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Interview with "Five Days at Memorial" Writer, Director and Executive Producer John Ridley; Interview with "Death of a Salesman" Actor Wendell Pierce; Interview with "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" Actress Emma Thompson. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 30, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to "Amanpour". Here is what's coming up.
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AMANPOUR: "Five Days at Memorial". Climate on our minds with famed screenwriter John Ridley, who takes us back to the horrors of Hurricane
Katrina in his latest chilling series on one storm battered hospital.
Then, "Death of a Salesman". Wendell Pierce talks to Walter Isaacson about being the first black actor to star in Arthur Miller's signature play on
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EMMA THOMPSON, ACTRESS, "GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE": Oh, God. This is crazy.
DARYL MCCORMACK, ACTOR, "GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE": Nancy.
THOMPSON: It's terrible. It's wrong.
MCCORMACK: Come have a dance with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson's boldest role yet. The groundbreaking film, "Good luck to you, Leo Grande", she joins me to talk
about a woman's sexual pleasure and about finally feeling at home in her body, both on film and in life.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
As 2022 comes to a close, we remember the most significant weather events of the year. From the unprecedented flooding in Pakistan to Hurricane Ian
in the United States. That monstrous storm barreled down on Florida's West Coast in late September. Leaving more than 100 people dead in its wake.
Even now, three months later, communities are still wrestling with the damage and rebuilding.
For many, Ian brought back vivid memories of another catastrophic hurricane, Katrina. Some 17 years later, the City of New Orleans and
indeed, the country, is still grappling with what happened there, during and after the storm. Star writer, John Ridley, famous for "12 Years a
Slave" and "Black Panther" comics, took a close look at one hospital and the doctors and caregivers who were forced to make unimaginable decisions
in the chaos. The Apple Plus series is called "Five Days at Memorial". Here's a clip.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were given the choice between comforting patient, possibly quickening his death, or abandoning patients to suffer a slow
death? What would you choose to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I did was try to help people. That is all I did.
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AMANPOUR: Controversial, indeed. And I spoke to John Ridley from New York after Hurricane Ian made landfall.
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AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program.
JOHN RIDLEY, WRITER, DIRECTOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL": Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here. I deeply
AMANPOUR: Well, your series is very, very powerful. And it obviously deals with the hurricane and certain aspects, we're going to get into that. But I
wondered, you know, what you thought as it's airing and yet another hurricane happens. And, you know, it's not past history.
RIDLEY: It's not past history. And it is very challenging. I never personally been in a hurricane. I've never personally been in a hurricane.
I've never personally -- I live in Los Angeles. I was there during the Northridge earthquake. It is the closest I've come to being involved in a
But when you're on set and you're trying to replicate a real human tragedy, and you realize everything that goes into replicating what happens safely,
and that's just an approximation of what people went through, what they dealt with, what they continue to deal with. You know, this many years
later, there are many parts of New Orleans that have never recovered.
And I think that's what's humbling when you're involved in a controlled circumstance, trying to replicate history. And it is difficult, it is
challenging. But it is a fraction of a fraction of what people had to endure and continue to endure. And we have to be realistic, it's only going
to become more challenging as these extreme weather circumstances become more and more of the norm.
AMANPOUR: So, that is a really good way to start talking about your series, "Five Days at Memorial". Because what people had to endure. And it's not
just about basic survival out of the water. It's much, much profound in the instance that you profile.
So, tell us a little bit about what made you choose the Memorial Hospital and why did you focus on this particular set of ethical issues. And tell us
a little bit about what they are.
RIDLEY: So, I was approached by the other producer on the show, a gentleman by the name of Carlton Cuse, and he had the rights to an incredibly
powerful piece of reporting by Sheri Fink that was called "Five Days at Memorial". It was a Pulitzer prize-winning article that she made into a
book which is one of the most incredible pieces of reporting that I've ever read.
But when Carlton approached me with the original article, I sent it to my father. My father is a doctor, he no longer practices, but he served in the
United States Air Force. He's honestly, probably, the most admiral person that I've ever met, other than my mother. But I asked him what he thought
of the article. What he thought of the circumstances.
And by the way, I should explain a little bit about the circumstances. So, give me just a moment for people who don't know. This is about a hospital
post-Katrina. When the levees fell, it was surrounded by water. It was cut off. They had no power. In sweltering heat. The doctors had none of the
electronics that we take for granted that become part of life-saving in caregiving. They had no communication with the outside world.
So, for five days these doctors had no idea what was going on. What was going to happen to them. When rescue would come. No food, no water, none of
the basic necessities of life, let alone the ability to care for long-term critical care patients.
And there were post this event, when help finally arrived 40 bodies that were found at the hospital with questions, as you saw on the clip, about
what happened. And were these deaths part of the natural course of events or were they hastened because doctors didn't know when help would come at
all. And were -- was it better to put these patients, so to speak, out of their suffering as opposed to let them suffer for who knows how long.
