Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Black Book October 2008

Stella Baxter is a ball buster, but sly about the way she does it. In slinky linen cocktail dresses and four-inch Jimmy Choos, she combines sex appeal and smarts; she’ll two-time and double-cross anyone to get what she wants (and maybe a little more). She’s far shrewder than the underworld characters she beds and empties of cash, and as elusive as the smoke from her omnipresent cigarette. Femme fatales don’t get much more freaky-deaky than this. Guy Ritchie, the man who first imagined Stella Baxter, contends, “she’s a bit ****in’ rock and roll.”
Thandie Newton is Stella Baxter, and Stella Baxter is maybe just a little bit Thandie Newton. An acclaimed actor best known for prestige roles in films like Crash and Beloved, Newton’s hardcore metamorphosis in Guy Ritchie’s new film RocknRolla—a glorious gangster cluster**** on par with Ritchie’s breakthrough flicks Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch—provides a real kick in the arse. For Ritchie, the casting succeeded because it tweaked expectations wrought by Newton’s upscale image. “Thandie’s very easy to love, and she usually plays the girl everyone does love,” Ritchie explains. “I liked the idea that this wasn’t the case here. Stella was based on the female half of an actual power couple that went over to the dark side—this lawyer who liked cocaine and boys and his accountant missus who was pretty wild herself.”
Offscreen, Newton comes off as utterly warm and sincere, welcoming total strangers into her London home with easy familiarity. “Wet dog smells worse than rotting flowers, so I’ve lit some candles. Do you want to stay for lunch?” she asks in her soothing, proper English accent. “Do you like sushi?” Her home is a study in bohemian chic, where colorful sofas and floral wallpaper clash whimsically with striped walls. A couture dress fitted for an awards show hangs nearby, alongside a crimson-soled pair of Christian Louboutin heels. Up close, her smooth, dewy skin makes her seem half her 36 years. Hair pulled back, she’s dressed modishly casual in light gray skinny jeans and a layered, pleated blouse, and even more beautiful in person than on screen.
Newton trained as a dancer, and it’s apparent from her graceful physicality—she absent-mindedly strokes her clavicle as she talks, contorts herself into a ball and gestures expressively, touching you when she wants to make a point. But it’s her eyes that captivate: they’re her acting secret weapon—impossibly luminous hazel orbs that seem to hold a hidden truth behind them. “She has an air of mystery about her that draws you in,” explains Nicole Kidman, Newton’s co-star in her breakthrough first film, the Australian 1991 coming-of-age film Flirting (which also featured a pre-fame Naomi Watts). “There’s a mystery that Condi Rice and Thandie both have,” notes Josh Brolin, who plays George Bush in Oliver Stone’s highly-anticipated W. opposite Newton as Condoleeza Rice. “Their elusiveness scares me. Their smiles frighten me.”
It’s a notion not lost on Newton herself. “I wanted you to come here, to my house, because I can be quite uptight,” Newton explains. “I can exist absolutely up in here,” she says, tapping her temples. “I’m able to have conversations where I maintain a certain distance, but that won’t happen here.”
The outer walls of Newton’s unassuming home are identical to those of her neighbors on the funky, quaint street she lives on with her two young daughters, Nico, 4, and Ripley, 8, and husband Ol Parker, a British writer-director. It’s in a real London neighborhood—multicultural, lined with fish-and-chips joints and beauty shops—not a likely environment for an actor recognizable from numerous blockbusters, a co-star to some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Yes, that was Newton mounting Tom Cruise in a bathtub in Mission: Impossible II; abandoning Will Smith and son in The Pursuit of Happyness; laughing at Eddie Murphy’s jokes in Norbit; sucking blood alongside Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire; and romancing Mark Wahlberg in The Truth About Charlie. She even married Noah Wyle’s character during a long stint on ER, and is likely the only actor to be in subsequent movies with Tupac and Jon Bon Jovi. Along the way, Newton has made some notable fans. “I always thought she was one of the best actresses in the world—top 10 for me,” says Oliver Stone. “Other than my wife, and I say that with an iron hammer,” Josh Brolin admits, “she’s probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Nicole Kidman adds: “Thandie is a beautifully deep woman. The combination of her beauty, which is apparent, with her intelligence and warmth is very unusual and that’s what makes her so beguiling.” Says Guy Ritchie, “I couldn’t have enough positive adjectives to describe her.”
Still, while Newton regularly appears in high-profile films, aside from her affecting turn as a bourgeois victim of discrimination in Crash, she really has yet to register strongly in the public’s consciousness as a superstar. Therefore, there’s a lot riding on her appearances in two of the year’s most anticipated movies: Guy Ritchie’s return to form with RocknRolla and W., Oliver Stone’s sure-to-be-controversial bio-pic of the Bush dynasty. Co-star Brolin, however, believes that 2008 will be the year Newton’s star aligns with certitude. “People will be blown away by her performance as Condi Rice,” Brolin exclaims. “It blew away all my preconceptions. Acting-wise, I had so much fun dancing with her—she came in with bold, bold choices, almost becoming a dude at times. I’ve never seen anything like it; I’ve never seen anything as complete.”
