In “Nanny McPhee Returns,” Oscar®-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson returns to the role of the magical nanny who appears when she’s needed the most and wanted the least in the next chapter of the hilarious and heartwarming fable that has enchanted children around the world. In the latest installment, Nanny McPhee appears at the door of a harried young mother, Mrs. Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is trying to run the family farm while her husband is away at war.
But once she’s arrived, Nanny McPhee discovers that Mrs. Green’s children are fighting a war of their own against two spoiled city cousins who have just moved in and refuse to leave. Relying on everything from a flying motorcycle and a statue that comes to life to a tree-climbing piglet and a baby elephant who turns up in the oddest places, Nanny McPhee uses her magic to teach her mischievous charges five new lessons.
I recently had the privilege of chatting with Thompson about the film along with a group of parenting bloggers and writers. During our chat, she talked about the sacrifices women make while juggling work and motherhood and what she hopes audiences of all ages will take away from “Nanny McPhee.”
Take a look…
Question: What about the film resonates with you?Emma: I think everything because I wrote it….You know the screenplay is ready because the frequency is right. When you get the frequency right that’s when you get the comments from mothers from all over America who say, I knew that my children were enjoying it at the time because they forgot to eat their popcorn. I love that.
Most powerful scene… …There’s a point (in the film) when Celia goes up to the Rolls Royce expecting her mum and she opens the door and her mum’s not there and there’s that exquisitely touching exchange where she says, “I expect she’s very busy” and the chauffeur says, “Yes she’s very busy and they’re both hiding the fact that she doesn’t care and she’s not there because she doesn’t care.
Emma’s take on work and motherhood: At moments, you have to make sacrifices for your children and in my case, it would be the sacrifice of work that I want to do. You think, ‘oh I’d love to do that job and I would get so much pleasure out of it, I’d be able to do it so well’ and then you look at the timing of the job and you realize it’s just when your kid is starting school and you think, I can’t do that. Because the one thing you’re not going to be thinking on your death bed is “Gee, I wish I made more films. Or I wish I had spent more time at the office or I wish I had written more articles.” You’re going to be remembering hopefully, all the lovely times that you said now I’m not going to do that, I’m going to trot off to Spain and learn spanish with my daughter. The things that you do with your kids are the things that you remember.
Question: What do you feel is the more demanding profession, writing or acting?Emma: Well, writing is a gift – I can write and be entirely available. I can get my daughter to school, be there weekends, pick her up from school, muck about, cook dinner, chat, put her to bed. I can be a writer and a mother, I can do both of those things and I love it, that’s great. Acting is different. Because not only are the hours different because you sometimes leave before your kids get up and get home after they’ve gone to bed and you don’t see them for days on end. Also, and this is slightly more complicated, you’re actually pretending to be someone else which is psychologically very demanding and I realized that my attitude and my relationship with acting changed completely when I became a mother because a new identity was born that I couldn’t slip out of.
Question: How has the film been adapted from the Nurse Mathilda book series?Emma: The character is definitely there, I’ve kind of developed that character further. Christianna Brandt wrote them in the 50’s and grew up with lots of nannies in India and her grandfather used to tell her these stories. He invented this strange ugly character who got prettier every time the children’s behavior changed. Cinematically, she’s not ugly because she’s a bad person and does she change or does the way they see her change? Or is it because “That which is loved is always beautiful” which is one of my favorite proverbs (Thompson credits producer Lindsay Duran with sharing that Norwegian proverb with her). Children are so brilliant and extraordinary and don’t even perceive huge differences in people’s human exterior traits. All they notice is what you’re like on the inside because their instincts are as yet, untrammeled. They haven’t been locked into assumption.
Question: What would you like young moviegoers to learn the most from the film?Emma: I want them all leaving the cinema feeling different. I want them to feel inspired. And I want them to feel they can sort their own problems just with a little nudge here and there…Because child problems are often much better solved with child solutions and our solutions might be very wise and good but they may not work a lot of the time and I think that children need to know their own capacities. And I think they often feel their limitations too strongly.
Thompson on Overprotective parenting: And I think as we become more and more protective because we’re so frightened, because we’re always trying to protect our children. If you’re not allowed risk as a child, you will not develop independence, you will not make the mistakes that will save your life later on, that’s the thing. Risk is like a vaccination. Accidents are like a vaccinations…and you may say “I remember when I fell off that chair” and it may have been a tiny little accident but you remember and it’s a muscle memory and that’s what saves your life.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Well, it’s the pigs doing the synchronized swimming. I know that we’re talking about very serious things and I love all those things but the pigs doing the synchronized swimming was my favorite thing. It’s just when those little trotters pop up and when they cross over like that. It was far better than what I wrote. I wrote the piglets perform a short by stylish synchronized swimming routine and I thought, “Ha ha” – you try that one. And I had no idea that they would do so well…My favorite shot is when the pig comes up (from under the water) looks at them and then takes his little trotter and goes down. I just love that.
Nanny McPhee Returns opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, August 20.