By Julie Miller. Photos: Getty Images.
Before Emma Thompson became an Oscar-winning actor and screenwriter, she actually started out as a comedian—specializing in material about society’s double standards on matters that ranged from hygiene to weight. (In a sketch about the latter, Thompson, at 21, argued that the best diet is actually “auto-cannibalism, where you eat yourself to an optimal weight.”) Thirty-five years later, sadly, society is just as fixated—if not more fixated—on appearance. And while Thompson can’t put an end to that completely, she revealed in a recent interview that she was able to tackle the problem on one of her films.
While Thompson was on the Swedish talk show Skavlan last week, a fellow guest brought up the pressure to be thin in Hollywood. In response, Thompson revealed how, about a decade ago, she witnessed one producer attempting to strong-arm an actress into perpetuating that problematic image.
“There was a wonderful actress in a film I did called Brideshead Revisited,” Thompson explained, referring to the 2008 British adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel co-starring Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, and Hayley Atwell. “The producer said to her, ‘Will you lose some weight?’ And she was absolutely exquisite!”
“I said to them, ’If you speak to her about this again, on any level, I will leave this picture. You are never to do that,’ ” Thompson revealed. “It’s evil what’s happening and what’s going on there, and it’s getting worse. The French fashion industry said they would get rid of size zero and then, you know, they didn’t . . . The anorexia—there’s so many kids, girls and boys now, and actresses who are very, very thin into their 30s, who simply don’t eat. They don’t eat . . . Sometimes there are just some subjects that you absolutely have to make noise about because it’s so tedious and it’s gone on and on.”
Thompson also revealed that when she is asked about her weight, she replies, “Sorry, do you want me to be an actress or a model?”
This is not the first time that Thompson has firmly backed a co-star by resisting the industry’s extreme weight pressures. Kate Winslet once shared that, while on the set of Sense and Sensibility—one of her first-ever films—Thompson took the young actress under her wing and told her, “If you ever lose weight, I will never . . . talk to you again.”
In an interview two years ago, Thompson explained why she is particularly protective of young actresses.
“I get behind as many young female performers as I can and actually a lot of the conversations I have with them are about exactly the fact that we are facing and writing about the same things and nothing has changed, and that some forms of sexism and unpleasantness to women have become more entrenched and indeed more prevalent,” Thompson told The Radio Times. “When I was younger, I really did think we were on our way to a better world, and when I look at it now, it is in a worse state than I have known it, particularly for women. And I find that very disturbing and sad.”
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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