Hollywood’s gatekeepers seem far away, however, inside Newton’s living room. Eclectic art enlivens the space, but the room’s most dominant feature is books. Numerous, varied tomes—Angela Davis’s autobiography, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, the Cormac McCarthy canon—cover seemingly every surface, from the bookshelved walls to the cafĂ©-au-lait leather coffee table Newton sits down on. It’s no surprise she gave husband Parker an Amazon Kindle e-book reader for an anniversary gift. “It wasn’t supposed to be a big romantic gesture,” she explains. “Our tenth anniversary really did sneak up on us a few days ago. I thought I should probably put some books on it that would be relevant—like the Kama Sutra, as a joke.”
othing is more veddy English than a classic Guy Ritchie movie, and Newton shines amidst his stylized Brit bloke nitro. Surprisingly, Newton claims that she’s never been totally embraced in her own country. “Britain didn’t really accept me until I won a BAFTA [the English equivalent of an Oscar] for Crash,” Newton says. “And the next day, all the rag newspapers had me on the cover, saying, ‘She’s not really British cause her dad’s African.’ Well, my dad is British, and I was born in England, so I am British. I just laughed about it.”
Since filming on RocknRolla wrapped, Newton and Ritchie have remained friendly, especially as their children attend the same martial-arts dojo. “We were chatting, and it turns out that his son Rocco goes to ju-jitsu just around the corner,” Newton says. “I started taking Ripley, and she just loves it. I met Madonna there: I went to watch Rip and she came to watch Rocco, and it was really nice—two moms watching their kids bust out moves on the mat!”
Her life wasn’t always so vibey with the superstars. Thandie’s parents came together in Zambia, Africa, after her father fell in love with her mother, a health worker who also happened to be a Zimbabwean Shona princess. (Newton often downplays her “royal” lineage, claiming in Africa such titles are far more common than in the U.K.) The family returned to London, where Thandie—born “Thandiwe,” which means “beloved”—was born on November 6, 1972. Newton still feels strongly connected to the African part of her heritage, and has aligned herself with World Visions charity and Volvic to bring fresh water to African nations. “Zimbabwe now is so different from what it was,” Newton says. “My mom has been through so much. Those are the influences—I don’t take anything for granted.”
When the family moved to small-town Cornwall, Newton struggled to fit in. “For me, beauty was complicated because I was very much not attractive where I grew up,” she explains. “I was the only dark-skinned kid. There was no way a boy would ever, ever ask me out. It was fact, and that’s what I carried into my teens.”
Her self-image was further troubled by a relationship with her Flirting director John Duigan, who was 23 years her senior. Filmed when she was just 16, plucked as an unknown from an audition at her boarding school, Flirting had propelled her into two seemingly disparate worlds: Newton found herself studying for her Cambridge University finals at the Cannes Film Festival. She was also starving herself. Her relationship with Duigan caused her deep inner shame, exacerbating her battle with bulimia. “I just responded as a grateful, ugly girl who’d never had a date—God knows, no fumblings in the dark, nothing ever,” she says. “I was just heavily exploited via the worst kind of perversion that comes from show business. But what came out from that ultimately is I now know I’m attractive, and it’s something that’s pretty useful.”
Newton will be the first to admit that her beauty can sometimes cause others to overlook her talent. As her Stella Baxter character is reminded in RocknRolla, “Beauty is a cruel mistress.” Says Newton, “When Oliver wanted me to play Condoleeza Rice, it was bliss. Every 10 years, there’s that role that just makes me feel like I’ve started from scratch. But is was also strange because it was on the back of a couple films which I hadn’t got because I was ‘too attractive,’” she groans. “That’s not flattering. It’s the most obvious compliment to give someone, but it’s also the most empty. If there’s a stereotype of beauty, then you play against it.” This kind of knowledge fed into how she approached the character of Stella: “Usually, negative behavior comes from pain. That’s a sad and ultimately sympathetic quality, and I’m always gonna dig around for that.”
As it happens, Newton’s gorgeous looks nearly did torpedo her chances for W. “I was not an advocate at first for Thandie. When Oliver suggested the idea, I said, ‘What? This is the girl you hire because she’s hot, not for a major character.’ Becoming Condi Rice is a massive undertaking, but Thandie made a total transformation,” says Brolin. “Thandie came onto the set and surprised all of us,” agrees Stone. “There were no prosthetics because of humidity and time constraints. It’s so fluid to watch her go back and forth from Condi Rice to whoever Thandie Newton is.” Newton went deep into the part, immersing herself in Rice’s world. “I spent quite a lot of time watching her do interview after interview, seeing where she placed her face,” Newton says. “She smiles in places you wouldn’t normally. I tried to find the gray areas—the person sitting in between the public and the private.”
