The Scottish brogue she sports as a bingo-loving Glaswegian mother is entirely natural for Emma Thompson. What’s different is the wrinkled and weary countenance and personality she wears in “Barney Thomson.”
“I’m so often playing quite withheld people or people whose expressiveness is all in very, very small gestures and motions and movements of the face,” Thompson, 56, says of the black comedy (opening Friday on demand and at AMC Loews Woodridge 18). “And this time I was playing something very extreme, which I adored.
“I said afterward to many people, ‘Oh I’ve got to play some more grotesques.’ ”
To age two decades, the British actress spent four and a half hours getting makeup and prosthetics put on to play Cemolina, a crazy, formidable lady so devoted to her Scottish barber son Barney — played by director Robert Carlyle — that when he accidentally kills his boss with haircutting shears, she helps out by cutting up the body and storing the parts in her freezer.
”Watching Emma bring Cemolina to life was a real pleasure,” Carlyle says. “She’s such a brave actress. With absolutely no sense of vanity she laid herself bare and embraced this character, squeezing every little bit she could from the script.”
The extra work on her face “took its toll in just the right way. I look like my mother at 77, only after a life on Guinness and untipped Player’s [cigarettes],” Thompson adds with a laugh. “It was horrible but just so much fun. I did have to smoke a lot though, [and] it nearly killed me.”
Because Thompson’s mom, actress Phyllida Law, is from Glasgow, she’s always felt a kinship to Scotland, its people and its language. “It’s a very, very strong, hard accent and you’ve got to know it inside out,” Thompson says. “You’ve got to have lived with it. And I live in Scotland as well as London so I hear it a lot.”
She’s now spending time in New York City filming Noah Baumbach’s upcoming indie movie “The Meyerowitz Stories.” On tap: another “grotesque” character for her. “She’s a dreadful, passive-aggressive alcoholic. Yeah, really looking forward to that,” Thompson deadpans.
An Oscar-winning actress and writer, Thompson chipped in on the script for “Bridget Jones’s Baby” (in theaters Sept. 16) and also has a funny role as a doctor in the romantic comedy, though she admits it wasn’t a given with her behind-the-scenes gig. “I don’t want you to think I just wrote myself in quietly,” she says.
Thompson also stars as a German mother opposite Brendan Gleeson in the World War II drama “Alone in Berlin” (slated for release this year) and takes on the iconic role of Mrs. Potts in a new version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (out March 17, 2017) directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson.
Not only does she voice the enchanted animated teapot but Thompson reports she also has a bit of live-action work, too.
“I went from playing deeply distressed German house frau to porcelain,” she says with a laugh. “That was not a journey I’ve made before, frankly.”