All of that information in this article I sent to my father, and I asked him what he would have done. And what I expected was a very demonstrative
answer in terms of what was right, what was wrong, what he would've done under the circumstances. And his response to me was, just thank God I
wasn't there and I didn't have to make those decisions.
AMANPOUR: Wow. That is --
RIDLEY: And based on that --
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's really powerful. So, just to lead into the scenes that you're talking about. We're just going to play a clip to start with, just
showing some of the atmosphere and the deep distress at the hospital during those five days.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was with the patient. What's happening?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hannah (ph)?
AMANPOUR: So, just watching that, you get a sense -- even though I've watched it already of -- on the edge of your seat, it's like a thriller.
It's like you constructed this as a thriller, both physical and emotional and ethical.
RIDLEY: Very much so. We really wanted to take the size and scope and scale of the story and put it in front of people. And in some ways, entice
people. I mean, look, unfortunately we took these large-scale disasters for granted, but it's way to get people to watch and understand the magnitude
of everything that happened.
But at the same time, we really wanted to make this a very human story about doctors making critical decisions. About patients who rely on a
system and what happens when that system fails. To me, I've been around a lot of stories that are both timely and timeless in the sense that it's
happening now, but it's also going to happen again in the future.
For me, as a storyteller, in some ways, I feel very humbled to be able to tell stories in these spaces. But I have to be honest, there are a lot of
times where it's very tiring telling stories that it's not about looking at something in the past and saying, wow. Look at the ways we've grown. Look
at the lessons that we've learned. In some ways these remain cautionary tales and that's somewhat painful.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, given that, you -- I think went into it not necessarily taking sides. Not wanting to take sides.
And in terms, particularly of the ethical conundrum of what you say was doctors who decided to give comfort in the form of injections to these
patients. So, you went into this without taking a side.
RIDLEY: Yes, it -- we were not here to exonerate. We were not here to indict. I don't want to give away certain things about the story. I want
people to watch. But there were decisions that were made in the legal case that they navigated in a very gray space.
And a lot of times in television, there are what we call procedurals where there is a crime committed, the police, the lawyers, the system, they try
to root out the evil after 42 minutes, which is your broadcasts television run time. Good prevails. Evil is vanquished. A moral is presented to the
audience and things are wrapped up.
And I understand that kind of storytelling. We looked for that as an audience because sometimes life, it's so unpredictable. We like things that
are predictable. But for Carlton and myself, we went into this not wanting to take sides. We didn't want to root for a particular outcome. We wanted
to embrace that gray, because unfortunately, that's reality. And we wanted to be honorific to a very real set of circumstances.
AMANPOUR: And Dr. Anna Pou, who is the doctor in question, along with two other nurses, who actually they did get arrested because of this activity.
She also, you know, kind of summed up the whole dilemma about what to do. And obviously, kept saying that it was never her intention to do anything
other than comfort them. And the grand jury were never able to indict, correct?
RIDLEY: They chose not to. So, Dr. Pou was an amazing surgeon. By all accounts she was a dedicated, passionate physician and surgeon. But there
were questions about what happened to these individuals. And when does this care shift from being reducing pain and providing comfort to ending all
pain and ending all discomfort.
And again, as my father said to me, he was very thankful he didn't have to make those decisions. If my father, who again, to me, is one of the most
honorable people I ever met could not make judgment, it was certainly not my place when a jury, a grand jury could not pass judgment, for us to
arrive with any kind of prescribed set of visions or thoughts about what really happened in those circumstances. We weren't there. We don't know. We
wanted to stick with that element of fact.
RIDLEY: Nobody knew what happened.
AMANPOUR: And it comes across so powerfully. And just in terms of the racial aspect of all of this, we're now hearing, CNN has been reporting
that black residents in two of the Florida neighborhoods that were hit by Ian. They say that they've been left out of hurricane relief efforts.
And obviously in New Orleans, it was the poorest and, you know, black residents who got the worst of the worst. How do you get your head around
that still today?
RIDLEY: You know, I don't know that you and I have the hours or the real estate in television to talk about that. Whether it's following a disaster
like Katrina, like Ian. Whether it's -- what's going on in Jackson, Mississippi right now where their water supply and the infrastructure in
the poorest of neighborhoods have been ignored for decades. Whether its Flint, Michigan.
If people don't accept that there is systemic bias. If people aren't willing to accept that the poorest of the poor, individuals with very
little recourse are being ignored. And that there is in that disregard for these individuals a real human impact, a real human toll. What is there
left to be said?
The evidence is there. The reality is there. On top of it in Mississippi, you see the fraud that is going on with the programs that were set up for
the most-needy individuals. This money being squandered, wasted, embezzled. While people literally do not have drinking water and have not had this
water for weeks and months. What else is there to say?
I don't know. You know, can you plead with these politicians to be reasonable? To stop the politics? To stop using people as human theater?
Whether it's what's going on in terms of their votes, whether it's taking immigrants and moving them across the country to make a political point.
