Beauty Is Much Less Than Skin Deep

What Emma Thompson is up to

November 5, 2006  By SARAH LYALL

LONDON – EMMA THOMPSON was recalling the pivotal scene in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” when her resolutely self-contained character, Elinor Dashwood, realizes that her life has changed forever, that the man she loves has not, as she had thought, gone and married someone else.

Hugh Grant, her co-star, “hadn’t realized that I was going to be sobbing all the way through his speech,” Ms. Thompson recalled. “But I said, ‘There’s no other way, and I promise you it’ll work, and it will be funny as well as being touching. And he said, ‘Oh, all right,’ and he was very good about it.” She grinned. “That is a terrible example of how to upstage another actor.”

It is also a terrific example of Ms. Thompson’s skill at mixing comedy and pathos, finding ruefulness in mirth, laughter in despair and threads of humor in just about everything. Now 47, she has earned a reputation as an actor of versatility and intelligence who brings unusual subtlety and poignancy to her roles: a lonely scholar dying of ovarian cancer in “Wit”; an unappreciated wife who learns that her husband is cheating on her in “Love, Actually”; the homely title character, accessorized with strategically placed facial warts and a gift for magic, in “Nanny McPhee.”

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