February 13, 2006 12:00 PM

Nanny 911 Mary Poppins, watch your back. This month Emma Thompson returns to the big screen as the title character in Nanny McPhee, an ultrahomely but magical babysitter who tames the unruly brood of widower Colin Firth with help from her enchanted walking stick. “This nanny has hairy warts and a great big nose,” says Thompson, 46, who also wrote the screenplay based on the Nurse Matilda children’s books. Thankfully, there’s an extreme makeover in the offing: When the kids start behaving, their caregiver turns more comely. “To have someone change their appearance but not change inside speaks to children,” says Thompson.

Mother’s Big Helper When her daughter Gaia, 6, was born, Thompson and her husband of more than two years, actor Greg Wise, 39, needed help around their London home. “But now that Gaia is in school, we don’t need a nanny,” she says. “So Gaia’s nanny is my nanny—I’ve hired her as my personal assistant.”

Thompson Family Values Gaia yearns for a hamster. “Greg said, ‘If you don’t feed it and clean its cage every day, I’ll eat the hamster,'” says Thompson. “My daughter took it to heart. Now my husband is known as someone who eats children’s pets.” No wonder Gaia has decided to wait to adopt a furry friend “until she’s 8.”

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