It's painful because I've looked in the eyes of individuals who shared their stories and shared their remembrances. And you are a reporter, you
have been there, time and time again, unless you've looked in their eyes, unless you've heard the quiver in people's voices years removed from the
incident. If you're not moved as a human being, they'll just say, OK. Enough with the politics. Let's just do what's right. And they get a room
and figure out the politics later, I don't know what to say to people anymore.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I --
RIDLEY: And it's painful. It's really, really painful.
AMANPOUR: I agree with you and I feel it when I report on those things as well. So, I wonder whether your other work, for instance, you were dabbling
in comic work and other such things. I mean, you're a well-known writer, obviously, "12 Years a Slave", many other things. But you're also into the
-- I believe it's the Marvel or the DC Comics, right?
AMANPOUR: Both. And you've just done "Batman: One Bad Day: Penguin". I mean --
AMANPOUR: -- does that help, sort of -- is it a respite from writing all of these really painful things that you do as well?
RIDLEY: In some ways, yes. I mean, look, writing in the graphic novel space, writing things that are fantastic, it allows you to reach a
different audience in different ways. For me, I don't know what it is. And, again, I don't want to necessarily bring it all back to my parents. But at
the same time, it does come back to my parents in the things that they taught me about race, about representation, about taking opportunities and
making the most of them. About never shying away from the stories that you want to tell and the urgent need to tell those stories.
So, I'm very thankful that I can take stories about human tragedy, like what happened in Katrina, and tell them on a large scale and do it with a
content provider like Apple. I'm very happy that I can take stories like "Batman", like "Black Panther" that speaks to other audiences, and speak
frankly to my kids. You know, they're more excited about those stories, as proud as they are, about things like "Five Days at Memorial". Let's be
honest, they're excited about "Black Panther", they're excited about "Batman".
But for me, for whatever reason, to have the opportunity to tell all of these stories, in all of these spaces, as long as I can, as long as I can
execute, I will. I take all of this real estate. I understand how precious it all is. Even having the opportunity to speak to you with everything
that's going on in the world. I saw what you were talking about, missiles in North Korea. It blows my mind that you find whatever I do to have enough
value to sit in some equivalent space.
So, it's incumbent upon me to take all of that space and to maximize it with the storytelling. And to do it with pride and to do it as the young
man that my parents raised me to be.
AMANPOUR: Well, John Ridley, we do it because --
RIDLEY: Well, I have to say I'm not quite a young man anymore. But in spirit.
AMANPOUR: In spirit --
RIDLEY: In spirit, I would say.
AMANPOUR: -- you're a young man.
RIDLEY: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you do the most authentic and important kind of writing. So, for sure. Thank you so much indeed, John Ridley. Thanks a lot. Great
RIDLEY: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: My next guest knows all too well the devastation unleashed by Katrina. Actor Wendel Pierce lost his childhood home to the disaster back
in 2005. And he's been a vocal advocate of rebuilding efforts ever since, especially for the mostly black neighborhoods of New Orleans. While, at the
same time, he's making history in his day job. Starring as Willy Loman in a Broadway revival of that timeless American classic Arthur Miller's "Death
of a Salesman".
He's head of the first ever black Loman family on stage. And he spoke to Walter Isaacson about the personal and the political meaning of the play's
key them, which is, the American dream.
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WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And Wendell Pierce, welcome back to the show.
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR, "DEATH OF THE SALESMAN": Thank you very much. It's great to be here, Walter.
ISAACSON: And congratulations. I mean, but you, Sharon de Klerk playing Linda, you're playing Willy Loman in "Death of the Salesman". It's gotten
great previews. It is on Broadway. I'm sitting here within an easy walk at the WYS Studios to Ponchartrain Park, the historic neighborhood where you
And I -- it reminded me, the play is about that aspiration that came from places like Ponchartrain Park. Tell me about growing up there.
PIERCE: Ponchartrain Park is this great bucolic neighborhood that is really a part of everybody's dream of what it would be like to be in a small town
but actually in a city. And the result of the civil rights advocacy of A. P. Tureaud, the great civil rights leaders in New Orleans. And out of
something ugly, we built something great. It came about access to green space movement during the segregated times in New Orleans, black folks
weren't allowed to go to.
And with this advocacy to have access to green space, the compromise was the ugly separate but equal, adjacent to a white neighborhood, we'll set
aside these 200 acres for this black community. And out of that ugly idea of separate body, where we've made it the incubator of black towns.
Because there were lawyers, and doctors, and my parents are teachers, and maintenance men, and postal workers, and domestics, all coming together to
show that they can share in this American dream of home ownership and building a life for their families. And that's what Ponchartrain Park was
ISAACSON: Well, you talk about it being part of the American dream and that's what this play, "Death of a Salesman" is about. And when Arthur
Miller wrote this, his father had been success but gone bankrupt in the Great Depression. Your dad came back from the war around the time this play
debuted in 1949. And he had that struggle for the American dream as well. Tell me about your father. Do you see him in Willy Loman?
