"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.
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."
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.
-> My Fair Lady (2012)