How Emma Thompson scared James Bond filming The Love Punch

Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan, Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall

Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan, Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall - Credit: Archant

Emma Thompson was quoted recently as saying she doesn’t pick her film roles with awards in mind. That much is evident from her latest movie The Love Punch, one of those jolly Brit rom-coms in which the actors seem to be having more fun than the audience.

At a post-screening press conference, director and scriptwriter Joel Hopkins revealed that, over a cup of tea in Hampstead’s The Coffee Cup, he had given the West Hampstead actress free rein to choose her leading man.

She – who can blame her? – opted for ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan, who acquits himself well as Richard, the philandering ex-husband, whose business is aggressively taken over and liquidised by a heartless French tycoon.

With their life savings and pensions wiped out, a bickering Brosnan and Thompson set off from stockbroker-belt Surrey on a wildly improbable, mildly enjoyable Gallic adventure; confronting the unscrupulous financier, gate crashing his Côte d’Azur wedding, and stealing a $10million diamond – aided by old friends Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall.

Hopkins, who previously directed Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in touching late life love story Last Chance Harvey, says: “After that we had remained friends and wanted to work together again on something more playful. It was a matter of, ‘So who do you want to work with?’ and she came up with Pierce.

“It’s not the most obvious couple in the world but the more you think about it, it brings a smile to your face. It works. You never know until you start shooting, but it became clear that there was a good chemistry.”

Thompson, whose down to earth humour endears her to audiences, adds: “Pierce and I had always said, ‘Are we going to work together?’ But it’s finding the right thing. When Joel came up with a home counties heist movie about people who live in Surrey who go off and steal a diamond, I said, ‘That’s it! Fantastic idea!’

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“Pierce has glamour and an extraordinary grace like a ballerina, but he can also be very surprising and normal and Catholic. In this you practically expect him to whip out some knitting.”

Running gag

Indeed, one of the running gags in Hopkins’ cartoonish caper subverts Brosnan’s James Bond credentials.

While Richard is afraid of heights, nods off on a sun lounger, pulls a muscle playing golf, and dutifully stops at red lights, Thompson’s Kate is a crack stunt driver, paraglider and scuba diver. And in a neat twist, it is the sweaty, overweight Spall who has a past in ‘black ops’ in Guam and ‘Nam, with access to a shady network of gun and diamond dealers.

Thompson, who at 55 epitomises an enviably wholesome glamour while managing (unlike many actresses of her generation) to still look like herself, says: “I am not adept at volleyball but I do dive. I enjoy paragliding and I really loved the stunt driving, up and down the steps with Pierce next to me, genuinely frightened. As the angle got more acute and Pierce’s terror was more apparent – it was heaven to be driving an ex-James Bond around doing it all myself.

“I had such a good time, being allowed to do something daredevil and illegal was bliss. It made me want to do an action movie.”

Although audiences might be tempted to wish that Thompson, with her best screenplay Oscar, had written this herself, she was thoroughly complementary about Hopkins’ script, which he perhaps wisely allowed his stars to improvise with.

“Joel has always been incredibly collaborative, he brought several drafts and we talked an awful lot over a couple of years. He writes very well, clearly, limpid, clean, you don’t see that fast-talking writing in movies any more and it is a treat.”

The Love Punch’s most affecting moments centre around the often unexplored ways that love can endure over decades of trouble and loss as Richard and Kate rekindle their once broken marriage.

Thompson comments: “She’s clearly got issues with him, but by the time we see them she’s amused by him. He has gone through a number of girlfriends and he is kind of nicer. It wouldn’t work if she was the kind of person to hold onto things, but they have so much history you can absolutely believe they might get back together.”

Imrie adds: “There’s eight years between the time that Richard and Kate divorced and the start of the movie and, in those years, they have changed and lived. When they come back together, it’s wonderful which it might not have been any earlier.”

Thompson, who both wrote and acts in her next film Effie Gray, starring real-life partner Greg Wise as art critic Ruskin, wonders whether “every marriage should be forced to take a sabbatical every so often”.

“It’s interesting that two people who know each other very well come back together and love each other in a different way.”

Grandmother’s advice

Asked the most useful piece of advice about love she had been given, Thompson adds: “My grandmother used to say your heart is no good as a heart unless it’s been broken at least 10 times and I know what she means – that shapes the way you are able to negotiate all your relationships. Love is such a small word for so many forms of affection, as you go through, in long relationships, there are all kinds of different love.”

Imrie agrees: “Bette Davis said never rely on someone else for your happiness. I think that’s true because, what do I know? I am not married, but real full-on love probably only lasts 18 months, then it changes.

“Actually, I think our expectations of love are fanciful bollocks.”

The Love Punch is in cinemas from April 18.