Newton’s achievement seems even more impressive considering W.’s ambitious crosshatch structure, flip-flopping between the various eras of George W. Bush. The film starts with Bush’s ’80s frat-boy period coming up through booze and drugs, then finding God and meeting Laura Bush, up through becoming President and the Iraq War. After reading the W. screenplay, Newton recognized how unique a role Condoleeza Rice is—a black woman who’s been Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. “These people have real power,” she says. “Once you have it at that level, it’s an addiction; there’s no going back. It’s about who has the most power, and that’s what she wants.”
In particular, Newton was struck by how rare it is, in both fiction and reality, to find someone who embodies issues of power and race so uniquely. “Her discipline, how she controls her responses, reminded me of Margaret Thatcher,” she explains. “At the same time, Condi’s race was a handicap she had to work with: with incredible poise, she created a new identity—a complete defiance of her background. When I studied anthropology at Cambridge, I was suddenly liberated: I realized that race is an illusion we’ve created. As a result, we can create whatever we want to perceive ourselves as; you just have to realize how other people are going to perceive you.”
Having returned but three days ago from W.’s incredibly demanding shoot, Newton says she hasn’t entirely recovered from the experience. “Because I’m so close to it, I haven’t stepped back far enough to get my sound bites together,” she says. “I just haven’t processed it.” Brolin agrees: “Everybody had chaotic expectations, you know, ‘Josh is going to be in jail and Oliver will be crazy.’” The all-star talent alone, all playing larger-than-life characters from recent history—Brolin, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld—made for an intense set. “Did Thandie tell you about the whole ball-grabbing thing?” Brolin queries. “It’s my whole motif in this movie. Between each take, I would grab my balls and flip off the camera. By the end, the whole cabinet—Colin Powell, Wolfowitz, Condi–was doing some great ball-grabbing. It broke up anything too serious.”
As could be expected from the renegade film maestro, Stone regularly provoked the cast beyond their comfort zone. “Oliver, he’s an accidental intellectual in a way,” Newton says, “and a ****ing genius director. Any chaos is very much within his own personal space. He takes references from everywhere: suddenly he’ll speak to you in French, or about some ancient Greek myth, but it’s all exquisitely relevant to what you’re doing. Oliver kind of reminds me of a bear with a splinter in his paw. There’s just something that he’s trying to get to, and it hurts him. I just loved that about him and desperately wanted to create whatever was necessary to get to that place.”
Her bond with Brolin became particularly intense, mimicking the actual closeness between Bush and Rice. “It’s funny—me and Josh became really good friends, and between Condi and Bush, there’s an intimacy and ease between the two of them which is kind of peculiar,” Newton explains. “I think Bush and Condi are ****ing in every way but physically,” Brolin says. “And that’s kind of what it came down to between Thandie and I when we were playing those characters.”
According to Newton, moving from one film to the next was a wild ride between extremes. “The only similarity between W. and RocknRolla was that I was surrounded by men all the time,” she says. “Being with a lot of men is like being with a lot of kids.” Now, however, she has to feed her own children. The family’s sushi lunch has arrived, and Newton makes her way to her airy, modern kitchen, where all of her awards, including her BAFTA, are stacked on top of a shelf near the stove, glinting in the afternoon sun poking in from a skylight. Her husband Parker, a quick-witted man with short dark hair and gentle eyes, is on the floor playing with his and Newton’s two daughters in a playroom off to the side, marked by a neon sign reading “Too Cool For School.”
Soon, the quietly affectionate couple will get ready to go out for a night on the town. A bit of a rock ’n’ rolla herself, Newton likes to check out new indie bands. “We saw Elbow at a tiny gig a few weeks ago, and I love Arcade Fire,” she says. “We saw them on the last night on their world tour at Alexandra Palace. We watched the whole gig from the sound deck—just us in this amazing vacuum the size of this room. And we saw Radiohead in L.A. at the Greek Theater. It was so awesome! It’s the most amazing live space, with the silhouette of the trees all around you. And people were passing spliffs around!”
The family is also in the midst of packing to go on location: in three days they’ll depart for Vancouver, where Newton is shooting 2012, a big-budget eco-disaster flick co-starring John Cusack. She’s also toying with the idea of an Angela Davis bio-pic “when I’m a bit older.” It’s all about defying expectations—letting nobody tell her who Thandie Newton is supposed to be. “I had this really big agent in America, and his way of giving me that zeal was to say to me, ‘You could be the next so-and-so,’” she says. “I suddenly thought, Hang on a minute—that’s not how I want to operate. This is who I am, right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thandie Newton in BlackBook

