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Ruth Negga on her breakout role in the movie 'Loving'
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2016-11-10

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Ruth Negga is having the breakout year that all actors work and dream crave.

Not only is the Irish-Ethopian actress co-starring in Preacher, AMC's red-hot TV series adaptation of the sci-fi action graphic novel ( just renewed for a second season ), but she's winning raves from critics and audiences for her portrayal of Mildred Loving in the movie Loving. Mildred and Richard Loving were the interracial couple who became reluctant though determined activists in the mid-1960s when they fought and eventually overtuRNing ( at the Supreme Court level ) the antiquated marriage laws in their home state of Virginia.

With their enormous inner strength and innate dignity, Negga and her co-star Joel Edgerton work a quiet magic on audiences in writer-director Jeff Nichols' film, which is a chronicle of the couple's life and their struggle for marriage equality. ( The film is now in theaters. )

Windy City Times: It's so lovely to enter this very quiet, thoughtful world that your writer-director Jeff Nichols set up with Loving. I'm assuming he created that environment for you and Joel to work in.

Ruth Negga: Yes. Jeff makes films that are exactly kind of like his personality, you know? He's very quiet and gentle but there's also like a steel core at the center of his films. They're really quite powerful and very striking and also moving but have a very, I don't know, I hate to use the word "message" because he's a very unpatronizing director and I feel like he doesn't patronize his audience. He encourages emotion rather than instructs us.

WCT: Absolutely. It used to be a lot more common to see a film like this but now it's so rare. With such an interior character and such an interior piece—I mean this could have gone the standard, courtroom drama direction and it didn't—how do you prepare? So much of your performance is with your eyes.

RN: I'm lucky to have these big old peepers stuck in my head. [Laughs]

WCT: The camera certainly loves you. The movie is much more complex and so are the characters than the story might suggest. You're thinking stereotypes, given the situation, and they're not. Mildred seemed to have this quiet strength [that] you embodied and he has this sweetness that you don't get from his physicality. You think, "Oh, no—he's one of those typical slack-jawed kinda guys."

RN: Yes.

WCT: And when they read the statute—this absurd law that they had broken by marrying—"against the peace and dignity of the state..."

RN:—I had to lift my jaw off the floor when I read that. This couple showed dignity in the extreme against legislation that was essentially trying to strip them of it.

WCT: They were like the definition of those terms.

RN: It's almost laughable, isn't it if it wasn't so unfortunate. That law obliterated families and perpetuated stereotypes.

WCT: Absolutely. Obviously, this history resonates so strongly with the queer community and I know that before she died, Mildred Loving came out in favor of safe sex marriage. She was this quiet activist and now you—the child of a mix-race couple—have now played this legend. Does it feel like a burden or a privilege or maybe a little bit of both?

RN: I think it's a huge privilege but I feel in a strange way that it's mirrored her own. I'm not a reluctant spokesperson but I don't think any one person should ever really be a spokesperson for a whole community. I think there should be many and I would be really loath to become just the one spokesperson for interracial couples because there are many.

But it is a privilege to tell one of many stories. The thing I don't want to happen is that this becomes like some sort of "go to couple" for interracial marriage. I don't think any sort of minority wants that because it means we're pigeonholing people. I think in the queer community that's what you want too—you want all your stories to be told. It's not just a token story that solves everything. "Oh, now we've got everyone's story told."

WCT: Switching gears for a moment, I did a bit of research and discovered that you played Shirley Bassey?!

RN: I did, yeah. About five years ago; what a fabulous experience. Of course it was going to be fabulous with Shirley Bassey.

WCT: I had to mention that, as a gay man, Shirley Bassey—come on! [Laughs]

RN: She was extraordinary; I just loved playing that energy. Very different from Mildred—quite an explosive, glamorous woman, and it was such a joy to play that kind of character as well.

WCT: Just looking at this year with Tulip, your character in the TV series Preacher and Mildred in Loving—what a year for you! Does it feel like that?

RN: It does, actually. In theater there's a lot more opportunity to create women characters that have complexity but you don't always see that on the TV screen or in the cinema—people assume that complex women don't sell—not true! So, it's kind of lovely to see that changing and I think that's really because audiences are agitating for that. I think people are tired of seeing sort of bland representations of themselves onscreen. I do feel that it's a grassroots movement. People want to see more women like Tulip and Mildred on their screens and people who make movies and TV series will acknowledge that eventually. With popularity, comes money and that's what makes people's eyes go wide, isn't it?

WCT: Obviously. Well, I'd love you to play Lorraine Hansberry or Ruth Ellis next.

RN: I'd love that.

See FocusFeatures.com/Loving.


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