PIERCE: I think of my father constantly and incessantly when it comes to this play. Because apart of the American dream is the fight of the American
nightmare, which is the paradox of what it really is. He loves this dream, it's paradoxical and his behavior. He loves his family but does things to
be self-destructive to himself and his family.
And that's what the American dream is about. We're constantly fighting this paradox. The American paradox is what I consider it. We believe in equality
and justice for all and then we do things that belie on that. That go against the whole ideology of that.
ISAACSON: When you talk about that, all of those things, the headwinds that come when you're pursuing the American dream are amplified if you're black.
And this is the first time you got five black characters in this play.
PIERCE: Absolutely. This is -- and so I think of my father and Pontchartrain Park how they didn't have access to purchase a home in New
Orleans. You could not even walk into the park if you were black expect for one day of the week, Wednesday, Negro Day. You could not even access a --
the money that would be needed to get a loan, to get a home loan. You couldn't even walk onto the French Quarter. (INAUDIBLE) French Quarter.
When he came back from the -- from World War II, there was the double V campaign that all black folks understood in the 1940s. Victory abroad
against fascism and victory at home against fascism and segregation. And they won the battle abroad and came back home and still were decades away
from winning any of the battles home in New Orleans.
So, that connection of that disillusionment of what the American dream is and can be, that Willy Loman is on is the same disillusionment that my
father had that actually he gave to us. You know, you can't get lost in America is something my father would always say. And it was a literal thing
because we would travel on some summer vacation but he would say it euphemistically too, that in America, you can find your way.
But with that instilled us with the knowledge that there those who will not have our best interest at heart. They are racist, violent, segregationists,
that you will have to battle and contend with to achieve this American dream. In the meantime, you will have to fight the American nightmare. The
mistake that Willy makes -- that Willy Loman makes that my father didn't is understanding that simultaneously, embrace the wealth that you already
have, the wealth of family and love.
Today is all cut and dry. There's no chance of bringing friendship to me. All personalities, you see what I mean. They don't know me anymore.
BLAKE DELONG, ACTOR, "DEATH OF THE SALESMAN": That's just a thing though.
PIERCE: If I have $40, that's all I need, Howard, $40.
DELONG: I can't take blood from a stone.
PIERCE: Howard, in the year Al Smith (ph) was nominated, your father came - -
DELONG: I got to see some people.
PIERCE: I'm talking about your father. There were promises made across this desk, you mustn't tell me you have people to see. I put 34 years into this
firm, Howard. And now, I can't pay my insurance. You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit.
And that's why this is a love play. In the hubris, that tragic flaw that Willy Loman has is while he had blinders on, searching for the material
wealth, he lost sight of the wealth of love that he had around him and his family that would've helped him contend with all of the obstacles placed in
front of him, especially were a black man in 1949 America.
ISAACSON: You talked about the obstacles placed in front of Willy Loman. If I walk out of this studio to Ponchartrain Park, I go through city park. And
I remember the little signs when I was growing up, where water fountains would say, white only. There were different aggressions that the black
would have to face.
In this play, "Death of a Salesman", there are lines like that that I think would have more resonance played by a black player like yourself. Lines
where they say, oh, Mr. Loman, wouldn't you feel more comfortable sitting in the back or something? How is it like in the play to have those lines?
PIERCE: It is -- it just shows you that our interpretation, our depiction of a black Loman family just heightens all of those insults and
aggressions. Like, as you said, when the boys go into the restaurant, they're segregated, and put in the back. I actually have the infidelity
with a white woman. And everyone always questions the line that I have. I say, go in the bathroom here. When there's a knock on the door, there may
be a law. I think there's a law in Massachusetts about it. About us being together.
And everyone assumes that we put that in. I said, no. That was the play -- that was part of the play. It is heightened because you realized the
miscegenation laws of interracial marriage and interracial coupling what it was like in 1949. So, those are heightened.
And then the one that I always point out is, people always say, did you change anything? I said, if we changed anything, it was the reduction of
one word. When Leejay Coach, played the role, someone insulted him by calling him a walrus. When Dustin Hoffman played the role, someone insulted
him calling him a shrimp. When I play the role, someone insults me by calling me -- and I don't have to say it. The audience hears the racial --
in the silence.
And so, that just shows you the power of interpretation of having an African American family. And there's -- I expect pushback. There has been
some. But Arthur Miller answered that himself. In 1972, when I asked him about the first time that there was a portrayal of a black Willy Loman, he
says, especially with this play.
It's been so successful in cultures around the world and countries around the world, I totally expect a black guy to demonstrate his humanity and our
shared humanity and his artistry in playing this role. So, for all of those who are accustomed to a certain way of interpretations being -- of the
play, I would say, why don't we take the word of the author himself to embrace the interpretation that we're putting on today.
ISAACSON: One of the things about Arthur Miller's play that Willy Loman lacked that's tragic is that he faces all of these headwinds not only does
he not have the love that comes from thanking the family and all of that's more important, but there's actually no art, no culture to help sort of
mitigate the wounds that he is feeling. You played in "Treme," by far my favorite TV series ever, you played Antoine Batiste, and it's the same sort
of headwinds but it's connected to culture and art. How do you compare those two roles you played?
