Interview with Kam Williams
Born in London on November 6, 1972, Thandie Newton is a consummate actress associated with riveting performances in everything from Beloved to Besieged to Crash. She will soon be seen in the independent film Vanishing on 7th Street where she stars opposite Hayden Christensen and John Leguizamo, and she is currently shooting the psychological thriller The Retreat with Cillian Murphy and Jamie Bell.
Thandie won both a BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her work in Crash, the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 2006. She most recently appeared in 2012, a sci-fi flick which grossed in excess of $750 million at the box office worldwide.
Newton impersonated Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in W. which was directed by Oliver Stone. Other films on her impressive resume’ include The Pursuit of Happyness, Run Fat Boy Run, The Truth about Charlie and Mission Impossible 2.
Here, she talks about playing Tangie in Tyler Perry’s screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls, an ensemble drama co-starring Kerry Washington, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine and Phylicia Rashad.
Kam Williams: Hi, Thandie, thanks for the time. The last time we spoke was when you were doing Run Fatboy Run.
Thandie Newton: [Sarcastically] Well, For Colored Girls is exactly like that one, isn’t it Kam?
KW: [Playing along] Sure, the same storyline, and you’re even playing the same character. I want to get right to questions submitted by fans of yours. Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks what were your initial feelings about taking the role of Tangie?
TN: Terror. I was really terrified, because the film was so unlike anything I’d ever done before, because Tangie’s so unlike me, and because of the quiet, sensitive and grateful place I was in my life on a personal level. I knew I’d now have to go out and be this audacious, promiscuous character.
KW: But you killed in the role! You did it!
TN: You know what, my darling? I got into it. I pulled myself away from my place of peace and compassion. [LOL]
KW: Which character in For Colored Girls do you most identify with?
TN: Oh, goodness! Gilda, possibly. But, honestly, I identify with a bit of everybody.
KW: Is Tangie one of the more complex and challenging characters you’ve played?
TN: Absolutely! And I am so grateful for the opportunity to play her, because there are times when a character is uncomplicated and just about moving the story from A to B which makes me want to quit. As opposed to pieces like this where I get to play a real character. For Colored Girls has recharged my batteries for the next decade. It reminded me of what acting can be, how powerful a tool it can be, and how entertaining and provocative it can be for an audience. These types of roles don’t come along often, but I seem to get them at the right time, and then I decide not to throw in the towel.
KW: With a text this powerful, what was the self-discovery factor like? Were there any dormant traits that unexpectedly came to the surface?
TN: I found an uncompromising, dominating person that felt good, actually.
KW: I remember how moved I was after reading For Colored Girls when it was first published. Did the depicted slices of African American women’s lives resonate with you even though you grew up in Cornwall as the daughter of a woman born in Africa?
TN: It’s funny, because I don’t feel like I’m playing an African American, necessarily. I feel like I’m playing a human being with that specific accent, that’s all. And I feel that way with all the characters I play. My approach might be validated by my background in anthropology which I majored in at Cambridge. I learned there that when it comes to emotions, we all feel pain in the same way, everyone, whether you’re from Istanbul or Beijing.
KW: Is there a theatrical role you would love to play?
TN: I’m looking forward to playing Cleopatra, in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, but not for another 20 years or so.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TN: I’ll let you know when that question arises. I’m sure it’s out there, but I couldn’t put my finger on it right now.
KW: Are you ever afraid?
TN: Less and less as time goes by.
KW: Are you happy?
KW: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
TN: Ooh, yesterday afternoon with my children in the back of a cab. One of them said something so dry and witty that I laughed until I had tears in my eyes.
KW: What was the last book you read?
TN: It’s called, “What to Look for in Winter,” by Candia McWilliam.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TN: My children.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
TN: That rape would no longer be used as a weapon of war.
KW: How can your fans help you?
TN: Aww, that’s a sweet question. By being honest… By having opinions… and by being adventurous about what they choose to watch, movie-wise.
KW: The Boris Kodjoe question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
TN: My daughters, definitely.
KW: Have you ever wished you could have your anonymity back?
TN: It’s impossible. I don’t think anyone’s anonymous, anyway.
KW: Do you ever feel the pressure to not change creatively?
TN: No, I don’t. I’ve been fortunate not to have been pigeonholed by virtue of being mixed-race, of being English and black, and by virtue of working all over the world. I’ve enjoyed a great degree of variety in the work that I’ve done. It’s been quite unique.
KW: Why do you love doing what you do?
TN: The people I meet, the stories I hear, and the experiences I get to have without actually living them for real.
KW: Do you ever get lonely while working on the road?
TN: Yeah, but I call my Mum, and she gets on a plane and comes to see me.
KW: Do you have any regrets?
KW: Are you still friendly with Nicole Kidman?
TN: Yes, I still see Nicole. Whenever we get together, we have nothing but good things to say to each other. We shared a very beautiful time and memory making a movie called Flirting. We were both very young, and I think there’s a real fondness that we identify with one another just because of how young we were and how much life has changed since then. So, when I see her, I feel like life is slipping back into that innocence, which is really sweet.
KW: If you had a choice to play the role of a famous person, who might that be.
TN: Nina Simone. I’d love to just know more about her, and a movie would be a great place to see the evolution of her life and to learn from it and to be grateful for what she was able to give the world despite having suffered so much.
KW: A famous person you already played was Condoleezza Rice. How did you prepare for that role?
TN: I went back to my Cambridge roots and did an ethnography on her. I read a lot of books, not only about her, specifically, but also about the Bush administration. And I watched snatches of her on everything from Charlie Rose to Youtube and then I channeled everything that I learned from my research into my performance on screen.
KW: How do you get through the tough times?
TN: By remembering what I’m grateful for.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TN: Live in the moment.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
TN: You’ve been kind.
KW: Well, thanks for another great interview, Thandie.
TN: Thank you, Kam, this has been really interesting. Bye.