Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thandie Newton on Guy Ritchie, racism in Hollywood and why Oliver Stone is 'crazy'

Thandie Newton on Guy Ritchie, racism in Hollywood and why Oliver Stone is 'crazy'
By Martyn Palmer
Last updated at 9:00 PM on 31st October 2009

She's the Cambridge graduate who studied for her finals during the Cannes Film Festival, believes she was exploited on her first film and has no time for Gordon Ramsay
'I've experienced racism in Hollywood but not as conflict or in a threatening way, just the ignorance of people,' said Thandie Newton
Thandie Newton is small boned, beautiful and looks as fragile as a bird of paradise but she's certainly no pushover. For her role in disaster blockbuster 2012 - whose central premise is that the end of the world starts on December 21 2012, as predicted by the ancient Mayan civilisation - she had to spend days submerged in a water tank 'the size of a swimming pool', filming scenes of floods that follow devastating earthquakes when the planet's tectonic plates shift.
She grew up in Penzance, the daughter of a Zimbabwean mother and an English father, and started acting at 16, keeping her career on track while attending Downing College, Cambridge, where she graduated with a 2.1 in anthropology. She won a Bafta for best supporting actress in Crash and has also starred in Mission: Impossible II, The Pursuit of Happyness and RocknRolla. She has two daughters, Ripley, nine, and Nico, five, is married to director Ol Parker and turns 37 on Friday.

I was studying for my finals at Cambridge during the Cannes Film Festival.
I went to a party on the beach for the film I was in, Jefferson In Paris, but I didn't get drunk because I knew I had to revise. I wasn't going to the college bar and having fun, so I probably ended up working more than most people. I carried on making films while I was at Cambridge. I don't regret it because if I hadn't, maybe I wouldn't be an actress.

They paid me just $5,000 for my first film, Flirting.
It should have been a lot more, but how was I to know? It was major exploitation. These days you get a first-class ticket if you are working on a movie but I flew economy all the way to Australia and back. I was hanging out after doing my GCSEs and it came totally out of the blue. After it finished I went back to school.

Thandie in a scene from disaster blockbuster 2012
The Mayan calendar finishes its 13th cycle in 2012 and after that there's nothing.
I was a bit nervous when I heard about the Mayan prophecies for my new film. And then someone reassured me that it's all been disproved. I think 2012 is about appreciating the moment and the simple things, the value of relationships and the value of the people that we love. It's also a great adventure.

Guy Ritchie is an acquired taste.
But I like him. He is a no-messing-about kind of director (she worked with him on RocknRolla). I love how straight-talking he is and sometimes it's confrontational, but what he does say is on the money every time.

I am terrible for swearing.
There's always a lot of swearing on film sets and I'm so bad that my kids say 'Stop it Mummy!' They're always telling me off. I love hanging out with the boys on a set - it's almost more relaxing than hanging out with the girls.

I've experienced racism in Hollywood but not as conflict or in a threatening way, just the ignorance of people.
There was one time I went for a meeting for this big movie and I was up for a character who wasn't written as black. The character was a college graduate and the studio head, a woman, said, 'How can we make this role more black if we are going to have you in the film?' And I said, 'Well, I think as it's written it's fine...' And she said, 'Yeah, I know, but she is a graduate, she has been to university.' So I said, 'I've been to university.' And then it was, 'Yeah, but you're different.' I wasn't offended. It's just nonsense. But no, I didn't do the film.

'Guy Ritchie is an acquired taste': Thandie on her RocknRolla director
My attitude towards Hollywood can be summed up as 'smash and grab'.
I go into a meeting with a director as an equal, thinking that what I have to offer is of great value. It also makes me appreciate how much I have changed. Twenty years ago I wasn't so well-equipped to deal with Hollywood.

I thought Oliver Stone was crazy when he told me he wanted me to play Condoleezza Rice.
I remember preparing for the film (W) and the make-up artist saying, 'We're going for feel-alike rather than lookalike.' But I wanted to look like her. So I had false teeth and a completely different hairstyle. I hear she's joined my agency, William Morris, so maybe I'll run into her in the corridor - that would be funny.

I was shocked when two BNP candidates were elected to the European parliament.
We need an Obama in Britain. You want someone to rise up from somewhere and take everyone by surprise. I think the BNP picking up votes stems from disenchantment.

I was the only black girl and only non-Catholic at St Mary's Roman Catholic School in Penzance.Whenever they were all at prayers I had free time. I got into a lot of trouble - they made me sit on a baby chair. It was supposed to shame you, but it didn't break me. There was a footballing nun who used to play on the pitch with the boys. She'd even wear a wimple.

I hate it when Gordon Ramsay abuses people on TV.
Those people come from goodness knows where to be in the kitchen with him and he's swearing at them, shaming them, mocking them, abusing them, and they just take it. That's got nothing to do with being a chef.

'I thought Oliver Stone was crazy when he told me he wanted me to play Condoleezza Rice,' said Thandie of her role in the film W
I can't stand reality TV.
Apparently, some people even watch Big Brother when all of the contestants are asleep in the house. Can you believe that?

You go into newsagents now and the top shelf is all the way down to the bottom.
My kids are getting comics next to the cover of a men's mag with a girl who's topless. The boundaries have gone.

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