PIERCE: You know, that's a very good question, Walter. You being in New Orleans, you understand the role of culture in our lives in New Orleans
especially, and that it's emblematic of that role of culture in the world and in humanity. What thoughts (ph) selected the individual, when we
reflect on who we are, we decide what our values are, our triumphs, our failures, when we reflect on ourselves, that is what the form of art does
for us as a community, a place where we reflect on who we are, where we've been, where we hope to go.
Decide what our values are, and then go out and act on them. That is a mantra of mine. Those who have read interviews and have seen me, I say that
all of the time. And it's very interesting that you said that Willy Loman doesn't have a connection to that culture, to culture itself. Well, art may
have been the place where he can -- would have find some solace, find some understanding of the ineptitudes that he was going through and the
obstacles that were placed in front of him, giving him some sort of steeled tools to work through them or work around them.
ISAACSON: That's a solace that this play offers us. That's what Arthur Miller did.
PIERCE: Right, right. And actually, that's the play as a piece of art offers then as a cautionary tale to those who view it, you know. And
hopefully, offers Willy as everybody, the grace of God (INAUDIBLE) so I do not make this mistake.
With Antoine Batiste, who had nothing, had lost everything in Katrina, who had lost his way, he's not the most -- he's a ne'er-do-well, not the most
focused and driven man. It was his art that sustained him. And there was something that we tried to do in "Treme" about New Orleans.
It was the art that brought us back. First of all, reminded is us what our journey was about and why our city was is so special. And I dare say that
we came back and rebuilt our city with that reminder of that clarion call in our culture, that intersection of life itself and how we deal with it.
That intersection was created in our cuisine, in our architecture, and especially our music.
ISAACSON: I got my favorite line from this play, and maybe you can say it and reflect on it. But it's a part about, I've got to get some seeds. I've
got to get some seeds right away.
ISAACSON: Nothing planted. I don't have a thing in the ground.
PIERCE: Right. That is it. I have to get some seeds. I have to get some seeds right away. Nothing planted, nothing in the ground. I have -- I'm
leaving nothing. I -- seeds are hope. Seeds are visceral and real and life itself. And while I don't have anything material, I haven't left anything
that visceral to my family and to my sons, specifically to Biff. And that line is so reflective of the hope that he has within the tragic
interpretation of that, where he actually goes and he gets the seeds, and he is planting them and it is in that moment of giving hope to the future
that he makes, I believe, his ultimate tragic mistake.
We know the end of the play by the title, I guess. And it is iconic enough that I don't think I'm ruining it for your listeners. But when he makes
that choice to take his life, the hurt and pain and destructiveness that it causes cannot compare. They overwhelm his idea that that act is also a
legacy that he is giving something to his son by having his life insurance policy that is not going to pay off.
He -- the disillusionment of that, if he had only known that the true seed that he could have left is what Biff asked him to do, ultimately, at the
end of the play, just let me be me and I will find my way. You have given me enough. Let me be me. Let go of that phony dream. And that is the nexus
of the pain and the catharsis that we all feel in the play. If he had only done this one thing, or if he had only not done this one thing, then it
would've all worked out.
ISAACSON: Let me ask you one personal question, you're about the most successful person I know who has come out of our neighborhood, you've done,
I don't know, 30 movies, 50 TV shows, but do you still sometimes feel that pain that Willy Loman felt?
PIERCE: Oh, yes. I -- if I am to be honest, the successes of mine have been -- I always see myself as a journeyman. And maybe I haven't left a mark or
left a legacy. That I have nothing planted. That I haven't created enough from the body of work that deserve some significance. And a man can't go
out the way he came in. He's got to add up to something. And I say --
ISAACSON: A great line in the play.
PIERCE: And that is something that I share with Willy. I think about this play has forced me to think of my own mortality. And the actor, Jennifer
Lewis, says that I have 20 summers left. And I think about what I've done, what I hope to do, and this moment has given me an opportunity to mark my
passing and we leave some legacy. A great piece of art and this great play, and the great role that I get to share with a small fraternity of men who
have done it on Broadway.
And more importantly, only night (ph), my father, 97 years old, will be sitting in the audience watching his legacy on stage, center stage on
Broadway in this iconic American play. That is a divine gift. And for that, I am humbly grateful.
ISAACSON: Thank you, Wendell. Attention must be paid.
PIERCE: Attention must be paid. Attention must finally be paid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that is an eternal truth.
And now, to my next guest. The remarkable, enduring, endlessly shape- shifting actress, two-time Academy Award Winner, Dame Emma Thompson. She bears all in a new movie called, "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande", which is
all about a woman's right to pleasure. She plays a middle-aged widowed, religion teacher, who's never had an organism, and who decided to do
something about it.
