television in the 1960s and 1970s. Her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law. Thompson's younger sister is actress Sophie Thompson. Thompson has spent part of her life in Scotland and has stated that she "feel Scottish".
Thompson went to Camden School for Girls and then studied English at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge where she was a member (along with fellow actors Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Tony Slattery) and vice-president of the university's theatrical club, the Footlights. Her acting talent was so impressive that agent Richard Armitage signed her to a contract while she was still two years away from graduation. Thompson graduated from Cambridge in 1980. Soon after she came to fame with a leading role in the West End revival of the musical Me and My Girl, opposite Robert Lindsay, followed by the BBC serial drama, Fortunes of War.
Thompson's first major film role was in a romantic comedy, The Tall Guy. Her career took a more serious turn with a series of critically acclaimed performances and films, beginning with 1992's Howards End (for which she received an Oscar for best actress); the part of Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for the Guildford Four, in In the Name of the Father; The Remains of the Day opposite Anthony Hopkins; and as the British painter Dora Carrington in the film Carrington.
Thompson won her next Oscar in 1996, for best adapted screenplay for her screenplay adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, a film in which she also played the Oscar-nominated lead role opposite Hugh Grant. She has said that she keeps both of her award statues in her downstairs bathroom, citing embarrassment at placing them in a more prominent place.
One of Thompson's earliest television appearances was in 1984 alongside Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as guest stars on the sitcom The Young Ones. In 1988, she starred in and wrote the eponymous Thompson comedy sketch series for BBC1; the series was not successful with audiences or critics. Described in Time Out magazine as "very clever-little-me-ish", it has never been repeated in Britain despite her Oscar successes and Thompson has not returned to the sketch comedy field.
Thompson's recent television work has included a starring role in the 2001 HBO drama Wit, in which she played a dying cancer patient, and 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. She also appeared in an episode of Cheers in 1992 titled "One Hugs, the Other Doesn't".
Most recently, Thompson appeared in supporting roles such as Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She has also appeared in the hit comedy Love Actually. 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.
Due to scheduling conflicts, Thompson will not reprise her role as Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Thompson is a Greenpeace activist, and, on 13 January 2009, after flying in from attending the Golden Globe ceremony in the US, it was announced that Thompson, in partnership with three other Greenpeace activists, had bought land near the village of Sipson, a village whose homes are under threat from the proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport. It is hoped that the area of ground, half the size of a football pitch, will prevent the government from carrying through its plan to expand Heathrow. The field, bought for an undisclosed sum from a local land owner, will be split into small squares and sold across the globe. When interviewed, Thompson said: "I don't understand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans. It's laughably hypocritical. That's why we've bought a plot on the runway. We'll stop this from happening even if we have to move in and plant vegetables."
While she was at Cambridge University, Thompson had a romantic relationship with fellow student, actor Hugh Laurie, who was also a member of the Cambridge Footlights Revue.
Thompson married Kenneth Branagh, with whom she appeared in Fortunes of War, on 20 August 1989. They appeared together several times, in hit films such as Dead Again, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, but were eventually divorced in October 1995.
In 2003, Thompson married actor Greg Wise (who starred with her in Sense and Sensibility) with whom she has a daughter, Gaia Romilly, born in 1999. In 2003, Thompson and Wise informally adopted a 16-year-old Rwandan refugee named Tindyebwa Agaba. They are currently fighting his deportation back to Rwanda where it is thought all his family were killed in the genocide.