By BlackBookSeptember 19, 2008
For BlackBook's October issue -- "After Dark" -- the slinky, sexy Thandie Newton graces our cover. Also inside: Michael C. Hall, Anna Paquin, Rachel Zoe, and much more. Look out for it on newsstands September 23, and check back here for online full versions and extras.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mom of April: Thandie Newton
March 24th, 2008 | Category: mom-a-licious mom of the month
We here at Mom-a-licious would like to introduce you to Thandie Newton.

When she was 12 years old, she decided she wanted to be a vegetarian. She was a very sensitive child.

Her Mom was supportive, but said that if she wanted to do this, she had to educate herself and learn how to prepare nutritional meals without meat.

So, at twelve years old she learned about lentils, beans and protein!

And keep in mind all the research she did was pre-internet.

That’s just the beginning.

Talking with British actress Thandie Newton (pronounced Tandy) was a joy. Her approach to food and to motherhood and to her work is full of amazement, appreciation and, yes, sensitivity.

Thandie started out as a dancer, so, as you can imagine, she is very familiar with how dangerous it can be to eat poorly. She saw, first hand, many young women become critically ill because of eating disorders. She herself battled with bulimia during this time in her life.

Because of restrictions imposed by the boarding school and the schedule she kept as a dancer, Thandie learned to ignore her eating impulses.

I think this is a common problem: when are we truly hungry and when are we just bored? When are we satiated and when are we stuffed?

What turned it all around for Thandie?


While pregnant, she realized that eating was a way for her to nourish her growing child. The journey was profound and it caused her to educate herself about organic meats and fish from sustainable sources. She also began to eat when she was hungry and stop when she was full – a new experience for her as an adult.

She said, “Being pregnant was dreamy.”

This realization that we’ve become disconnected from food and from our bodies caused Thandie to make some changes in her life.

As a result, Thandie no longer shops at supermarkets – she shops at local markets, trying to support her local farmers and merchants.

She said her approach has become much more holistic. By going to local markets, she’s using less gas. By supporting local farmers, she’s also saving gas as nothing needs to be shipped thousands of miles to get to her.

She now relishes seasonal fruits and vegetables. Waiting all winter for a beautifully sweet strawberry in the summer deepens the appreciation for every lovely bite.

Since being pregnant, Thandie has learned to appreciate the cycle of food beginning with planting a tiny seed in the soil, to preparing those veggies to nourish the children you love so dearly.

