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Emma Thompson talks P.L. Travers role in 'Saving Mr. Banks'

This image released by Disney shows Emma Thompson

This image released by Disney shows Emma Thompson as "Mary Poppins" author P.L. Travers in a scene from "Saving Mr. Banks." Thompson is nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the film. Credit: AP

Unlike in the 1964 movie, Mary Poppins in P.L. Travers' books is less merry than she is frequently poppin' off about some transgression or other.

Travers herself was no different, and, as played by Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks," which opened Friday, the imperious author butted heads with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for 20 years as the movie mogul tried to obtain the Mary Poppins film rights. Thompson, 54, the only person to win an Academy Award for both acting (outstanding actress, 1992's "Howards End") and writing (outstanding adapted screenplay, 1995's "Sense and Sensibility"; she also was nominated for best actress), was born in London and studied at Cambridge University. As a member of its famed sketch-comedy troupe Footlights, she performed alongside future stars Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. After a career breakthrough with the 1985 West End musical revival "Me and My Girl," she went on to a string of roles both prestigious and populist, including a guest shot as Frasier's first ex-wife on "Cheers." She herself was married to actor-director Kenneth Branagh from 1989 until separating in 1995, and since 2003 she has been wed to British actor- producer Greg Wise.

The actress, who also earned Oscar nominations for her roles in "The Remains of the Day" and "In the Name of the Father" (both 1993), spoke with frequent Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.

Before we talk about the movie, I just want to ask if you're OK after that fall you took yesterday?

I didn't really fall! I was doing a silly pratfall, and the press said I actually fell over, but I didn't. Just one of my clowning things. I was just mucking about. I should learn. I really should learn that any joke like that is liable to be taken seriously.

The British papers said your husband believes that you were made to play "cantankerous, opinionated old bats." So how long will he have to sleep on the couch?

Nooooooooo, I don't think he said that. I made a joke about that at the premiere in London. I was standing onstage, and I had written a joke about, "My husband said to me this morning that you play someone who wrote about a nanny, and you've played , and I wonder if behind every nanny there's a cantankerous, opinionated old bat." I'm sure, given the opportunity, he would have said it -- I told him I was going to say it, and he said, "Yes, that's quite funny."

Still, the overall point seems to be that you fit the character of P.L. Travers in that you're very willing to say what you think.

No, not at all, actually! I wish I had a little bit more of her courage. I was brought up to be terribly polite and to treat everybody extremely well. Whilst I'll certainly not stint on an opinion if that's what's wanted, I couldn't possibly be as rude or unpleasant as she is. Not that I necessarily think it's a terrible thing to be -- she was a very honest woman. But while my friends might say otherwise, I can't think of anyone I resemble less.

And you're being very nice to me, so there you go. You must be offered so many roles, how is it you can choose a prestige project like "Saving Mr. Banks" on the one hand and a not-so-prestigious supernatural teen romance like this year's "Beautiful Creatures" on the other?

Well, of course, the quick answer is, I'm not offered so many roles, because there aren't so many roles for middle-aged women.

Your recent remark that dancing with Prince Charles was better than sex exploded across, like, every newspaper in the world. So, um, just how good a dancer is he?

It was an off-the-cuff gag, and thanks to Time magazine, which extrapolated that one remark from a 45-minute interview, it has, of course, gone viral. You know, when taken out of context, all of the joy and the humor and the light touch is sucked out of that remark. So now people ask me, "Is dancing with Prince Charles really better than sex?" Am I expected to answer that seriously? I was just having fun, but unfortunately the decontexualization, which happens so much in the printed word these days, kills all humor stone dead.

I will straighten this out along with the other things!

Just make it funny. Keep the light touch. What is life without it?

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