So, she hires a sex worker played by dashing, very young Irish actor, Daryl McCormick. This film shatters all kinds of long held prejudices, mostly
about women and intimacy. I spoke to Emma Thompson about the film, about being an older woman and reclaiming one's body and sexuality. This frank
conversation also addresses what it took to shoot her first ever full- frontal nude scene at the age of 63.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Emma Thompson, welcome to the program.
EMMA THOMPSON, ACTRESS, "GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE": Thank you very much. This is such a pleasure to meet you.
AMANPOUR: Well, likewise. And I guess I need to start by saying or asking you, why wait this long to do the sex scenes, the naked scenes and all?
Have you been batting away these offers all your career?
THOMPSON: No, which may come as a surprise, but I suspect is not. I did my first big sex scene with beloved Jeff Goldblum, where we spent three days
naked in "The Tall Guy," Richard Curtis' first film. And I learned a lot actually from that experience. And one of the things I learned was that
being naked on set made everyone terribly kind and sort of -- sort of, protective. You know, people would bring you a cup of tea -- you would be
standing there naked, and they'd bring you a cup of tea and say, here you are, Christiane. Here's your tea.
And then they'd walk away like that. Just make sure that they don't look down. Everyone was so sensitive. And I -- actually, I salute that crew,
because it -- I thought to myself, if I ever have to do this again, I'm not going to be frightened.
AMANPOUR: And, therefore, you weren't in "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande?"
THOMPSON: No, but one of the reasons for that was, I was working with this wonderful woman, Sophie Hyde. And we had rehearsal, Daryl and I. And we
both -- it's always very nerve- racking. Daryl McCormack is --
AMANPOUR: Daryl McCormack, of course, is your young co-star.
THOMPSON: Our extraordinary --
AMANPOUR: We haven't said whether film is about --
THOMPSON: We --
AMANPOUR: -- because everybody is talking about Emma Thompson and the naked scenes. So, we're going to get to the film in a moment.
THOMPSON: OK. Very good.
AMANPOUR: But just tell me about how you processed.
THOMPSON: Well, how prepared for it was, we all took our clothes off, the three of us. We had a -- we just closed the rehearsal room. And the three
of us --
AMANPOUR: You mean the director --
AMANPOUR: -- and you two stars?
THOMPSON: Yes. Yes. And we sat on the floor and talked about our bodies and then we drew around our bodies on great big pieces of paper and marked off
the places where we hurt the scars, the bits we don't like. And I mean, I crossed out the whole thing, basically. But, of course, that's my
brainwashing from very early on. And we were set free by that, really.
And then, of course, we made the film. And the film goes -- we spent 19 days together making the film. And it's -- because it's mostly
conversation, actually. And when we got to the end, and we had to take our clothes off, it was like -- it was being -- it was like being released. We
were terribly happy and very comfortable. And we had no words, which was utter bliss, because we'd spent so long learning these long, long speeches.
And we would do very long takes, do 12 to 13 pages of dialogue at a time. So, it is an intense, very intense experience. And then, finally, doing our
sex scenes together was sort of like Christmas, really?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, probably, for a lot of women our age, it will be like Christmas, this film, once they see it.
AMANPOUR: Because it is the first time, right, that a serious actress -- or maybe ever -- that we have seen this kind of sex scene, this kind of focus
on -- it's about women's pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And about the right of women to actually connect with that idea.
THOMPSON: Yes. So, my character, Nancy Stokes, not her real name.
Is actually -- I know we have got 55 in the press, but actually, I think, as far as my age 63, which I think is more interesting, actually, because
it's that little bit older. And she's, as you say, a retired religious education teacher. She's been married for 33 years to someone who's died
two years previously. She's never had an orgasm either with her husband, with another partner, or on her own.
But she makes the extraordinary decision to hire a very much younger sex worker, I think because that gap is a form of safety in a way, because she
thinks that very young person -- OK. They're going to have to deal with my old body. But that's OK, because this is not a romantic relationship. I'm
not asking anything from this person, except that they help me towards achieving some -- I'm like -- I've never had any sexual experience.
I know it's there because I had a faint taste of it when I was 16, which is also, again, perhaps why she wants a young man, because the last time she
can remember being touched in any, any way that has elicited any kind of pleasure in her. She was 16. You know, it's 50 years later, nearly. And
that's what's so revolutionary about the act and also, what's funny about it because she's utterly terrified.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to play a clip to show our viewers the actual terror where you're just asking Daryl McCormack, your co-star, but who's
called Leo Grande, obviously, again, not his real name.
THOMPSON: Not his real name.
AMANPOUR: So, we're going to play this clip.
DARYL MCCORMACK, ACTOR, "GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE": You don't have to worry, Nancy. This is just about us tonight. So what is your fantasy?
THOMPSON: I'm not sure you could really class it as a fantasy as such. It's a bit mundane for that.
MCCORMACK: OK. Well, what would you most desire? I mean, desires are never mundane.
THOMPSON: To have sex. Tonight. With you. That's about it, really, for the moment?