Thandie then began talking about making eating fun for her children. She said she wants to give them more than just food. She said her children, like many children, love the story of food. So she and her children make up stories about the food they are preparing.

It helps them appreciate our planet. And the stories foster a sense of living in the moment and of being truly fascinated by everything.

What a wonderful gift to give our children.

Thandie doesn’t restrict the food her children have. She makes candy just as available as broccoli. She said her children just have more fun squeezing oranges for juice than opening a bag for candy.

It’s about being educated and being aware. Respecting yourself by respecting your food and where it comes from.

In Zimbabwe, where Thandie’s mother is from, there are incredible restrictions on food. They have to buy bread by the slice.

We take so much for granted.

It’s because of the appreciation and respect Thandie has for food that she makes sure her family uses everything. If Thandie roasts a chicken on Monday, she’ll use the leftovers and the bones to make a soup on Tuesday and a stock on Wednesday. Nothing is wasted.

This helps her children be conscious of how they are nourishing their bodies and to appreciate all they have.

By the way, her daughter, Nico, loves Domenica’s Avocado Sorbet!! Imagine a four-year-old loving Avocado Sorbet!

Thandie breastfed her daughters, Ripley, who is now eight years old, for 13 months and Nico, for 18 months. I asked her if she was working during this time.

She was.

What was that like?

Well, each set is different. When she was working with Jonathan Demme (The Truth About Charlie, 2002) she said he was fantastic. As they were shooting a scene a little “flower of milk,” as Thandie put it, appeared on her very tight t-shirt and Jonathan Demme yelled, “Cut! Thandie needs to nurse Ripley!”

He was very supportive.

Not every set is so supportive and Thandie has had to deal with various frustrations while filming, but even so, she is still grateful.

Thandie spoke very highly of Domenica. They were fortunate enough to have spent a long weekend together and Thandie raved about Domenica’s cooking. She said eating three incredibly healthy and delicious meals a day may her feel clear headed and energized.

“Domenica’s food doesn’t burden the body with heavy dairy, sugars or saturated fats, but you’re not sacrificing taste, you’re simple eating lovely food.”

She said she wants to emulate Domenica’s food. And that having her book and making her food is like having a little bit of Domenica right in your home.

The most challenging part of this interview for me was determining which of Domenica’s Manifesto points to highlight.

Let’s see….

# 1: Know what is in your food and where it comes from – if an ingredient has more than four syllables, it probably doesn’t belong in the human body.

Yes, that fits Thandie.

# 2: Eat and serve local and organic as much as possible.

Yes, that fits Thandie
# 7: Have fun with your kids. The best part of having kids is feeling young again: laughter, goofiness, playing hide & seek, and Saturday-morning kisses.


# 16: Live with gratitude.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Thank you, Thandie Newton, for sharing your loving approach with us here at Mom-a-licious!!

We are honored.

Until next time, Eat Delicious and Stay Mom-a-licious!

Written by: Elizabeth Borrud

Toronto Film Festival 2008

Friday, September 12th, 2008
Thandie Newton’s “Oh”-Face Impresses Gerard Butler, All

Gerard Butler can’t say enough good things about Rocknrolla costar Thandie Newton, who courageously simulated an orgasm against him while he was ill.

I’d had a bad throat infection, and it wouldn’t have been fair on Thandie for me to kiss her. So Guy went, ‘Right, we’ll do it like this - get in there and undo her zip!’ And that was the day I realised how professional Thandie is. She was like, ‘OK, cool. I’ll do the orgasm face.’ She gets up and just goes, ‘Uh-uh-UH!’. I was like, ‘F**k, that’s good.’ I was so impressed.

While Newton claims she “did find it challenging having to climax in a close-up to camera,” this wouldn’t be the first time a film pro was pleased with her skills. Newton previously spoke of a director early in her career who forced her to simulate a climax at an auditions–and played the tape for his friends. “I just had to fake an orgasm with the camera rolling. Revolting!” Decades later, ain’t a damn thing changed…

Now Friday, 12 September 2008

Thandie Newton: I'd have a baby every year if I could
Actress says there's nothing like the experience of giving birth

Thandie Newton feels she was born to be a mother.

She already has 2 kids with husband Ol Parker – Ripley, 7, and Nico, 3 – but feels pregnancy brings her alive.

