It seems rather surreal having a conversation with Emma Thompson, two-time Academy Award winner, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, about sex and pleasure.
I've always thought her quite proper, in that way Australians sometimes stereotype the English, full of sense and sensibility, if you like.
She's in Australia promoting her latest film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, where she plays Nancy, a retired 60-something widow who's hired a young sex worker, Leo, because she wants to experience good sex for the first time.
He's the only adventure she's ever had.
You see a different side to Thompson, quite literally, as she embraces this character and the idea that women can take pleasure into their own hands, at any age.
"We're not willing to talk about pleasure because it's been taken out of our hands by so many belief systems that have made it shameful and dirty," she says, via Zoom, from her Sydney hotel.
"We're not encouraged to accept our bodies because we live in an age where we're surrounded by iconography that is impossible and just punitive, actually. It's designed to make us feel less than."
She wants the audience to walk away from the film feeling better about themselves, empowered in a way.
"I would like them to go out feeling so released, so much freer and braver, brave enough to say, finally, you know, what do you want, really?" Thompson says.
"To ask themselves how do you experience pleasure? Do you allow yourself to experience pleasure, and if you don't then why not? Where do you carry your shame and why are you ashamed? Why are pain and pleasure and shame so inextricably linked?
"These are conversations that live with everyone, in all cultures, across all borders."
These are the very questions Nancy asks herself.
Sex with her late husband was never good, she's realised; she's only ever had sex with the one person, in the one position.
She's obeyed the rules her whole life.
Nevertheless she describes her 31-year marriage as a good one, she has two successful adult children and a long career in religious education which she is proud of.
"Yet slowly you see how this construction that looks so perfect is in fact far from it," Thompson says.
"That it contains an emptiness that has prevented her from really being fully a human being."
Thompson's in the room with the film's director, Australian Sophie Hyde.
There's an easy familiarity between the two of them, they're comfortable in each other's company. Part of that could be down to the fact they've seen each other naked.
As part of the process, Thompson, Hyde and Daryl McCormack, who plays Leo, did an early rehearsal naked, just the three of them.
"For sure it was confronting," says Hyde, "but we had such a strong purpose of what we were kind of striving for, it felt like we needed to do that.
"Not just to get Emma and Daryl comfortable with being together naked, which was the primary reason we did it, but to also start to confront some of those feelings we have about ourselves, to be thinking about our bodies differently, rather than just worrying about how they look."
Hyde says the film is, in many ways, about confronting those limitations we put on ourselves when it comes to intimacy and pleasure.
"This film is simple - two actors in one room exploring intimacy, connection, sex, frustration and shifting power dynamics," Hyde says.
"But in our currently divided world, these intimate stories about connection feel even more vital.
"Our bodies, our shame, our miscommunications, our sexual connections and sexual frustrations are funny, touching and often tragic and, I believe, we are longing for stories that reflect us and challenge us and allow us to consider how we treat each other."
Thompson completely agrees.
"I did the movie because I thought it was radical and revolutionary," she says.
"Trying to find a way of inhabiting this woman was such a glorious artistic journey ... she fascinated me.
"The final scenes are full of hope, it's a kind of rebirth for Nancy, there's such a tenderness to it, it was a very beautiful thing to have played."
Both women are full of praise for McCormack, previously best known for his role in Peaky Blinders and Wheel of Time. Leo is instrumental in Nancy's evolution from the moment he knocks on the door of the hotel room.
McCormack read the script twice, came in to audition and filmmakers liked him immediately.
"Daryl is empathetic and he relaxes everybody, it's a really lovely quality," Hyde says.
"This role was a huge thing - imagine being opposite somebody who has such a name in the world as Emma Thompson and needing to stand your ground in the two-hander. And Daryl absolutely did that. He rose to the challenge in every respect."
McCormack met with Thompson the next day to discuss the role and the story, and she called him the very next day to tell him she wanted him to play Leo
"We were so lucky," says Hyde.
"He has this real curiosity and a genuineness about him and he had a real desire to present Leo in a very authentic way.
