One of the first ladies of contemporary British stage and cinema, Emma Thompson has won equal acclaim for her work as an actress and a screenwriter. For a long time known as Kenneth Branagh's other half, Thompson was able to demonstrate her considerable talent to an international audience with Oscar-winning mid-1990s work in such films as Howards End and Sense and Sensibility.
Born April 15, 1959 in Paddington, West London, Thompson grew up in a household well-suited for creative expression. Both of her parents were actors, her father, Eric Thompson, the creator of the popular TV series The Magic Roundabout, and her actress mother, Phyllida Law, a cast member of This Poisoned Earth (1961), Otley (1968) and several other films. Thompson and her sister, Sophie (who also became an actress), enjoyed a fairly colorful upbringing; as Emma later said, "I was brought up by people who tended to giggle at funerals." She excelled at school, was well liked, and went on to enroll at Cambridge University in 1978. It was at Cambridge that Thompson started performing as part of the legendary Footlights Group, once home to various members of Monty Python, who provided a huge inspiration to the fledgling comedienne. Unfortunately, Thompson's studies and her work with fellow Footlights members Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were interrupted when her father had a debilitating stroke. Thompson went home for a few months, where she taught him how to speak again. After her return to Cambridge, she graduated in 1980 with a degree in English, and she got her first break working for a short-lived BBC radio show.