‘Birth is very challenging in the best way possible,’ she says. ‘I’d like to give birth every year if I could, just for that experience.

‘It’s like you are conducting electricity, literally creating something.’

Thandie, 35, who won a BAFTA for her role in Crash, is currently starring in gangster movie RocknRolla.

‘I felt as though I’d been introduced to myself for the first time,’ she tells The Sunday Times magazine. ‘You become totally uncompromising, wild and fierce.’

GQ Event London

The Sunday Times September 7, 2008

Thandie Newton on becoming Condoleezza Rice
She’s the British queen of Hollywood, but will America love or hate Thandie Newton’s portrayal of Condoleezza Rice? By Nicola Graydon.

Thandie Newton famously turned down a starring role in Charlie’s Angels to focus on her marriage. By repute, she’s generous, frank and swears like a soldier. But I’m wondering what I’ll find: our meeting has been pushed back several times, and Newton herself seems controlling, dictating the clothes, location, look and feel of the photoshoot. Her stylist was summoned from Los Angeles. The photographer was vetted. Had our girl from Cornwall turned a bit Hollywood?

I needn’t have worried. Dressed in flip-flops, a mid-calf sequined skirt and a powder-blue cardigan, she’s candid and personable, although she confesses to feeling “twitchy” about interviews. “It’s an odd thing,” she says, “I’m learning that they are usually more about you than me – you’re the filter. I’m a bit wary.” Then she relaxes, takes a gulp of tea and shoos away her assistant. We’re in Vancouver on the set of her latest project, a disaster movie, 2012.

Thandie Newton is that rare thing, an actress who can glide between Hollywood blockbusters like Mission: Impossible to edgy indies like Gridlock’d with Tupac Shakur. A Cambridge graduate who can do a glam turn on the red carpet and remain firmly rooted to her family life in west London. Now 35, she’s happily married to the British writer and director Ol Parker and is the mother of two girls, Ripley, 7, and Nico, 3.

She’s one of Britain’s most successful actresses, scooping a Bafta in 2006 for her star turn in Crash, which became the definitive performance of that Oscar-winning movie – but she’s been flying under the radar of late, “sleepwalking” in “creative middle-aged spread”, playing, typically, the arm-candy wife or girlfriend. “I’ve let it happen because my work serves my life,” she says, emphatically. “And that’s how it should be.”

Two new films are about to return her to centre stage. The first is RocknRolla, where she plays a crooked accountant in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants production directed by Guy Ritchie. “That perked up my appetite. Guy creates fantastic excitement on set and there’s an equality that allows you to do your best work.”

Thandie plays it posh and sexy: all sharp bob, slim cigarettes and ruthless heels, holding her own amid a sea of gangster testosterone. “Guy goes with accidents, he surrenders to the chaos. The ending changed on a dime. I’m in this scene with another actor who said something as a joke and Guy says, ‘Let’s go with it.’ It was fun, fun, fun. Throw the camera around. Just do it.”

Then along came Oliver Stone asking her to play Condoleezza Rice in W, his forthcoming biopic of George W Bush that promises to be the most controversial movie of the year.

“Oliver woke me up,” she says. Stone had an “absolute belief that I could play this character who was absolutely nothing like me. She didn’t look like me; she’s a couple of decades older than me. And I’m English, for goodness’ sake”.

When she first went to see Stone to discuss the role, she confesses that she didn’t even know how to spell Rice’s name. “I knew she was secretary of state and that was about it.” But the script was exciting, and at her next meeting with Stone she accepted the offer. “I decided to close my eyes and leap. I wanted to take the risk.”

So she took herself back to London and began working. “That was when it got really f***ing fun,” she says, rubbing her hands with glee. “It was like doing a really involved paper back at Cambridge and my paper was Condoleezza Rice.” She read biographies, articles, books on the Bush administration, on Cheney, on torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. “You name it, I read it,” she says. “I had two things going on: reading about this young woman, and the incredible story of the Bush administration. This gigantic beast, this machine and how it was cranking toward war. I wanted to become drunk with knowledge.”

