Emma Thompson discusses "My Fair Lady" screenplay

I know there are many who aren't fond of anyone remaking the classic My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison but here's an article with Emma Thompson discussing some of the ways that she's approaching her screen adaptation...

"I didn't treat it as an icon in my mind," says the screenwriter. "I just looked at it and said: 'How could it be improved?' So I was very cheeky."

That cheekiness began with a much tougher look at Eliza's father, the boozy Alfred P. Doolittle. Quite simply, Thompson views him as a manipulative and calculating slave trader.
Audrey Hepburn
"He's more brutal," she explains of her interpretation. "It's a very terrible thing he does, selling his daughter into sexual slavery for a fiver. I suppose my cheekiness is in saying: 'This is a very serious story about the usage of women at a particular time in our history. And it's still going on today.'?" She admits, "Yes, OK, it's a wonderful musical, but let's also look at what it's really saying about the world."

It's no surprise, then that Thompson doesn't much like the iconic 1964 Oscar-winning film directed by George Cukor.

"I find it chocolate-boxy, clunky and deeply theatrical," she begins. "I don't think that it's a film. It's this theater piece put onto film. It was Cecil Beaton's designs and Rex Harrison that gave it its extraordinary quality. I don't do Audrey Hepburn. I think that she's a guy thing. I'm sure she was this charming lady, but I didn't think she was a very good actress. It's high time that the extraordinary role of Eliza was reinterpreted, because it's a very fantastic part for a woman."

Carey Mulligan
That fantastic part is headed Carey Mulligan's way, according to Thompson, while all sorts of people are pitching for Higgins.

Can we expect more songs -- new songs -- in the revise?

"No, God almighty," Thompson snaps back. "It's so-o-o-o long. It's incredibly long. The audience can expect less songs!"

As Thompson began to dig deeper into what she thought would make her retooled "My Fair Lady" more relevant, she found herself psychologically drawn to George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," the play on which the musical is based, and "intrigued with Shaw's shrewd take on the ins and outs of human foibles. What Shaw did in 'Pygmalion' was say, 'Be careful what you wish for because this could happen.'

"His attitude was very much more clear-eyed and cynical about what Higgins was up to," Thompson stresses. "And it certainly was not something that could have led to a romantic entanglement. Shaw was a great champion of women, and yet there were also the problems that he shared with his fellow man at that time. Women were not considered to be the intellectual equal to men."

That said, "My Fair Lady" is a romance for romantics.

"So my job was to pull that into a not necessarily more modern but a more emotionally connectedly visceral piece so that Higgins and Eliza's relationship becomes absolutely central in a slightly different way," concludes the screenwriter. "My version exists in the real world."

The burning question: Will Thompson the screenwriter give Thompson the actress a role in the film?

"I have quietly nudged the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, in my own direction," she offers, and then goes on to joke, "and if they do decide to cast me, I have a whole slew of new songs for her that I've written -- just to build her part up a bit. And, by the way, Higgins goes off with Mrs. Pearce in the end."

Very cheeky stuff indeed.

Source: Variety
-> My Fair Lady (2012)


  1. First of all, I can't believe that this is the first I'm hearing of this! Secondly, I am not entirely opposed to this idea. While I disagree with Thompson regarding Hepburn's acting ability, I know that she will turn out an excellent adaptation. Her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was wonderful, IMO. I am really liking the idea that she is working off Pygmalion as well.

    Thank you for posting this great article!

  2. I adore the original movie, but am eager to see this one...with ET doing the screenplay, how can it fail? And I think she would make a great Mrs. Pearce.

  3. Michelle,
    You're welcome! I also like the fact that Thompson is the scriptwriter!

    I was tickled when I read that she might be 'writing' herself into it. That would be fun!

  4. I'm not opposed to a remake but I am shocked to hear Emma Thompson, an actress I admire, speak so disparagingly of a classic movie and of Audrey Hepburn -a LEGEND! It doesn't put Emma into a better light at all.

  5. I agree! I'm surprised that Emma would be so candid about her thoughts of a much beloved actress.

  6. Emma's a notable talent. But disparaging Hepburn, or frankly, anything about the original, isn't seemly and unnecessary. She can knock herself out and produce a wonderful new version; but nothing will detract from Harrison, Hepburn, et.al. It's actually something of a sin to criticize past achievement -- all of us stand on other shoulders, ET included;those that follow her will "discover" all sorts of shortcomings.

  7. I think it’s a matter of taste if you like or don’t like an actor. But to say she couldn’t act is simply not true and it’s the first time I read that somebody says so. If you know a bit more about AH and watched her films or documentaries about her life, you just realise that all of her colleagues (with the exception of Humphrey Bogart) sayd she was a great actor. And I think those people knew what they were takling about. If you know her films, you notice that her film roles were wide-ranging and various and she played drama and comedy as well as western and love story.
    And she could sing and proves that in “breakfast at tiffany’s”. In “my fair lady” it’s not her own voice, because she couldn’t sing the high tones. But she knew it herself and made no secret of it. Well, Audrey Hepburn was a great actress and I think E. Thompson should have known better…



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