By BlackVoices.com published on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 and is filed under Entertainment. You can follow responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. ShareThis
Filed under: Interviews
It’s been a long time since Thandie Newton appeared in an ensemble film featuring mostly females. That was 1998 and the film was Jonathan Demme’s ‘Beloved.’
Now, twelve years later, Newton gets to work with her co-star Kimberly Elise again in Tyler Perry‘s film, ‘For Colored Girls,’ an adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s legendary play.
The London, England native plays Tangie, a promiscuous bartender who’s the daughter of Whoopi Goldberg‘s character and sister of Tessa Thompson‘s character.
In speaking with Black Voices, Newton talks about coming into the project knowing very little about the legendary play, and working with Elise again.
How did you come into this play initially, and how were you asked to be part of it?
Thandie Newton: The same thing happened at the same time. Tyler called me maybe 18 months ago and told me he wanted to do this piece, and I hadn’t read it or seen it being performed. I’m English, and it’s not my world, funnily enough. That was my first introduction to the piece. I read his script first, and then I read the play. I was completely intrigued by the possibilities. I could see what he wanted to do by obviously making it more contemporary, making it more accessible to the viewer, but at the same time using the poetry. I thought it was really cool, experimental and interesting. I couldn’t think of seeing it done before. In musicals people burst into song, but this is a whole different thing. I really loved the thought of performing the poetry. It was a challenge that was going to be a difficult one. You get that wrong… these moments of poetry can either elevate the material or make it laughable. From being on the set and seeing the other actors working, I know that they will provide real moments of lucid emotion.
How would you compare this character to your other roles?
TN: I’ve had a few other roles in my career where I felt challenged, satisfied, stimulated, afraid… all those things. ‘Beloved was one, ‘Crash’ was another. I’m able to really reach the edge of an emotional capacity through the character’s experiences. It’s not for my catharsis, it’s to actually take the character on an emotional journey and make that believable and to feel and experience their lives that I had never on my own. To have a completely unique moment that I have never had in my life, and probably will never have. That is pretty out there. It’s like a feeling of being possessed by a spirit medium, like a trance state. There were times with this, probably because we shot so fast, had a grueling schedule, I get home at the end of the day and I can barely remember what I’ve done, ’cause I’ve been in a really trippy state. That’s what it feels like, acting at its most complete, for me, is I’m totally out of my own experiences. It’s like being hypnotized.
Is there anything in the character you can relate to?
TN: Nothing. No, no, no.. Oh my lord. From the childhood, parenting, social background, everything’s different, and that was why it was such a satisfying, complete form of self-hypnosis. I really absorbed myself. What would it have been like to be this girl? To be abused by your grandfather, for your mother to have allowed it to happen. Your mother has coupled with a white man so she’ll have lighter-skinned babies so the grandfather will want to have sex with them? It’s just too crazy. In a way, the fact that it’s a complete universe away… listen, it’s not as if it’s any better or any worse for me, it’s another experience, that’s all, and how this woman deals with it. One of the things that’s so beautiful about playing her, and about watching a movie like this, is we cannot judge the outward behavior of people until we have walked in their shoes. As an actor that’s what you get to do. So the amount of sympathy that I can have for her is only because I have really considered what she has experienced. I feel changed by it, and I’m more like her now because I feel like she’s more like me now because she’s had the insights. It’s given her a greater sense of self-love, something I have the luxury to be able to access self-love because I haven’t been through the kind of shit she has.
You have a couple pivotal scenes, including one with Whoopi, one with Phylicia, one with Tessa, and they all stand out. How is working with this cast of amazing actresses?
TN: It was amazing. Working with Tessa Thompson, there was one scene where she tells me she needs some money and I figure out that she’s pregnant. I tell you it was one of those scenes where working with her and her level as an actress elevated what I was able to do. I’m so grateful for that. You’re only as good as the person you’re acting with, unless you’re one of those people that just do your own thing. I’ve worked with people who do that, and I’ve had to do that too when I’m not getting anything back from somebody. I really love collaborating, looking in someone’s eyes and actually being there in that moment. Whatever they do I do, what I do is what they do. To actually move as one. It’s knockout! It’s like being in a jazz quartet or something. You have to be so in tune with the other person, like a school of dolphins or geese flying. I tell you it’s the same, amazing, being in-synch with someone like that.
With Whoopi, I loved supporting her performance because she was so in her own trip in this movie. The fact that she hadn’t acted in a movie for 12-years, I couldn’t believe that information! She’s so prominent when I think about her and the work she’s done, from ‘Ghost’ to ‘The Color Purple.’ It was just amazing. It was such a privilege to be with her. She was like a fledgling, had the same insecurities as us and really grateful for the opportunity to do something she was proud of and bring her out of her acting retirement. I felt shame at the stuff I had to say to Phylicia, in the early days. By the end it was fun and I knew it was giving her stuff to respond to. At the beginning I did not feel comfortable telling her she was, “You fucking nasty bitch,” and all this. I’m like, “Whoa, don’t make me say that to Phylicia Rashad, please don’t make me!” (laughs) That’s what she’s supposed to be. There’s a movie called ‘Capote’ where this guy has murdered this family, and they were like, “Why did he do it?” He loved the family, they liked him very much, but he looked into the eyes of the father of the family, and the father looked at him with knowledge of who he was as if to say, “Why are you doing this?” That was why this boy killed him, ’cause he felt such shame to be looked at by someone he admired so much. That’s what Gilda makes Tangie feel, that’s why Tangie treats her with so much contempt. To have her gaze on her, with her pity, the shame she feels and she wants to destroy Gilda for what Gilda knows. Just to be looked at by someone you loved and admired so much. You picked on the right three scenes, I’ll tell you!
‘Beloved’ was so long ago, but how was it reminiscing with Kimberly?
TN: Oh my God. Kimberly is still to this day the most transcendental acting experience I’ve had. There’s one scene where the two sisters are talking about Beloved’s arrival. It was just electric. Nothing will ever reach that. Kim and I have one scene in the movie together, which I love, where I invite her to the party, and she says she doesn’t think so. It’s actually the one moment where Tangie is nurturing. I’m sure that has a little bit to do with the relationship I have with Kimberly, who is always going to be my sister for what we went through on ‘Beloved.’ It’s a peek at communication between two people who wouldn’t necessarily think are connected.
I know you have ‘Vanishing On 7th Street’ coming out at some point. What’s after that?
TN: I just wrapped a movie called ‘The Retreat,’ with Cillian Murphy and Jaime Bell. It’s a thriller. I loved it. It was a similarly intense movie. It’s three actors in one house. It was a really clever script, very tense; really character driven. I feel like I’m on a bit of a role, I’m enjoying acting and the work that’s been coming in. I’m really getting to explore characters that are more complex than of late. I often think, “What am I giving to the world? What’s my contribution?” I’m going through a period of, “Oh, I know what it is!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’ll take a bit of time just to let the field lie fallow so whatever comes next I’ll be ready for. I’m pretty wrung out right now.
What keeps you grounded when you’re not doing the entertainment stuff?
TN: My husband and children. My babies. My girls. I have a ten-year-old, Ripley, and five-year-old Nico. I’m hugely fortunate that we have this little community and every moment is such a gift. Out of that I grow as a person and generate love and kindness, all those good things. As a family we allow that to go out to the world. What we do, how we teach our kids, how we communicate to other people. Each one of us, how healthy we keep ourselves and how we allow that energy to be spilled out around us. Having good, quiet times with them, teaching them about being a girl, being a woman. How to create health and happiness for all the people they come into contact with.