In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson plays a woman in midlife pondering what she has been missing. Disappointed by her marriage and her needy children, the recently widowed character hires a male escort in hopes of finally experiencing sensual pleasure and gaining a better understanding of her own desires. “She’s a decent, ordinary, responsible woman,” says Emma. “She represents an awful lot of women.”

Fortunately for Emma, 63, an Academy Award-winning actress and screenwriter, her own life is much more satisfying than her character’s. Happily married since 2003, she’s a mother of two with a career that continues to keep growing. “Emma’s outlook on life is to embrace your age, live life, be free and laugh,” says a friend. “You’ll have time to rest when you’re dead.”

She met her husband, British actor Greg Wise, 56, on the set of 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. “Before he did the job, he went to see a friend of his who was a bit witchy, and she said he would meet his future partner on the film,” confides Emma. “He assumed it wasn’t me because I was married and quite a lot older than him.”

Greg asked out Emma’s costar Kate Winslet, but there was no chemistry. Kate suggested Greg get to know Emma better, adding that her marriage to actor Kenneth Branagh was over. “I had my heart very badly broken by Ken,” explains Emma, who based the wrenching scene in Love, Actually — where she confronts her husband’s infidelity — on her own experiences.

Eight years after they first met, Emma and Greg married at a ceremony in Argyll, Scotland. Today, they share a daughter, actress Gaia Wise, 22, and son Tindyebwa Agaba Wise, 34, a Rwandan refugee whom they call Tindy. “Family is the center of everything for me,” says Emma. “But family is about connection, not necessarily about blood ties. It’s about extended family and extending family.”

Emma also remains close to her mother, Scottish actress Phyllida Law, 90, whom she is caring for at home as Phyllida copes with Parkinson’s disease. “She’s doing very well,” says Emma, who feels fortunate to still have her mom at all. “She can’t do the walks she used to be able to, but she’s great. We are very lucky.”

The actress makes her home in London on the same street where she grew up. “She’s happiest surrounded by family, reading a good book, giving back to her community and acting. These things bring her joy,” says the friend, who notes that Emma has settled into a very happy chapter of her life. “This moment in time is special for her. She’s content, she’s working, her family is together. She has a good life.”

Emma would be delighted if her new film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, inspires other women to embrace their lives with gusto and hope. “She feels her lost youth,” Emma says of her character. “There is a tingling sense, too, not only of what might have been but what could be from now on.”