Some weeks later, in rehearsals in Louisiana, it started to feel like a very bad idea. “I was thinking, ‘F***, have I made a mistake?’ The make-up team told her that prosthetics were out of the question because they would melt in the heat. “That was a bit of a blow,” she says, grimacing. “They told me they would do a ‘feel-alike’ rather than a lookalike, and I knew that was going to be a real problem for me.”

They were six weeks away from filming and she still had no idea how she was going to play this enigmatic figure. “I was only just feeling my way in.” She was convinced that Stone would lose faith, but he didn’t. “I was waiting for him to say, ‘Look, babe, this isn’t working.’ But instead, he said, ‘You’re a plodder, aren’t you?’ And I am like that. I am that kind of tortoise that just needs to take my time. He gave me permission to do that. I loved his relaxed belief that whatever I did, it was going to be good.”

In her early twenties she had played another iconic American character: the ghost-child in the Pulitzer prize-winning novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison. It was the role that thrust her onto the world stage – “astonishing”, according to The New York Times. She appears possessed throughout the movie. “I was,” she says. “There were moments when I was utterly transported. It was a gift to feel that so early in my career.”

In Beloved she found her solution in her voice. “I suddenly realised that I had this weird, very deep voice that I could use.” At a casting at Oprah Winfrey’s house, when they came to her lines she used that voice. “I remember Jonathan [Demme, the director]’s face when I started speaking. It was priceless. We didn’t need the voiceover.”

Finding Condoleezza was a similar process. She took herself back to London and started playing with the character in her mind. “I need to case the joint, check it all out and at some point, I never know when it’s going to happen, it all falls into place. I knew I was going to have to do this from the outside in. Usually, you look for those emotional beats that you connect to, but that wasn’t going to happen with her.”

She called a friend, Kay, a make-up artist from fashion, not film, and they sat around her kitchen table. “I thought we could create something with some clever make-up and shading. We just hadn’t got close to her in rehearsals and they were trusting me to come up with a character under my skin, but the truth is that I needed a lot on my skin. We spent the afternoon experimenting. By the time the kids came home from school I was all Condi’d up, complete with some fantastic false teeth. She nailed it for me. I was still terrified, but now I had the equipment.”

Then she began working on her mannerisms, the quirks and ticks that an impressionist might exaggerate to tell you as much about a person as the “inner truth”. She won’t tell me what they are. “Look, I do have a kind of reverence for who I am playing. This is a human being, and whatever you think, as an example of discipline, she’s unbelievable.”

But did she ever catch a glimpse of weakness, of humanity? “That was another thing. After watching all her official material – interviews, speeches and presentations – I started delving around in YouTube and finding this other stuff: Condi taken on someone’s mobile phone dancing to Shaggy, or Condi running from a building to her car. Seeing her in more undone situations, there was this difference in her. You can see her posture change at certain times. It’s almost imperceptible, but it’s there. I got a sense of the human being behind the construct. And I did feel compassion for her.”

It seems extraordinary that Oliver Stone should choose her, a British mixed-race actress, above hundreds of African-American actresses with a similar background and age to Rice. “You’ll have to ask Oliver about that,” she says. “But he was informed in his decision. He’d seen Crash and The Pursuit of Happyness and he liked the fact that the woman sitting in front of him was nothing like those characters. I’m a bit of a blank slate, and I think that helps. I’m not one thing or the other. People still don’t know where I’m from. Is she English, African, Asian? I still get asked and I really don’t mind. I’m like, phew, I got away without everyone knowing the width of my vaginal wall in a time when everyone knows everything about everyone.”

Newton is actually half British and half Zimbabwean. Her parents met in Zambia at a hospital in Lusaka where they’d both been posted. Her father, Nick, was a lab technician at a London hospital, but he wanted to go to the roots of the blues, so he asked for a posting somewhere in Africa and got Zambia. “I think that’s rocking,” Thandie says. “I’m pretty proud of him for having done that.” Her parents fell in love, her mum got pregnant with Thandie, and they married and came to England two weeks before she was born. “My mum’s very organised and she wanted to me to have my British passport quickly.” Then her parents went back to Lusaka and had her younger brother, Jamie, and lived there until Thandie was three years old.

“In some ways I think my parents are still living off their time in Africa. For a moment it was the future. There were all these different people from around the world – India, Hungary, Britain – working there, but gradually it all started falling apart. It was incredibly upsetting for them.” Meanwhile back in Cornwall, her grandfather needed help with his antiques business, so the family returned and that’s where Newton and her brother grew up.