THOMPSON: I love that, when he says -- he says, yes -- he says, so what's your fantasy? She thinks, oh, God, I have got it wrong. I'm supposed to
have a fantasy.
And don't you think that a lot of the time we think of that when we're in a sexual situation? We think I'm going to get it wrong. I'm going to need
something -- or I'm going to -- I'm not going to be interesting enough, obviously. You worry so much about simplest, simplest things. I mean, our
pleasure, our sexual pleasure, should not be this hard. Like death, it shouldn't be this complicated. What have we done to ourselves? I mean --
AMANPOUR: Well, what have we done to ourselves?
THOMPSON: Well, we have crushed it, haven't we, with so many cultural -- well, judgments. You know, we've made sex the thing that's a bit dirty, not
very nice. So, if -- and this is true of the majority world. I mean, most women don't have access to sexual pleasure. It's not something they would
ever ask a question about.
AMANPOUR: No, but you're right. Most women around the world just don't.
THOMPSON: That's --
AMANPOUR: There are vast continents where --
THOMPSON: Vast continents where it's --
AMANPOUR: It's actually legislated against.
THOMPSON: Against. Are -- or indeed --
AMANPOUR: In their religion, anyway. Uh-huh.
THOMPSON: -- FGM, which is the ultimate solution, you know, just remove all possibility of that. So, it's a huge issue.
AMANPOUR: Earlier in the conversation, you said you X-ed out all the bits of your body. You said -- you know, because you were brainwashed to not
like your body from a very young age.
AMANPOUR: But Sophie, who directed it, I think, Kate, who wrote it --
AMANPOUR: -- I think I have heard them say that this could be a revolutionary film, a revolutionary act.
THOMPSON: I hope so.
AMANPOUR: In what way?
THOMPSON: Well, if you want to see change in our attitudes to our bodies, then you're going to have to be there. You have to put your body where your
mouth is, actually. I have gone on about this since I was 19 years old. The first sketches I wrote were -- when I was a comedian, were about body image
and dieting. Autocannibalism, I wrote a sketch about just eating yourself to within an optimum body weight, just chopping bits off and cooking it,
you know. That we're not allowed to be who we are. That we are not allowed to have the bodies that we have.
AMANPOUR: We as women.
THOMPSON: As women.
AMANPOUR: Particularly older women.
THOMPSON: Particularly older women, but also young women, because this happened to me when I was in my teens.
THOMPSON: So, this happened. The neural pathways that were carved deep into my psyche about not being acceptable, not having the right kind of body
happened very, very early on. And that's why they're so difficult to shift now. And no matter how much my rational brain, which, you know, is
overactive, fights against it and has always fought against it, always, always. So, we're trapped.
AMANPOUR: What is the reaction you have had, not just women, which I assume, but from men as well?
THOMPSON: Yes, I have had some very interesting reactions, from -- I had a couple of reactions from men in their 80s. One was that -- one man had
said, I have gone back to my wife and started to talk to her about whether she actually is feeling pleasure when we do have sex, and it's really
helped our sex life. I was very impressed with that.
And then another person who said to me -- he is 83 -- he said, you know, -- and he said -- he, sort of, leaned in, it's a little bit intimate. He said,
I think, you know, a lot of my guy friends in their 80s, I think they're lying about how good their sex lives are.
Because, of course, pleasure and intimacy -- and Leo is talking about -- he's talking about the release of pleasure, the physical release of
pleasure, the emotional release of pleasure. I mean, true sexual pleasure is actually a very spiritual thing, because your boundaries just float
away. And, suddenly, you're in this kind of universal space. I don't know how else to describe it.
And he understands that. And he says, it's so wonderful when that happened because people let go. It's like a breath. It's like breathing, only more
fun, and less like yoga. And I suppose, you know, there's tantric stuff that everyone went on about all that time. It just seemed to take forever.
So, yes, pleasure as something that's a kind of a benediction. Why have we allowed it to become so difficult?
AMANPOUR: And there's the whole issue of consent as well. Both of you in this film are constantly probing the boundaries, and is everything all
THOMPSON: Yes, seeking consent. And I noticed as we were doing it -- and when I watch the film, I'm reminded again and again of how deeply sexy it
is when someone says, is this OK? And then the response, yes, it is, is fantastically erotic. You know, we're used to this, sort of, rape fantasy,
you know, as described by such writers as Ian Fleming.
I'm sure he gave a lot of women a lot of pleasure. Sorry. I just had to -- sorry, Ian. I'm sure you were lovely. But, yes, the consent thing, and even
when -- and then Nancy learns it from Leo. And we're so -- well, I remember watching sex scenes and thinking, why does everyone look so angry? Pleasure
is a delicate journey towards it, is very interesting.
And we -- this is not something that we explore at all. And it's very feminine. It's very feminine. You know, it's no good, guys. You did -- you
can't just twiddle the clitoris and, suddenly, we will go off. That's not going to work, you know. Just -- let's talk for a minute, OK?
AMANPOUR: Yes. You obviously had a huge amount of fun during this film.
THOMPSON: We had a huge amount of fun.
