Emma Thompson opens up about playing a bad mum in What's Love Got to Do With It

what's love got to do with it
Emma Thompson reveals what she looks for in rolesStudioCanal

What's Love Got to Do With It tells the story of two friends, Zoe (played by Lily James) and her neighbour Kaz (Shazad Latif) whose love lives are less than optimal. Then Kaz announces he's entering into an arranged marriage and Zoe decides to film Kaz's journey to Lahore, Pakistan to meet his bride.

Of course, rom-com chaos ensues, thanks mostly to the hovering family members who make their children's lives harder. For Zoe, her mum Cath, played by Emma Thompson, is the kind of scattered yet overbearing that a lot of people can relate to.

Ahead of the film, Digital Spy sat down with Thompson to talk about playing a bad mother, what she looks for in her roles, and the through line in her characters.

what's love got to do with it

Cath is highly preoccupied with getting her daughter a boyfriend, but she doesn't fall too far into the trap of being nasty about it. How did you approach that?

Jemima had written a very good script, and I think there's certain references to her own parental experience in there and I just found Cath very recognisable largely because of her cultural appropriative-ness and terrible inappropriateness.

Also, yes, the mother thing is not somehow on the top of her agenda. In a way, Cath's more interested in herself. She's sort of helpfully selfish. I noticed that she's not particularly good at maternal affection and really looking, because she's a bit scattered. Absolutely scattered, not able really to focus.

And perhaps that's why the relationship with the Khan family next door is so good for her because suddenly there's this extremely rich, really rich culture, it's something that she can kind of get a handle on.

<span class="photo-credit">David M. Benett - Getty Images</span>
David M. Benett - Getty Images

And also the Khan family are responsible to each other in a concentrated way, which is different to how she acts with her daughter.

Exactly, and you feel as though [Cath] probably grew up in, in a fractured way, which I think we have a lot of in this country, particularly in upper-middle-class families where boarding schools of sort of the norm. We fracture our families, we choose to do it.

Whereas in many countries around the world that is not what we do, and interestingly, I live in a sort of un-fractured family. We all live in the same street. And whilst that can be a little much sometimes, and it's very clear in What's Love Got to do With It that you know, there are good things or bad things, both ways, right?

There's a there's a real sense of the capacity for love to melt even the hardest of attitudes, which is what happens at the end of the movie. I think I've just loved watching that.

shazad latif and lily james, what's love got to do with it

As you have progressed in your career, do you look back and think about the different types of women that you've played?

I don't do that, really. I mean, unless I was asked to for a very particular reason. I think there is a common thread though to a certain degree. It's always to do with the writing: is there something interesting in there and is everyone else [in a script] saying interesting things as well, because there's no point in having a one-trick-pony script.

I love movies like this where it's a large cast and everyone has roles to play. I like writing movies like that as well. I love a big cast with lots of different voices coming in.

I'm constantly looking for some female heroic, I suppose. And sometimes you get that, like in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, that's a female hero to me. And then there's the monster — there's Trunchbull in Matilda, but Cath's just this sort of terribly recognisable, human frailty.

What's Love Got to Do With It is out in cinemas on February 24

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