She says she never felt any racism but might have asserted her Africanness as protection when boys didn’t seem to want to go out with her. Her most shocking moment race-wise was back in Zimbabwe at 17 when she was going out with a boy who accused her of being white. “I don’t think my brother or I felt like we really belonged anywhere. But that’s probably been helpful, in a way, with my career. Always looking for a place to find yourself.”

In the flesh, Thandie Newton is an absolute beauty. Yet she aspires to be a character actress. “It’s what acting is really about – finding those roles where you can disappear. It’s not about the celeb thing. There are those like Daniel Day- Lewis, Christian Bale, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, who transport you. They change themselves. That’s the mecca of my profession.”

For a brief moment, her flirtation with Hollywood looked like it might become a full-blown affair. She’d just finished playing Tom Cruise’s sexy sidekick in Mission: Impossible II and was about to start filming Charlie’s Angels with Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz.

“In career terms it was a platinum opportunity,” she says, ruefully. “Or, as my agent put it, ‘a one-two punch’.” But she turned it down. “I was going to do it for about 24 hours. But then I woke up and it just didn’t feel right. It would have meant entering that virtual world of stardom, but I’d been away from home for nine months and it would have meant another six months away.”

Soon afterwards, she left her agent and her manager. “They were appalled,” she recalls. “They thought I was committing career suicide.” Within a month she’d fallen pregnant with her first daughter, Ripley. “People talk about pregnant women as if they’ve gone a bit mad,” she says. “You know, ‘She’s a bit hormonal.’ But I felt as though I’d been introduced to myself for the first time. You become totally uncompromising, wild and fierce.”

She gave birth to both her girls at home in a birth pool. “Birth is very challenging in the best way possible. Every fibre of your being is alive. It’s like you are conducting electricity; literally creating something. I’d like to give birth every year if I could, just for that experience.”

No wonder her career has played second fiddle. She regrets that it’s she who has to work away from home, though she loves the relationship her daughters have with their father as a result.

She’s looking forward to more challenging roles. “When I come away from doing something I really love, I’m more alive, more self-aware, and that’s not a bad thing as a mum. It’s got to be better than slobbing along without being excited by what you’re doing. That creates an apathy and a kind of mild depression and it makes you too needy of that mothering side of life. I’m just going to have to figure out how to work the way I want to and be with the kids.”

But for now she’s having a blissful family summer in Vancouver, going with Ripley to horse camp, playing pirates on the beach, shucking oysters with Ol. “It’s been pretty idyllic,” she confesses. She’s clearly still besotted by her husband after 10 years of marriage. “We just appreciate each other. Co-dependency gets such a bad rap, but me and my husband are a glittering example of it.” If it seems like she’s got it all, then she has, but it hasn’t come as easily as it seems. Her mind can work against her, she says.

“I invite confusion, worry and self-doubt. Two years after Ripley’s birth and I was back in that brainstorm.” That’s why the absorption acting requires suits her. “It’s such peace. It’s like you’ve taken some crazy elixir. Your head goes completely quiet.”

Elsewhere, she’s a mass of over-thinking and second-guessing. Even as she is revelling in witnessing Ripley seeing her shadow for the first time she’s worrying about “how to introduce her to the harsher realities of life while respecting her innocence”. A trip to Mali for World Vision earlier this year brought some perspective – “Guaranteed that one day in their lives had been lived more fully than a year in mine. I felt ashamed”. She hasn’t been back to sub-Saharan Africa since she was 17, but she remembers Zimbabwe vividly: “It was so beautiful, lush, virile. And the people, the smiling and the sexiness. Bono said to me once, ‘The one thing that everyone misses is that Africa is sexy.’ And it is. It is life at its most raw.”

Our interview has now stretched to three hours and her assistant pops her head around the corner tapping her watch with some urgency. We arrange for a follow-up call before she returns to London. Three days later, I ask her how the photoshoot went. “Well, I’m not sure. The photographer was great, but it could have been much more simple. I should really have just been sitting there in a T-shirt, jeans and bare feet. You know, just being myself.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

The Guardian had a video of this the other day its episode 3

From UK press