THOMPSON: All legal.
AMANPOUR: And the end shot is the payoff, isn't it?
THOMPSON: It is.
AMANPOUR: For that familiarity, that intimacy.
AMANPOUR: Now, I have just given it away. But how did you feel standing there, for the first time in your career, totally, totally -- what's the
right word, exposed? Naked? Vulnerable?
THOMPSON: All those things, really. Well, it was very interesting because when I'm acting, you know, I'm not myself. I am someone else. So, on this
trick to one's psyche into being somebody else, you know, that's the job. But I found my own resistance, you know, banging on the -- Nancy's
character saying -- begging to be let in and say, I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this. But Nancy -- Nancy's got to a different place.
And in fact, she's in a much healthier place than I am. She's in a place I would love to be. But I probably won't ever be.
And so, therefore, it's a confluence of things in that moment. I decided how I wanted to stand. I wanted to stand like the chrome X version of Eve
in the -- his -- the medieval painting of Adam and Eve because, of course, Adam and Eve, never mind the sex -- but before the apple, kind of just
chilled, you know. They don't mind about me. They don't even know they are naked. They don't know they are naked. And that's what I wanted her to
feel. Not that she was naked, that she was just there. And the reason she is looking at her body is not to judge it or to -- even to approve it,
But to recognize the fact that this vehicle is the place, her home, in which she lives, is hers in a way that it is never been before. That she's
able to experience something that is hers. That is miraculous to her. Displeasure that's a kind of revelation, a revolution, all of those things.
And so, it is a moment of, kind of, blissful status and acceptance. And it was very hard to achieve, really, really hard.
THOMPSON: And so, it was very, very revealing to me about my own difficulty with that. And that is something I think I share with most women I know, I
AMANPOUR: You are very vocal when the revelations of MeToo, Harvey Weinstein --
AMANPOUR: -- when you said it didn't happen to you but you weren't surprised. And then, at one point, in 2019, you pulled out of a project
that you really wanted to do, the animated film "Luck" because somebody who have been accused, you know, of sexual misconduct had joined the
And you wrote this letter explaining your departure. I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women's bodies, whether they like it or not, is
not going to change overnight, or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out, like me, do not take this sort of stand, then
things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter's generation. That was in 2019. Do you feel now that
things are moving at a pace that is required for your daughter's generation?
THOMPSON: No, but I think they are moving. I also think that what is being revealed in the Incel Movement and, you know, certain aspects of Silicon
Valley is the levels -- the deep levels of misogyny that exist in our cultures.
THOMPSON: And I think that -- the exposure of that -- because it's been very well hidden. The exposure of that is very important. It's important
that we recognize through great writing, lower base (ph) and such, how much women are feared and hated. We have to understand that this is the world
that we live in. We've got to be brave and we've got to revolutionize it. But it takes time and there is going to be backwards and forwards. You
know, and the Incel Movement is happening because men are going -- well, any -- we are being punished in some way.
AMANPOUR: But it's interesting you say that because even in the United States right now, you see the push back against a woman's right over her
AMANPOUR: With the assault on Roe V. Wade.
AMANPOUR: I've just come back from Afghanistan, which is the poster child for, you know --
AMANPOUR: -- hating --
AMANPOUR: -- and punishing.
THOMPSON: And suppressing.
AMANPOUR: And suppressing girls.
THOMPSON: Get them out of them out of the way.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And I guess I just wanted to ask you finally, you have also bravely taken on a whole lot of other issues that are important to you,
outside of your work
AMANPOUR: Whether it's the climate, whether it's women's issues, whatever it might be, refugees. And I think it's really interesting what you said
about it. I can be an activist and be the glittery person on the red carpet. What's the, you know, the problem here?
THOMPSON: Well, I can be complicated because everyone's complicated. And I don't understand why -- I mean, that -- you know, what the difficulty is?
The difficulty is fame. Fame is a very toxic byproduct of what someone like me. I mean, I have always done the things that -- I have always been active
in all sorts of areas but well before I was famous. So, it's just a part of my life that's carried on.
And sometimes it's worked, sometimes it backfires, you have to be careful and you have to know you are talking about that -- those things are true.
And we are deeply, deeply complicated and we are not very good at recognizing that.
And, you know, human life is a constant development. A constant development. And then you have to learn how to die. And it started -- you
know, I mean, I am a very aware of that at 63. I think, oh, now, have to learn how to die. And this is going to be very interesting journey. And
this is all part of our discussion, the ongoing discussion between humans. How do we deal with ourselves? Because look at us.
AMANPOUR: And on that note, look at you, a wonderful film, brave and really necessary. Thank you so much, Emma Thompson.
THOMPSON: Thanks, Christiane. It is so lovely to speak to you.
AMANPOUR: You too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And for her latest film, Thompson completely reverses roles and transforms herself again into the intimidating Ms. Trunchbull in Roald
That is it for the special holiday edition of the program. Remember, you can always catch us online, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, of
course, on our podcast. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.