Emma Thompson Says ‘Content’ Is a ‘Rude Word’: ‘It Makes Me Feel Like the Stuffing Inside a Sofa’

“At the end of it, you feel a bit ill,” the two-time Oscar-winner says

Emma Thompson as Queen Elizabeth II Walking the Dogs
Emma Thompson as Queen Elizabeth II in "Walking the Dogs" (Sky Arts)

Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson spoke out Thursday against the ubiquitous term “content,” calling on Hollywood to stop using it to describe film and TV shows. She added that it makes her feel like “the stuffing inside a sofa.”

“You don’t want to hear your stuff, your stories described as ‘content’ or your acting or your producing described as ‘content,’” the actress said.

The comments came as part of an appearance at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Conference on Thursday, Yahoo News reports, where the British star stressed the importance of authentic storytelling during a discussion about the future of talent and creativity.

“What is authentic, whether you like it or not, is going to be meaningful to somebody. You find your audience by being completely authentic,” she said, adding that she wants to “feel different” after she watches something.

“I don’t want to feel the same way,” she continued. “I want to feel as though I’ve been shifted slightly, even if it’s just my mood, or I’ve learned something extraordinary.”

The actress has won two Oscars: for acting in “Howards End” and for best-adapted screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility.”

Focusing on emotion “takes you away from this thing of ‘content,’” Thompson said. “What is the story that you want to hear and that you want to tell, that you think will make people feel different, safer, stronger?”

To that end, Thompson said, describing film or TV as “content” is “just a rude word for creative people.”

Thompson argued against using a formula to get the audience to feel an emotion, saying that the end result is ruinous.
“You sit there and you watch them,” she said of the finished TV or film projects, “and you wonder why, at the end of it, you feel a bit ill.”

The British star also addressed the U.S. writers’ and actors’ strike, calling it “so painful.”

“I’ve been writing to friends who are crew people, who are costume people, who are makeup people, who aren’t working, so it’s a very, very hard time, people are suffering so much,” Thompson told the conference attendees.

“And it’s actually sort of hidden as well, because there’s something about the words ‘an actors’ strike’ which doesn’t sound the same to people as ‘the doctors are on strike’ or ‘the miners are on strike,’” Thompson said.

Her comments come as the media landscape has shifted enormously over the last decade in the push to create “content” for streaming, and as the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are currently on strike in Hollywood fighting for new provisions that protect writers and actors as the landscape continues to evolve. Much of the discussion surrounding the strikes involves creatives being compensated appropriately for their work, as well as AI usage and viewership data. The strike is now in its fifth month.

Thompson said that Hollywood studios could better align with creators going forward by changing their language and moving away from using the term “content.” She added that the word is “misleading” and allows room for miscommunication between the executives and creative sides of the industry.

“I think the relationship between the executive branch of television and the creative branch of television just has to be closer,” she emphasized.

Most recently, Thompson starred in the film, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”

Other TheWrap editors contributed to this report.