Thandie Newton Transcript
Michael: My next guest started acting in movies when she was just sixteen, she starred opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2, turned down Charlie's Angels and then made a film called Crash. It won the Oscar this year for best film, she won a Bafta for best supporting actress. Welcome please Thandie Newton. (Applause)
Thandie: Thandowe, it's a nice name isn't it? (spelling is wrong)
Michael: Zimbabwean, was your mother a Zimbabwean princess?
Thandie: That is true. It's very different to the way we understand kings and queens in this country but there are lineages in Zimbabwe, or there used to be before colonialism. And with every tribe there is a king and a queen but there are many tribes. So in my mother's tribe, the Jambe tribe she was actually destined to be the queen.
Michael: And your father was English and you were born in England and grew up in Penzance. You were a bit of an exotic flower for Penzance weren't you?
Thandie: Yes I was.
Michael: Did you feel different?
Thandie: Yes I did, I did always feel different but I also it was always a balance because I felt different but I also felt very special. And I felt on the outside of things but I felt very embraced and very close to my family. But I think all through my life in retrospect, this strange tricky balance has been. I've always been juggling at.
Michael: You started in the film business when you were sixteen. Made your first movie Flirting with Nicole Kidman. Did you always want to be a film star, was that your ambition?
Thandie: No, I wanted to dance. That was my dream to dance and I did actually pursue dancing quite seriously, I went to a boarding school and arts school when I was eleven, I got a scholarship to go to the school. I just ever since I was tiny I've needed to entertain, I really had a burning need to entertain anybody. So that came true for me when the Cornwall County Council had a grant to give one pupil every year and I got the grant to go to this incredible school. And I left home when I was eleven in a way because it's a long way from home and we didn't have that much money so my parents couldn't come and see me and I couldn't go home that often. Michael: So you were on your own, very vulnerable.
Thandie: I was, yes I think I was.
Michael: And Crash has really changed everything for you hasn't it?
Thandie: This tiny film. Honestly, the most not insignificant at all because it was something we all believed in, all of us.
Michael: But no money.
Thandie: No money, I had to fly myself out to shoot it at one point. But it was worth it because it's so rare as an actor to read a script that gives you that burning desire to perform. You know it's a job like any other so you do things to pay the rent and I try and find enjoyment and I do manage to in everything I do. But Crash was something special, it was.
Michael: And also your part in it, it's a very strong part isn't it for an actress? The film really pivots on the sexual assault that's carried out on you by a cop, by a racist cop. But let's now see a sequence, this is after the assault, this is you and your husband talking about what happened. (Excerpt from Crash - Applause)
Michael: When you came to do that scene when you are assaulted did you know what was going to happen?
Thandie: I didn't, I didn't know the extent of it and I should have done because I refer to it in that scene. And I really graphically refer to it. But in my English way I thought it was ironic or sarcastic so when we actually came to shoot the assault it was the very last thing that we filmed, I'd already shot everything else and the director, Paul Haggis a very sensitive man very much someone who you trusted, took Matt Dillon and I aside before we started shooting and said to us, 'Look, I'm here for you and it's going to be a very difficult scene and Thandie, do you have protective underwear?' And I thought it was a very odd thing. And no. And he was referring to the fact that Matt Dillon was going to have to be sort of, because my dress was very tight and in order for it to look realistic he would have to be really feeling around my body and my private area and that's what he was referring to. And I was horrified, because in the script it hadn't been written so graphically, I mean they wouldn't have been able to get financing for the film if they'd sent out a script that had the graphic stuff that you see.
Michael: Would you have played it?
Thandie: That's a good question. I probably, I would have found it difficult. As I did, because I went into the make up trailer after I had that conversation with Paul and Matt and I cried and cried and cried. Partly because I wasn't prepared and also just the shock of having to be in that place, having to let that happen. Even though we're just simulating something it was still, I felt that it was a personal violation, absolutely it was a very very hard scene to film.
Michael: So where do you draw the line in that sort of situation as an actress? Because it was a personal violation.
Thandie: I nearly did that night actually because I really didn't feel it was clear in the script although it was and I think that if I'd read it without my denial I would have known that's what I was going to have to do.
Michael: But you've said before that as a film star you've been exploited at work and in 'my personal life'. What do you mean by that?
Thandie: I've been in situations, well one in particular when I was a teenager and I started very very young.
Michael: You were sixteen.
