Emma Thompson may be best known as an actress, winning an Oscar for Howard's End (1992) and nominated for three more for her roles in Remains of the Day (1993), In the Name of the Father (1993), and Sense and Sensibility (1995)—not to mention awards for her stunning portrayal of a woman dying of cancer in the made-for-TV movie Wit (1999).

But what satisfies Thompson most is what goes on behind the scenes—and indeed, long before the first scene is even shot: Writing. Thompson won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, and more awards for writing Wit. (She also helped fine-tune the script for the recent Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.)

Quite the resumé. And yet, Thompson says she's proudest of her latest project, Nanny McPhee, in which she stars as a magical—and physically hideous—British nanny whose assignment is to bring order to a chaotic home with a single dad and seven very naughty children … who specialize in driving nannies away. But they won't be getting rid of this nanny, not till she's taught them—and their father—five important lessons, including some they'll have to learn the hard way. And with each lesson learned, one of Nanny McPhee's ugly features—a wart here, an exaggerated buck tooth there—disappears. Magically, of course.

Thompson, 46, wrote the screenplay, adapted from a series of children's books about Nurse Matilda. It was a labor of love that took some five years, but Thompson is more than thrilled with the payoff—a film that the whole family can enjoy.

What attracted you to this story?

Emma Thompson: I like it because it has everything in it. The first thing I was attracted to was the fact that this ...

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