Tuesday, May 27, 2008

'I was so incredibly self-conscious'

Thandie Newton is a refreshingly unpolished Hollywood star. She tells Laura Barton about playing Condoleezza Rice, being unknown in Africa and how she had to struggle for her sense of entitlement

Wednesday May 28, 2008 The Guardian

Thandie Newton stands in her hallway apologising. "The house smells of wet dog!" she cries, looking somewhat bemused and partly distressed. "I lit some candles, to hide the smell," she adds. Her dog, Maggie, sniffs the air obligingly. Through in the kitchen we sit at the table, shoot the breeze, wait for the kettle to boil while Maggie curls up in her bed and looks at us damply. "I made a note to myself," Newton says, and her voice is calm and clear: "Talk about water."

We are indeed here to talk about water; Newton, at 35 one of Britain's most successful actors, is the recently appointed face of a campaign by the bottled water company Volvic and the charity World Vision to provide clean water and mechanised pumps to the drought-stricken regions of west Africa. It is precisely the type of project - a marriage of celebrity, charity and a multinational company - that on first hearing rather makes one bristle. "I was a bit sceptical about it at first," Newton admits. Not only because of the environmental implications of encouraging people to buy bottled water but "because the teaming up of Volvic and World Vision seems ... well, you know, how much is Volvic really committed to making a difference, or is it really about boosting sales of Volvic?"
But in February, Newton went on a trip to Mali to see World Vision's work first-hand. She wasn't, she says "feeling that groovy" - three weeks earlier she had undergone surgery for an ovarian cyst "and I'd had endometriosis as well, and I'd just been feeling like I was in my first trimester of pregnancy for six months - I mean the number of pregnancy tests I took knowing that I wasn't," she sighs. "So I still felt pretty shaky, and if it had been going on a trip for Chanel or something I wouldn't have done it, but there was an added incentive with this."

The incentive was not just World Vision's work, but Newton's own connection with the continent: her mother, a healthcare worker, is Zimbabwean (her white father is an English lab technician and artist). Newton also lived for a while in Zambia. "I've been to Africa many times," she says, "and also I'm educated about Africa, in terms of just reading about the political situation and colonialism, and how that continent has suffered, but also about how it has endured and survived."

In Mali, she went to a village without a mechanised pump, "where every day people generally queue for between three and six hours for water. And they walk at least half a mile - sometimes as much as four miles - to get there."

She spent a while with the women in the queue for the manual water pump. "It's not misery," she says, "they're chatting to each other." Like at the launderette? "Exactly!" she cries. "They were teasing me about the fact that I would never be able to pump with my scrawny arms." Newton laughs.

The community was in the throes of celebration having learned that they would soon be receiving a mechanised pump from the charity. "I felt really kind of ashamed because I had nothing to do with it," Newton says, "but they kept introducing me, saying: 'This is a very famous actress. She is extremely important!' and I thought, 'Oh please don't do this! They've never heard of me!'" She was taken into the local school to explain her work to the students. "And what was so cool was I went into the classroom thinking this is going to nail it: 'I've worked with Tom Cruise.' Silence. 'Will Smith.' Silence."

Newton has indeed worked with many of Hollywood's leading stars. She made her debut in 1991 in the Australian coming-of-age drama Flirting, starred in Interview with a Vampire, Beloved, Mission: Impossible II, The Pursuit of Happyness and Norbit, and won a Bafta for her role in Crash. More recently she starred alongside Simon Pegg in David Schwimmer's directorial debut Run Fatboy Run, and will soon be seen in Guy Ritchie's next cinematic outing, RocknRolla. But for all her impressive on-screen appearances, for all the truth in the fact that she is "a very famous actress", Newton is disarmingly unlike most Hollywood stars. She lives in north London with the writer and director Ol Parker, with whom she has two daughters, in a house where there are dog prints across the kitchen floor and the front hedge sits joyously unkempt. For all her incredible beauty and fancy red-carpet turns, there is something less immaculate about her demeanour; in conversation she flits moth-like from subject to subject - "Sorry," she says, "if I keep darting about," - and she has a tendency to spill personal details in a way that most movie stars do not: in the past she has spoken openly about her teenage bulimia, playing tasteless practical jokes on Pegg and the repercussions of having a relationship with an older man - Flirting director John Duigan, 23 years her senior.

