Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Thandie gained a love for humanity

How Thandie gained a love for humanity
"IT MADE me more compassionate", says Thandie Newton when the Newsasks what she gained most from studying anthropology in Cambridge. "I'm really tolerant of people's behaviour, and how all kinds of things can motivate people to act in ways which, on the surface, we think of as negative or damaging."
Chatting to the petite star at the premiere of her latest film, Run, Fat Boy, Run, it's hard to imagine her poring over dusty library books in Cambridge, where she was a student in the early 90s. And it's even harder to picture her looking less glamorous than now, despite her recent confession to dressing "more like Obi-Wan Kenobi" than a trend-setting starlet while at university.
Cambridge graduate and film star Thandie Newton
Today (Thursday, 20 September), as Thandie stops to sign autographs for fans and pose for photographers on the red carpet, she looks every inch the star, clad in a simple but eye-catching designer dress, hair elegantly slicked back in a long ponytail, and groomed to perfection.
Though it's more than a decade since she graduated, Thandie still remembers her Cambridge days as an "amazing" experience. And she has her Zimbabwean mother - a Shona princess - to thank for encouraging her to continue her education, despite having already embarked on a flourishing movie career. "I think partly because acting wasn't something I'd studied for years, my mum just wanted me to keep my feet on the ground and always have something I could fall back on, and for her that's education."
Thandie had already had a taste of showbiz in her teens, studying dance at Hertfordshire's Arts Educational School, and, when a back injury put an end to that, making her acting debut alongside Nicole Kidman in the Australian coming-of-age film Flirting. And her big screen appearances didn't stop there. While at Cambridge, Thandie successfully juggled her degree with roles in films such as Jefferson in Parisand The Journey of August King.
So, unlike many of her fellow students, Thandie didn't spend her time at Downing College joining societies and socialising - she was busy hanging out with the likes of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, her co-stars in Interview With The Vampire, instead.
"I worked intensely at college," she is quoted as saying recently. "I wouldn't go to the bar or to parties so I probably ended up working as hard, if not harder, than the others. And I got a 2:1, which I was pretty pleased with." Not bad for someone who studied for her finals at the Cannes Film Festival!
Thandie admits it was her time at Cambridge that helped her find an unhurried route to acting success. "It allowed me to just stop for a second . . .
it just slowed me down . . . because, you know, with Hollywood and the acting industry, it's not just the work, there's a lot of other stuff that goes on, which is useful - the parties, the social networking and so on - and that's the stuff I didn't get to do. But I think, being so young, I'm really grateful that I didn't do that, because you can burn out so fast."
These days the 34-year-old balances shooting in Hollywood opposite the likes of Eddie Murphy (Norbit) and Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), with filming at home in England. "It's very nice to go home every night!"
admits Thandie, who lives with her two young daughters and writerdirector husband, Ol Parker, in London.
While filming in London was a bonus, it certainly wasn't the only thing that attracted Thandie to her latest role in romantic comedy Run, Fat Boy, Run. It was actually eight little words in the covering letter that arrived with the script that sold Thandie on the idea: "directed by David Schwimmer and starring Simon Pegg".
"I didn't really know Simon at the time which is why I leapt at the chance to do it," she tells the News. "I hadn't met David either, but I had heard about his work in theatre and he just sounded like a completely lovely person and very talented, so I wanted to do it on that basis.
Actually," she adds, laughing, "David is too well-adjusted, he's too down-to-earth. I need to get a private detective on him because I don't believe someone like him can be so normal!"
Although the film sees Schwimmer at the helm of his first feature, it's clear that Thandie rates the former Friendsstar as a director. "He's a real visualist, as well as being completely in touch with the characters," she reveals. "And the great thing about having a director who's not from a place coming to direct is that they can almost introduce you to somewhere you thought you knew so well and take for granted."
And it seems Thandie will be enjoying life at home in London for some time yet. "I've just finished making a film with Guy Ritchie called RocknRolla, which was also shot in London and comes out next year," she says.
"And then it's been a busy year, so I'm just taking a bit of a chill out."
■ Run, Fat Boy, Runis in cinemas now.

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