Emma Thompson talks difficult 'Leo Grande' nude scene and showing 'intimacy without romance'

Sophie Hyde never read a script faster. The 52 Tuesdays filmmaker was quarantining in Australia when she got word a director was needed for an independent film written by Katy Brand that would star two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson as a lonely 55-year-old widow and empty nester who hires a male sex worker (Daryl McCormack) because she’s never had an orgasm in her life.

“The concept [was] great and Emma’s brilliant, but together they just felt like magic,” Hyde tells us during a recent interview for the resulting sex-positive dramatic-comedy, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which premiered to raves — and Oscar buzz for Thompson — at January’s Sundance Film Festival (the film is now streaming on Hulu).

While much of the two-hander is conversational, almost stage-like, as Nancy nervously deliberates if she’ll go through various deeds with Leo, the film has drawn plenty of notice for its climactic, fulfilling sex scene — which Thompson and company revealed wasn’t originally in the script but added mid-production.

“We moved towards it as a group,” Thompson, 63, says. “It was earned through our exploration of the characters and the situation and what was right. You couldn’t in a way have made a decision about the end until we’d been through the journey with them… These two people were having a good time without any reservations, without qualifications… And yet it was not a romance. I loved that. I thought that was radical to show intimacy without romance.”

Love Actually, Leo Grande is not.

Thompson has called a scene in the film — where Nancy stands fully nude, looking at herself in the mirror — the hardest thing she’s ever done. The Sense and Sensibility and Harry Potter star tells us she got through it by “being Nancy.” After some resistance, anyway.

“I mean, I was dragged, kicking and screaming. I was like, ‘Please don’t make me do this. Please,’” she recalls. “But I said, ‘OK. It’s all right. It’s not me… Nancy’s not objectifying herself… She’s not judging herself negatively or positively. It’s a weirdly neutral gaze and she’s looking at herself, not because of the outside, but because of the inside. She’s suddenly able to feel herself. So in a way it’s a rebirth. So that look in the mirror is the first time she’s ever seen her body, really.”

Hyde says she was aware of Thompson’s reservations.

“Because Emma’s an incredible person who’s very intellectually stimulating, and she has a lot of intellectual ideas, but she’s still like the rest of us, just soaked in a culture that teaches us we should hate our bodies,” Hyde explains.

“You know, it’s not an easy thing to get out of… And especially as an actor, she’s confronted with that all the time… I knew that it was a difficult thing to do. I don’t think I realized just how hard the moment would be for her. Because she knows that for Nancy, Nancy’s just accessed this great pleasure in herself… For the first time in her life, she doesn’t care how it looks.”

— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is currently streaming on Hulu.

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