At present she is knee-deep in preparation to play Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's film W, about the Bush administration. "I've been very grumpy all day," she laughs, "doing my work." Does she like her? "Uhm ... I er ..." she says and frowns, "that's too black and white. I don't see people or the world in terms of good, bad, those polar opposites. I keep trying to restore the correct view of things after my kids watch Disney movies: 'Is he a baddie? Darling, there is literally no such thing.' I am fascinated by her. Spend three months thinking about anybody and they're fascinating. People are fascinating. We have a huge and complex capacity to be all kinds of things. And you look at someone like Condoleezza Rice and you see an example of just how far a person can stretch themselves. And I don't mean that in a good or bad way, but she is an ..." Newton hesitates, "... oh God, I really want to get this right ... she is an incredible example of discipline."

Much of that crisp, Ricean discipline will be conveyed physically. "I loved Oliver Stone for seeing beyond the obvious with me," she says. "I think that because, since Crash and the Bafta and stuff, I go to more ceremonies than I ever used to, it's almost like I'm trying to ..." she pauses, "that you know, being presentable and attractive and all that is of the highest importance. But actually with my work I regard myself as a character actress."

It has been a challenge, she admits, playing a highly disciplined individual "when my maturity and wisdom as a person has been the absolute opposite of disciplined. It's been about surrender, accepting what we can't change and finding strength in that, and in realising how weak and inconsequential we are but at the same time how gifted we are, and how grateful we should be. I'm a Buddhist in my thinking I suppose, and she's a strict, disciplined Presbyterian. But here is a person who is doing her level best, all the time. And I don't know whether that has been for the greater good, but that is not my task; my task is to appreciate how she has become what she has become."

I tell Newton how I came across an article by the actor David Harewood, which claimed that Britain's black actors had to go to America to find success, and cited her as an example. She frowns. "I tell you what," she says after some thought, "I couldn't get employed here for a long time, so he is right. Until I won a Bafta." There is simply more work in America for all actors, she says. "And it's easy for me to say, but I do feel that moaning about it doesn't help anything. People are allergic to moaning."

It is easier now, she says, thanks to technology and the internet, to make and distribute films on a smaller budget - "and just ... do it!" she declares. She looks a little regretful. "I know that's easier said than done. For a long time I used to complain and people would say, 'Oh just do it.' But if you don't feel good about yourself and if you don't feel that you've been supported and encouraged as a kid, you do tend to carry that attitude around. You know people who say 'Go on, just do it!', that person clearly feels able to." She smiles faintly. "I remember, when I first met Gwyneth Paltrow, we were both 21 and working on Jefferson in Paris, and she was just this luminous, effortlessly cool young woman. And I was so incredibly self-conscious and shy. I was for a long, long time. And we were so similar and yet so different. And she just felt entitled. She had an entitlement about her which I didn't have. I mean, look, it's complex, all kinds of reasons. But that's what I'm talking about."

I look at the luminous, effortlessly cool young woman across the kitchen table. How did she acquire that sense of entitlement? "Oh so many things," she says. "And I actually feel really grateful to have started out young because I feel I went through my mid-life crisis when I was in my early 20s. I think a lot of women spend their 20s thinking 'I don't know what am I doing, do I like myself?' And I had that to an extreme. Run as fast as you can from your 20s!" she laughs. "Why does everyone tell you they're going to be so great? But I think you can be given entitlement or you can claim it. And I claimed it."

And perhaps this is what is so charming about Newton; that she is such a pleasing jumble of self-consciousness and entitlement. She is the type of person who lights candles to hide the smell of wet dog, but then tells you about the wet dog smell anyway.

· Thandie Newton is supporting Volvic's 1L-for-10L programme. For more information visit volvic1for10.co.uk

BBC names winning comedy writers

The BBC has announced the six writers who will take part in the BBC's College of Comedy's year-long training scheme.

Some of the biggest names in comedy are endorsing the scheme – from The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant to Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who wrote Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

The six new writers will be attached to sitcoms and sketch shows, be given a mentor and attend master classes.

The six candidates chosen include a female trio, Trippplicate, and twins Rob and Neil Gibbons.

Trippplicate – Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Verity Rose Woolnough and Katie Lyons – have been working together since 2002 and are working on a new show for BBC3.

Lyons is an actress who was a regular in Green Wing and co-starred in the award-winning drama Boy A, Woolnough directs live comedy and Lloyd Malcolm has written a play starring Kevin Spacey and Thandie Newton.

Rob and Neil Gibbons have been writing for Steve Coogan's stage show and are developing projects with ITV Productions and independent producers Baby Cow and Hat Trick.

