Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Best Life Magazine

Thandie NewtonBy: Lloyd Bradley,
Photographs by: Nino Munoz
Actress Thandie Newton sits close and spills the secrets of marital chemistry, saving the planet, and her sweet life flying beneath Hollywood's radar
Thandie Newton strolls into the Electric, a private members club on London's trendy Portobello Road, on a gray December morning. There is no mistaking her. We've watched her onscreen as the outrageous sexpot straddling Tom Cruise in a bathtub in M:I-2 and as the icy, beautiful wife in Crash, but in real life she is wholly another matter: As she makes her entrance, dressed in black and with her hair pulled back from her face, her presence is something close to luminous. She sits down and says she is attracted to writers. That could be the best news this correspondent has heard all year. But just as it's sinking in, she follows it up with, "Of course, I'm married to one." While wondering if this fellow realizes how lucky he is, it dawns on me that Newton would naturally be drawn to a man with an intellectual bent. She is a gifted actress and obviously bright, and you would expect no less from a woman who put her successful film career on the back burner so that she could get a degree (with honors) in social anthropology from Cambridge University. She sits conspiratorially close, opts to share my bottle of mineral water, and touches my arm and leg occasionally for emphasis. Very quickly, I realize lucky isn't nearly a strong enough word to describe that man. She insists she'll talk about anything, and she does. Newton is articulate in a relaxed but proper way, not only about the movie industry but also about racial politics on both sides of the Atlantic--or even both at the same time: "Had I been an African-American woman, I would have played Christine Thayer in Crash differently, but I'm from England, which has a different handle on being black. It's a lower-key approach, so without considering her American-ness, I could get that much closer to the bone, the human bone rather than the national bone."She'll talk about the environment with the genuine concern of somebody who recently traded her gas-guzzling BMW SUV for a Toyota Prius hybrid and then wrote letters to people such as Mel Gibson, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, and Charlize Theron in a bid to persuade them to do the same thing. "I did what anybody who thinks about the planet would do. I don't know how much effect it will have, but I hope it made a few people think." But what really animates Thandie Newton at this stage in her life is her family. They are, she readily admits, what she works for and why the projects she accepts from now on "have to have some meaning." Newton met her husband, Oliver Parker, in 1997, at a read-through for a film he'd written for the BBC. Even now, 10 years later, she finds it difficult to quantify exactly what transpired at that moment. "I was smitten, totally and utterly besotted," she says. "And love at first sight wasn't something I ever believed was possible." She not only met her mate that day, but she also got the part, in a movie called, somewhat appropriately, In Your Dreams. The couple married a year later, after a court-ship during which Parker demonstrated all the qualities Newton was looking for in a man. The actress discovered him to be "kind, sympathetic, supportive, reliable, and full of surprises. It seemed like every time we went out, I found out something else about him--all good."As she talks about the chemistry of her relationship, her brow furrows with the effort to make sure she describes it with precision. "We complement each other perfectly," she says. She takes a sip of my water and looks almost dreamy as she goes on. "It's as if we morph in and out of each other, yet we're very different. He is quite reserved and self-conscious, while I'm uninhibited, but we're completely on the same wavelength. He helps me figure things out, and as a result, I'm much more accepting of myself now. A few years ago, I was like, What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What do I think? Between us, we'd always figure it out, so none of that doubt would ever get past the front door. He taught me not to care about things that aren't worth spending time on. Sometimes I get quite scared at the thought it would have been so easy for us never to have met." Newton and Parker have two young daughters--Ripley, 6, and Nico, 2--who are her absolute priority, she says. "Ol's a hugely available dad, and we both bring different things to the girls' lives. It's vital that girls grow up having a good relationship with their father, because it can affect how they deal with the other men that come into their lives." Growing up in rural southwest England, Newton had an idyllic relationship with her parents, and she remains close with them today. Nick and Nyasha Newton are retired and live very near to her, she says, and when she talks about their life journey, an enormous affection and pride are tangible in her voice and on her face. Her mother, Zimbabwean by birth, met her English father while they were working in a hospital in Zambia. They married and, to escape political unrest, moved to his hometown in Cornwall, England, which is where Thandie and her brother, Jamie, were born and raised. Nyasha was the local midwife, and later the district nurse, and she knew everybody. Newton remembers seeing her mother "riding round on her bike, knowing everybody and everybody knowing her. She was so giving. She had cared for every family in the local community, either bringing the young ones into the world or looking after the elderly. She was also the only African in the area, and she completely changed people's preconceptions of what an African woman should be. I like to think I'm carrying on from her."Although work can often take Newton away from her family, she is now successful enough to be able to pick and choose projects, in order to spend as much time as possible in the huge, rambling London house she insists will never be swapped for a Hollywood mansion. "Where we are, we'll be there forever," she says, cutting the air with one hand for emphasis. "I love the idea that my daughters will only really know one place, with the kind of roots only a community can give you." Doesn't it put her at a disadvantage, being that far removed from the center of the industry? "If I were younger and needed to play that whole game, then it probably would, but I'm an actress, not a celebrity," she says. "I've worked my way up through the ranks, so I'm perfectly secure in my career, and when I'm not working, I'm perfectly secure in the rest of my life. I'm in the enviable position of having earned the respect of Hollywood and being under the radar in this whole celebrity culture...and how cool is that?"


Angie said...

Thandie looks great.. make-up's on point.... cool article too.. thank you Quinn

Alan said...

What a terrific interview! Reinforces the reality that she has her head on straight and her priorities (Family...first...always!) in order. She has such a great combination of intelligence, beauty, and talent.

On a different note, I saw in my paper today (the Washington Post) that the U.S. may actually be maturing a little bit. One of the TV stations was showing the first Harry Potter movie and it was listed as H.P. and the "Sorcerer's"
Stone. As you know, when it first came out they used philosopher's because some suits (or should I say bozos) thought that sorcerer sounded a bit demonic.