Emma Thompson delights in exploring dark side in 'Beautiful Creatures'

Double-Oscar winner thrilled to play two frightening roles

Published On: Feb 12 2013 12:51:47 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 13 2013 10:32:40 AM CST
Emma Thompson x 2 in Beautiful Creatures

For two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, playing southern in the new supernatural romantic thriller "Beautiful Creatures" wasn't just about doing an accent, but having an attitude.

And better yet, she was able to give off that attitude in more ways than one.

"We had the most wonderful accent coach called Rick Lipton who helped me get into that mindset completely -- and not just one mindset but two, since I play two different roles," Thompson told me in a recent interview.

One, Thompson delightfully described, is "a bigoted, frustrated and frustrating woman who hates everything, who can't control her feelings, who has probably had the most ghastly life and has a bad relationship with her son."

"And then I play a witch who is also frustrated in many ways and has a very bad relationship with her daughter," Thompson added, laughing. "So they're all connected in more ways that you might think."

Opening in theaters nationwide on Valentine's Day, "Beautiful Creatures" stars Alice Englert as Lena Duchannes, the beautiful, mysterious niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a reclusive, wealthy owner of a Gothic mansion. With a host of family secrets dating back to the Civil War, the members of the Ravenwood clan are outcasts in the small, conservative town of Gatlin, S.C., but that doesn't stop the open-minded 17-year-old Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) from falling for Lena.

After a strange series of events, Ethan discovers Lena is a caster -- another name for a witch -- who upon her 16th birthday will beyond her control be chosen by the forces of the Light or the Dark. If she's chosen by the Light, she will remain good; but if she's chosen by the Dark, she will transform into a form of evil the world cannot imagine.

Thompson plays Mrs. Lincoln, a fire-and-brimstone religious zealot who wants Lena banished from the town -- as well as Sarafine, an all-powerful dark caster who controls Lincoln's body.

The interesting thing is about Thompson's dual roles is her human character, Mrs. Lincoln, professes to be a do-gooder, and the caster Sarafine delights in being evil. But if you take the two at face value, you'll actually find Sarafine to be more engaging and Mrs. Lincoln to be more unnerving -- strange attributes that presented a rare character dynamic for the prolific actress to play with.

"Mrs. Lincoln is unnerving, because she has the kind of ignorance that leads the ultimate evil, which is racism, bigotry, cruelty and finally, genocide. She's the ideal candidate for that. She's a perfect evil fermenter," Thompson observed. "Of course, evil, per se, like Sarafine, is so delicious. She's so amoral. And what she says about human beings is so incontrovertible."

"Beautiful Creatures" also stars Emmy Rossum in the pivotal role of Ridley Duchannes, Lena's cousin who was claimed by the Dark upon her 16th birthday. Rossum, who naturally shares scenes with Thompson's daunting character, said she couldn't have been more thrilled to work with the acclaimed performer.

"Emma is one of my favorite humans on the planet," Rossum told me in a separate interview.

"She's kooky and fun, and I just loved working with her, creating this dark side that should seem almost more fun than being good."

Thompson is only person in film history to win Oscars for both acting and writing -- for 1993's "Remains of the Day" and 1995's "Sense and Sensibility," respectively -- so you can bet she has a close eye on the script before she commits to a role in front of the camera.

For "Beautiful Creatures," she saw a great opportunity to work with heralded filmmaker Richard LaGravenese, who not only directed the film, but adapted the screenplay from the first novel in the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

"I love the script and I love Richard, plus I've never played two characters at the same time -- in particular, one that's folded in the other," Thompson said. "But the thing that swung it for me was when Richard, in a worried way told me, 'We're not going to be using any CGI. You're going to have to just change into her in front of our eyes.' I told him, 'That makes me want to do it even more.'"

Thompson has covered a tremendous amount of ground genre-wise in the past year, having starred in the sci-fi action comedy "Men in Black III," the animated adventure "Brave" and now a supernatural film in "Beautiful Creatures." And while the scripts had a lot to do with her committing to the films, Thompson admits the company she gets to keep on the project plays a huge factor, too.

"There aren't a lot of great scripts out there, so I mainly go with the scripts, but for 'Beautiful Creatures,' it was also about the people I was going to be working with," Thompson, 53, explained. "I had so much fun with those kids. They're such wonderful young actors and they're so interesting to be with. It's wonderful working with the young."

Thomas Mann, who plays Mrs. Lincoln's son, Link, told me in a separate interview that he took the chance to learn from his seasoned co-star every opportunity he could get.

"She's one of the funniest, most confident women you'll ever meet," Mann said. "She has a lot to say about philosophy and politics. Just having conversations with her on and off the set was just a great experience."

In a way, Thompson said, acting opposite the likes of Mann and Englert reminds her of the time when she was honing her acting skills.

"Being around them recharges your batteries, plus, you can also parse out any useful tips to them," Thompson said. "It's a lot of fun, because the younger actors have a lot of energy. Alice Englert was a chip off the ol' block, she really does remind me of me when I was younger. She's just an extraordinary girl."