LOS ANGELES -- In the late '80s and early '90s, Emma Thompson was best known for serious film projects such as her Oscar-winning turn in Howard's End and her starring roles in Much Ado About Nothing, The Remains of the Day and Sense and Sensibility.
She's proud of those credits, but the 53-year-old British actor is extremely excited about her most recent work.
"In my 30s, I was more drawn to literary-type dramas. But this year I'm doing the most wonderful work of my life because I'm getting to do a little bit of everything," Thompson said.
That's high praise, considering Thompson has starred in such a variety of movies, including the Harry Potter and Nanny McPhee films.
In Beautiful Creatures, Thompson does double duty as the Bible-thumping hater of all supernatural, Mrs. Lincoln, and the wickedly menacing witch Sarafine.
"The character was fun to do because it was this blend of sexy and a church lady," she says. "That's what sold me on doing the movie."
There are points, such as when the witch inhabits the woman's body, that Thompson plays the role with such unabashed fun she ends up skipping through the scene. She also had fun with the Southern accent, which to her is as much about attitude as it is about how you sound.
Those kinds of decisions are what Thompson likes to make when she agrees to do a role. Although the film's based on a series of teen novels by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, Thompson opted not to read the books before the filming started. She wanted to discover the character on her own. For her, there's always the "wonderful opportunity to find things accidentally."
One of the scenes in which she gets to have the most fun is a showdown between her character and the one played by Jeremy Irons. Although Irons and Thompson have been in the business about the same number of years, Beautiful Creatures is the first time they have worked together. The pair shares a wicked scene in a church where their characters get to do a lot of posturing.
Thompson praised Irons for being the strong acting partner who helped her get the most out of the scene. Irons returned the compliment, saying that it's lovely to work with great actors.
"It makes acting fun," he said.
There's a heavy fantasy element to Beautiful Creatures, but director Richard LaGravenese was determined to use as little computer-generated imagery as possible. That put extra pressure on Thompson.
"When we got to the scene where I had to make this transformation, I did it all with just my face. I was able to do that because it's just like something that we would do in the theatre, where we don't have those special effects."
She started her career on stage, but she made the jump to films in 1989 with Richard Curtis's romantic comedy The Tall Guy, co-starring Jeff Goldblum. That film wasn't a major hit, but it opened the door for Thompson to be in a movie that's become a Christmas classic: Love Actually, also written by Curtis.
She describes working on Love Actually -- a film that blends multiple love storylines, including hers as a woman whose husband has not acted faithfully -- as a wonderful acting job because the movie can go from making you cry in the middle to laughing at the end.
Thompson's career is heavy on drama. But those who have worked with her agree she has a wonderful sense of humour. Emmy Rossum, who plays another wicked witch in Beautiful Creatures, says: "You can't get a more fun human than Emma Thompson. She's intelligent, sensitive, smart, hysterically (wet)-your-pants funny."
Beautiful Creatures (in theatres now) is the first of five movies Thompson's in scheduled for release this year. The other are the comedy Love Punch, the period film Effie, the drama The Secret Evidence, and the story of Walt Disney's chase to make Mary Poppins, called Saving Mr. Banks.
-- The Fresno Bee