Thandie: I was and I went from a school environment, literally to into film and the same dynamics were in place and at the school there's the headmistress and the teachers you do what they say and you're a good girl if you do that and you're just following the rules. And in film, I had no experience in film so I would do as I was told.
Michael: By the director.
Thandie: Yeah and that unfortunately continued into a personal situation and I was sixteen and I was completely innocent, I had no perception of being in a film situation and that whole world and as an adult now I do judge it, I judge it for what I believe it is which is an exploitative situation and I've very very sad about that because it stole a lot of years from me.
Michael: What damage did it do? What lasting damage did it do?
Thandie: I felt I was so confused really because I wasn't really sure what was going on. I was sixteen so I was a child but was I an adult but in retrospective I absolutely believe that I was not old enough to make decisions for myself, I was still a school girl.
Michael: And you were exploited by this man.
Thandie: I was and I've demonised this person for a long time because I did lose a lot of years and they continued after I'd separated from him because it became a relationship but that feeling of being a victim continued for a long time and so I continued the damage to myself. And so I demonised him for a long time because I was trapped in that victim mentality and I needed someone to blame. I mean it's such a classic situation, you go through trauma upset and once you get perspective, get consciousness you blame straight away and I have done that a lot in the media and so on and now as an adult I've found that what's important is to find ways to value myself so that I don't let myself become a victim in any other situation anymore.
Michael: You've had an extraordinary life actually because you when all this was going on actually, you went to university, you went to Cambridge, you read Anthropology and you got a 2:1 degree.
Thandie: Just something else yes! I did.
Michael: Does a degree in Anthropology, does it suit you in Hollywood, is it a useful thing to have?
Thandie: Yes the different tribes, yes. It was very useful, just giving me an overview and interestingly Crash seems to be a film, it just says everything that I learnt and valued from my degree in Anthropology.
Michael: You turned down Charlie's Angels. Was that a good idea and why did you turn down Charlie's Angels? Thandie: Well at the time it was a practical thing really. I'd been away from home for nine months doing Mission Impossible 2 and my poor husband has flown out to Sydney five times where I was shooting to be with me. He had a life you know and he missed me and he wanted us to be at home together and I had every, I planned to finish Mission Impossible 2 and go home and we were thinking about starting a family and suddenly I get called to do another gigantic film which was going to take another nine months in Los Angeles and to be honest is wasn't a film that particularly, I didn't feel that it was going to be that challenging necessarily. I was very aware that it was going to make me a movie star, I knew that and I was faced with a choice. Become a movie star which could be short lived, I'd been around doing this for a long time and I've seen you can burn out fast. Or do I want to go home and really just give my energy to the thing that I really cherish which is my personal life. Because the other thing that I've seen, being on the outside of the film industry because I've been doing it for so long. Is that your personal life just gets worn down and I wasn't ready and I've never regretted it and look now. I'd much rather it came for Crash.
Michael: Absolutely, it's a seriously good movie. And with Mission Impossible 2, I must ask you, you were famously asked about snogging Tom Cruise and you said it was 'icky'.
Thandie: That's because it had been a long long time of publicity and I'd answered the question many many times and I feel terrible about that because Tom's response when he was told that I said that about him, about kissing him was that it was like kissing Hitler, so I was very sad about that.
Michael: Somebody's telling lies.
Thandie: I mean Tom is hilarious, he actually gave me a crash course in screen kissing in Mission Impossible 2 because at the end of the film we come together in this glorious moment, I've nearly died and he's nearly died and we have to have this enormous kiss and I've got quite a small nose so when I dived in for this kiss apparently I squashed his nose and his cheeks were everywhere and he took me aside and took me to the monitor and raced me to the monitor and said, 'Thandie come on, you just gotta see what you're doing.' And it's true I looked like some kind of ferret it was terrible but I felt the passion and I was really getting involved and so then we went back onto the set and we did it again and then we went back to the monitor and then we did it again and we must have done it ten times going backwards and forwards to the monitor until we perfected the screen kiss so now I'm just perfect. I could demonstrate now but neither of you are actors so.
Noel: I could, I'm ready. (Laughter)
Michael: I had a BAFTA nomination for a play I once did. It's been great talking to you. You're off to LA now, taking the family.
Thandie: I'm taking them all with me again, going to LA to do a comedy, finally I get to have a nice time.
Michael: Oh good. With who?
Thandie: Eddie Murphy, I can't wait.
Michael: Thandie as I said, it's great talking to you, I enjoyed Crash immensely, it's on general release now and the videos out as well and thank you.
Thandie: Thank you. (Applause)