They will be joined on the scheme by playwright Leah Chillery, who is developing a sitcom for BBC Three called Ebony's Yard, and Catherine Shepherd, an actress who has written and performed on BBC2's The Peter Serafinowicz Show.

The final two trainees are Andrew Viner – who has worked with Aardman and has written for children's television – and John Warburton – a former journalist turned stand-up comedian and comedy writer – who is lead writer on a new sketch project being developed by Baby Cow in Manchester

from BBC Cornwall

Thandie's Water Aid
Thandie Newton is supporting a new campaign that aims to provide clean water to people in Africa. The Hollywood actress who grew up in Cornwall has visited Mali to learn more about the '1L to 10L' campaign which provides safe drinking water.

Thandie Newton is no stranger when it comes to being on the silver screen.

She shot to fame playing the female lead, opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2 and further cemented her acting credentials by winning a BAFTA for her role as Best Supporting Actress in Crash.

The stunning actress, who spent her formative years in Cornwall, will also be appearing as Guy Ritchie's new leading lady, Stella, in his new trilogy, RocknRolla.

Thandie in Africa
Despite her busy schedule Thandie has found time to promote a campaign which aims to provide over six billion litres of clean water to hundreds of thousands of people living in Africa.

'1L-for-10L', is a major partnership with the international relief and development agency World Vision and Volvic.

"My trip to Mali was a humbling experience, and one that I will never forget," says Thandie.

"Having seen first hand the vital difference, clean, safe water makes to the lives of children, women and the wider community; I hope that people in the UK will get behind the '1L-for-10L' campaign and help generate the much needed supply of water, something we take for granted everyday."

Thandie working in Africa
As a result of the project, wells are being dug in Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Mali in 2008, generating over 1.7 billion litres of water in the first year alone.

Not only do the wells provide access to safe, clean drinking water but they also lead to improved sanitation, a reduction of waterborne diseases, better hygiene and improved crop irrigation.

Individuals will no longer need to walk for miles to collect water and families and communities will be able to devote more time to education and income-generating activities.

"The Volvic 1L-for-10L programme in association with World Vision will help further generate awareness in the UK of the issues surrounding the lack of clean drinking water in developing countries," explains Philip Spencer, Marketing Director at World Vision

Thandie at a film premiere
"This programme will have a dramatic effect on the quality of life for communities across the six identified countries, as access to clean water impacts everything from health and sanitation to education and food production.

“World Vision works alongside these communities to ensure that development really does meet their needs and is also sustainable in the long-term."

Meanwhile Thandie will next be seen on the silver screen in 'RocknRolla', a crime drama based in London. It also stars Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Piven and rap artist Ludacris.

The plot involves a Russian mobster's shady land deal that puts millions of dollars within reach of several disparate and needy characters.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thandie on bbc2 4th June 2008

A Taste of My Life Wednesday 04 June
6:30pm - 7:00pm
Thandie Newton
Nigel Slater hosts a biographical chat show exploring the lives and loves of celebrities through their experiences of food. Hollywood actress Thandie Newton is pleasantly surprised with messages from her mum and dad, who make her native Cornish pasty, and her best friend who rustles up Oysters Rockefeller. Comic actor Ben Miller challenges Thandie and Nigel to make pancakes and an American.

Pistachio ice cream pistachio
Thandie Newton
by Thandie Newton
from Taste of My Life

Serves 4

Preparation time less than 30 mins

Cooking time 10 to 30 mins
Vegetarian Quick Recipe

125g/4½oz unsalted pistachio nuts, out of their shells (weight shown is without shells)
75g/3oz caster sugar
3 free-range egg yolks
500ml/17fl oz double cream

1. Place half of the pistachios into a food processor with half of the sugar and blend until very fine.
2. Roughly chop the remaining pistachios with a sharp knife on a secure chopping board.
3. Whisk the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar in a large, heatproof mixing bowl, until thick and creamy.
4. Place the cream and the finely ground pistachio and sugar mixture into a heavy-based pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the pistachio custard to the pan and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens.
5. Remove from the heat and place into a large bowl of iced water to quickly cool, then refrigerate for at least one hour.
6. Churn the pistachio custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
7. Fold in the hand-chopped pistachios and transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container with a lid. Cover and freeze until required.

