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Joel Edgerton on the legacy of the Loving case and playing a reluctant activist




Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving and Ruth Negga plays Mildred Loving in the upcoming film,
Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving and Ruth Negga plays Mildred Loving in the upcoming film, "Loving".
Courtesy Focus Features

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The new film "Loving" is based on the real-life story of a white man named Richard Loving who fell in love with Mildred Jeter, a woman of African American and Rappahannock Native American descent. 

The two lived in rural Virginia, where Richard Loving bought a plot of land with big hopes and dreams. 

Will you marry me? Loving movie clip

Mildred said yes and the two were married in Washington D.C. 

But their union wasn't recognized in Virginia. The two were arrested in the middle of the night, just weeks after their nuptials, for violating the state's Racial Integrity Act. The Lovings went on to fight the law and their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving in the new movie. He spoke with Take Two's Alex Cohen about Loving's reluctance to become a political activist and how he came to understand Richard's love for his wife. 

Interview Highlights

How did that moment, that bursting into the bedroom in the middle of the night, how did that fuel Richard Loving going forward?

"I think that suddenly it changed a lot for Richard...I think that event is very significant to the knocking down of one's door, the assumption on behalf of the sheriffs that they could go inside the bedroom to tell two people that what they're doing in private was not legal. It's a significant thing and I think it changed a lot in that moment."

Ruth Negga (second from right) and Joel Edgerton (right) on the set of
Ruth Negga (second from right) and Joel Edgerton (right) on the set of "Loving."
Ben Rothstein

Why do you think Richard was a reluctant hero?

 "We all love a revolutionary and we need them and we identify with them from a distance, but more than that, the majority of us look at revolutionaries and go either 'I wish I could be like that' or 'I'm glad that's not me. I'm glad I'm not standing at the front in the firing line or behind the microphone.' Richard wasn't the guy that kicked the door down. He wasn't the guy sort of at the front. He was the guy that sort of looked around one day and realized he was in the spotlight. That he and his wife had been plucked out of Virginia and placed in this sort of spotlight that they didn't want to be in. And for nine years they had to endure that. And for nine years they had to go and live under roofs that they didn't choose to live under...and the time that they were robbed of with their own family and being on their own land...is such a psychological violence.

Mildred Loving and Richard Perry Loving, of the 1967 landmark case Loving v. Virginia which declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional.
Mildred Loving and Richard Perry Loving, of the 1967 landmark case Loving v. Virginia which declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional.
stanzak/Flickr

As people go to see 'Loving' what do you want them to take away from it?

"Jeff [Nichols] has made a movie that, I think is very gentle, and it's very quiet but there's something very intelligent about what he's done. I think he's opening the door for an audience to walk in and experience life with Richard and Mildred, to see the domestic day-to-day existence that they had, the connection they had with each other and their interactions with family, under all the roofs that they either wanted to live under or didn't want to live under. And by doing that it's hard not to have an empathetic response to them, to get to know them, to fall in love with them, to walk in their shoes and I think that's the first point of changing people's opinion about judgment."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.