Oscar winner Emma Thompson costars as Robert Redford’s wife in A Walk in the Woods. It’s the screen version of the wildly popular 1998 book of the same name, in which Bill Bryson recounted his failed attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety (2,168 miles).
We talked to Thompson about her role in the film, her dreams of adventure and why — if Redford knows what’s good for him — he’ll will make another movie with her soon.
Q: You appear only at the beginning and end of the film, but the role clearly resonates with the audience. I think that’s because we’ve all seen someone dear to us blindly pursue a dream or an impulse, and we’ve walked that tightrope between encourager and enabler.
A: Yeah, Cynthia gets it totally. She’s a nurse; she’s seen it all before. They’ve just been to a funeral and he thinks, My God, what haven’t I done yet? I find that happening to me in my 50s. I’m not thinking, What have I done? — I’m thinking, “What haven’t I done?” It’s quite useful sometimes to wonder, What would I really like to do? What am I still capable of doing?
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Q: That’s a very AARP question, no? “What do I want to do next?”
A: And it’s not necessarily a question about work. I don’t believe I’m going to lie on my deathbed and say, “Gee, I wish I’d made more movies.” I really don’t.
Q: That’s applicable to anyone, in any line of work, right?
A: Right. When the time comes, you’re gonna be thinking, Why didn’t I spend more time with my children? Why didn’t I take them on more journeys? And, most crucially, Why didn’t I eat more f--king ice cream?!
Q: Is it possible to get good ice cream in England these days?
A: Yes, but it used to be s--t. It was all manufactured ice-cream bars — that ersatz stuff. But now we have proper Italian gelato places. It’s great.
Q: What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to?
A: There are so many bits of the earth that I’d like to see. It involves a lot of scuba diving, because that’s one of my favorite things — even though it makes me go deaf every time. I don’t want to climb mountains, because I’m no good at that.
Q: Plus there's the falling thing.
A: Everest is not on my list! I’d like to walk the Pennine Way, which is the U.K.’s Appalachian Trail. I want to go to Yosemite.
Q: Nature enthusiasts are a different breed. I recently hosted a screening of A Walk in the Woods in Washington, D.C., presented by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The audience loved the film, of course, but their questions for the panel afterward differed radically from the ones you usually hear at a film screening:
“Why are certain trail sections shown out of sequence?”
“Why does the film show grizzly bears when there are none east of the Mississippi?”
A: It’s a bit like me screening Sense and Sensibility for the Jane Austen Appreciation Society. They go, “You cut Anne? You cut Anne from the film? Lucy’s sister?!”
Q: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s executive director, Ron Tipton, was there, and he explained that A Walk in the Woods captures the essence of the trail rather than presenting a documentary of it. That seemed to calm things down.
A: In my case I found that the Jane Austen people literally can’t deal with you for a second longer, they hate you so much.
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Q: As Redford’s wife, you try to talk him out of hiking the trail. Have you ever wanted to do something your family thought was a little crazy?
A: I want to visit my son at the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp he’s working at in South Sudan, but my husband isn’t so keen on the idea. He says it’s quite dangerous, and he’s right. But it’s a bit like when the bombs went off in London during The Troubles. I lived in London and heard one of them going off down the street, but I didn’t once feel threatened. If you use your sixth sense, you can avoid the worst.
Q: And your son is working down there. Wow.
A: He’s a real hero, actually.
Q: It’s weird the way our culture anoints fake heroes when the real heroes are often right under our noses.
A: I know, it’s so true. That’s a big discussion.
Q: This is your first film with Robert Redford. Had the two of you come close to working together before?
A: Yes, three times! We came very close, and we both feel really stupid because we should have done it every single time. It was bliss working with him — we have very good chemistry, which doesn’t always happen.
Q: I know you have to say that, because you’re here to promote the film, but on screen you really do have good chemistry.
A: It was not unexpected, I must say. We’re politically very similar and our activism is quite similar. We got onto the set and started talking and wouldn’t stop. We sort of had to be pried apart at the end of the day. I want to do something interesting and political with him. I’m sending him an e-mail: “I will come and hurt you if we don’t do this again!”
Photo: Frank Masi / Broad Green Pictures
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