Scallops with hazelnut butter scallop
Nigel Slater
by Nigel Slater
from Taste of My Life

Serves 2

Preparation time less than 30 mins

Cooking time less than 10 mins
Quick Recipe

6 scallops, in their shells
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
3 garlic cloves
2 shallots
55g/2oz butter, softened
1 lemon, juice only
2 tbsp ground hazelnuts
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Open the scallops and rinse away any grit. Discard the top half of the shell (the half without the scallop attached). Cut the tendon that holds the scallop flesh to the shell, but leave the flesh in place. Place the scallop in its shell on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining scallops.
2. Chop the coriander, garlic and shallots. Add to the softened butter and stir in the lemon juice and ground hazelnuts.
3. Mix in a very little crushed sea salt and pepper.
4. Place equal amounts of the butter and hazelnut mixture onto the scallop shells.
5. Place under a grill at its highest setting and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the scallop is sizzling and just cooked through. Take great care not to overcook the scallops.

Goat stew with cabbage and peanut butter other
Thandie Newton
by Thandie Newton
from Taste of My Life

Serves 4

Preparation time 30 mins to 1 hour

Cooking time over 2 hours

1kg/2lb 5½oz goat meat cut into 2.5cm/1in pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
25g/1oz butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
2 tsp tomato purée
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp ginger powder
pinch cayenne pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice
450ml/15fl oz lamb or beef stock
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the cabbage
1 medium cabbage, shredded
3-4 tbsp (or to taste) peanut butter
To serve
200g/7oz millet, cooked according to packet instructions

1. Season the goat meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the oil and butter in a deep, heavy-based pan. Add the goat meat and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned all over.
2. Add the onions and garlic and fry over a medium heat until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the tomato purée, cloves, ginger and cayenne pepper and fry for one minute, stirring constantly.
4. Add the lemon juice, lamb or beef stock, thyme and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 1½-2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
5. For the cabbage, place the cabbage into a bowl and cover with cold salted water for half an hour.
6. Drain off all but a few tablespoons of the cabbage soaking water and transfer the cabbage to a pan over a medium heat. Cover with a lid and steam the cabbage until tender.
7. Drain the cabbage, then return to the pan. Add the peanut butter and stir into the cabbage.
8. To serve, place the cabbage and the goat stew into separate serving bowls. Serve with millet - roll the millet into a ball in your hand and dip into the goat stew.

Creme brulee with rhubarb rhubarb
Thandie Newton
by Thandie Newton
from Taste of My Life

Serves 4

Preparation time less than 30 mins

Cooking time 30 mins to 1 hour

For the rhubarb
450g/1lb rhubarb stalks, trimmed, cut into pieces
1 tbsp clear honey
1 orange, juice only
For the crème brulée
400ml/14fl oz whole milk
150ml/5fl oz single cream
40g/1½oz caster sugar
4 free-range egg yolks
1 vanilla pod, split
100g/3½oz demerara or icing sugar for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. For the rhubarb, place the rhubarb pieces into a shallow baking dish. Squeeze over the orange juice and drizzle with honey.
3. Place into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, occasionally basting the fruit with the cooking juices.
4. Once the rhubarb is tender, spoon equal quantities into the bottom of four small heatproof dishes or ramekins and set aside.
5. For the crème brûlée, place the milk and cream into a pan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat.
6. Place the sugar and egg yolks into a clean bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.
7. Gradually add the milk and cream mixture stirring well. Strain the custard back into the pan and add the vanilla pod. Stir over a very low heat until the custard thickens, then remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pod (you can rinse and dry it for use in other recipes).
8. Pour equal amounts of the custard over the rhubarb in the ramekins and leave to go completely cold.
9. Two or three hours before serving, sprinkle the top of each crème brûlée with the demerara sugar or icing sugar so they are each evenly and completely covered with a layer of sugar.
10. Place the dishes under a hot grill or heat with a cook's blowtorch until golden-brown and melted.
11. Allow the tops to cool, then place in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.

In what could be considered a desperate bid to look relevant, actress Thandie Newton admitted she had a romance with Brad Pitt, even though in her words "it was a long time ago". Newton appeared in "Mission Impossible II" and "Crash" and was talking about her time with Pitt in the BBC2 show "A Taste Of My Life". She said her greatest achievement was giving birth to her children.

When asked to comment on this revelation, Jennifer Aniston could only be heard grinding her teeth. When Angelina Jolie was told, she offered Thandie her personal number and said "she can pop over any time".

Brad Pitt is becoming more like Woodstock every year. 500,000 people attended Woodstock but probably 10 million claimed they were actually there. Same with Pitt.