"It was exciting to watch. The way he was attentive to Nancy, the way he touched her, what he brought to the role."
There has been some conversation since the film was released about its depiction of sex work, and sex workers. Not all of it has been complementary.
Hyde and writer Katy Brand consulted actual sex workers throughout the process, McCormack too.
"I did a lot of research with sex workers," Hyde says.
"We had some wonderful consultants with lived experience and their stories and insights were just brilliant.
"We wanted to make sure that what we were saying was not harmful in any way, and that it felt real to people that were engaged in this kind of work that can be deeply intimate work."
There's is an acknowledgement that not all sex work is like this, nor all sex workers, that it is a business that has been "built on some really bad history", says Hyde.
"We weren't saying all sex work is really cool and empowering, but neither were we saying that sex work is bad and there's a deep, dark traumatic side to every sex worker,
"For some people this is what they do for a living, and they enjoy it and they're good at it, and finding that part of Leo was really important to me."
In many ways, the film is also about how Nancy helps Leo validate what he does for a living. You're very good at this, she tells him at one point.
"I think Nancy and Leo exchange a lot," says Thompson.
"He teaches her an enormous amount, in the sense that he strips away an awful lot of her bullshit basically, and her assumptions about the arrangement are torn away very, very quickly.
"She surprises him slightly by speaking honestly and in a very taboo way about motherhood and marriage and her job and you can see he respects what she's done.
"And what Nancy does for him, in her very cack-handed, slightly insensitive way is make him feel seen by an older, responsible, maternal woman.
"When she says I could talk to your mother [who has shamed him for what he does], what she's really saying is I wish to affirm your worth with a person who's a bit like me, and that releases something inside him, it sort of heals him in a way, I think that they heal one another rather than teach one another."
At 63, Thompson is more than 30 years older than McCormack. She takes slight offence when I say I found it terribly refreshing to see a woman of a certain age play such a part, up against a young actor.
"It's so bizarre, isn't it, that we always use that phrase 'woman of a certain age?" she says.
"We don't say it about men. We never say a man of a certain age, he's a man in his 40s, a man in his 50s, perhaps just an older man.
"But it's never pejorative, 'a woman of a certain age' contains a little bit of sympathy, doesn't it? I'm a woman of 63, I'm 63, there's nothing certain about it. It's just certain that I'm 63. So there it is."
Thompson says we're so used to seeing older men with younger women, in film, and in life, that to turn that on its head was part of her attraction to the film.
"It's not what we see in society and it's not what we see on the screen ever, and if we do there's something sort of often overtly sexual about the older lady - all that sort of cougar stuff, you know. Just vomit-inducing crap but also another construct," Thompson says.
"Nancy is a woman you would never expect to watch freely enjoying sex.
"[You see] her go from being so tense that she can't even cope with being touched, to having a kind of very beautiful attachment with this man, a deep and unromantic intimacy I'd never seen before."
Thompson and Hyde are decent enough to listen to my ramblings about how, perhaps, there's a little bit of Nancy in a lot of women, regardless of their age.
How many of us spend our days making sure everyone else is pleased, everyone else is happy, and we forget about our own pleasure? Maybe we're not brave enough to ask for what we want, in and out of the bedroom, or brave enough to do something just a little bit wild that might lead to the adventure of a lifetime.
"We're so conditioned," Thompson says.
"A lot of our societal constructions make it impossible for us to be present and I think that's also what the film starts to address. If you weren't following the rules, what would you want? How would you express it and how would you find it?
"And it's not just about the sex, it's about our approach to many things in our lives, about those questions we need to ask ourselves about what makes us fully human."
In the end both Thompson and Hyde want the audience to think about what it means to be fully human, to find pleasure, to be kind, to share intimacy in a myriad of different ways, to understand one another.
"It's all about challenging yourself to find that connection," says Thompson.
I've covered a few things here at The Canberra Times over the years, from sport to education. But now I get to write about the fun stuff - where to eat, what to do, places to go, people to see. Let me know about your favourite things. Email: email@example.com
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