The Irish actress Ruth Negga didn't grow up in the United States. But she understands on a personal level the impact of Mildred and Richard Loving's life story. The two fell in love and married in the 1960's when interracial marriage was illegal and punishable by imprisonment in many states.
Their marriage would become the center of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision known as Loving v. Virginia, which ruled that those laws were unconstitutional.
Negga plays Mildred Loving in the new movie, "Loving." Like the couple whose story is told in the movie, Negga's parents are an interracial couple. Her mother is Irish and her father is Ethiopian. Negga was raised in Ireland and tells The Frame that she didn't see a lot of people who looked like her on screen when she was growing up. She adds that, even today, parts like that of Mildred Loving are "extremely rare." She tells The Frame's John Horn that it was like finding "gold dust."
When Ruth Negga spoke with John Horn, they discussed her approach to playing Mildred Loving, representation of people of color on screen, and the fact that while Loving v. Virginia paved the way for the 2015 Marriage Equality ruling by the Supreme Court, the issue of equality is far from settled.
To hear the conversation click the play button at the top of the page.
On inhabiting the mind and body of Mildred Loving:
I'm a big fan of just sitting with people and thinking about them – thinking about their energies and their spirit and where that's similar or different to mine. So there's that inner preparation that goes on — inner thoughts and thinkings. It really is a meditation on human beings. The other avenue is physically. Mildred had a very quiet physical presence, but yet a very dignified, compelling one. She had a lot of charisma. Also thinking about the time period, people were more economical with their gestures and so is Mildred. The same goes for her voice. It's about where your pitch is, the tone, the accent, the dialect, facial expressions. That outward prep can compliment the inner.
On race, identity and representation on screen:
I enjoy stories that reflect some nature of who I am. This doesn't fully define me, as no one's color fully defines them, but it is part of who I am. It's woven right into my spirit and my soul and it's integral to who I am and who I present myself to be to the world. But another important thing is, it's other people's perception of me. I think that's another thing about color is it's other people's perception of you that you also have to counteract or absorb or deal with. I'm fascinated by that idea.
Also, I'm really fascinated with seeing people of color being represented on screen because I think, for so long, there's been a problem of underrepresentation. Still is. And I'm excited to be part of this evolution of that representation. Also, quite frankly, seeing people who look like me on screen. When I think about when I was a kid, that was quite rare and I was quite shocked by how complacent we can all be – white and black – about that being okay when it's not. But also I just relate to her as a human being. As a person of amazing humanity and amazing self-esteem.
On Mildred's quiet way of standing up and the time in which she lived:
There's this idea that she's submissive, which I refute. I think she is operating in a world that does not tolerate loud women. I think especially not loud, black women – strong, loud, black women with self-esteem. There's a way that she is probably subdued in her manner, but I don't think that's submissiveness. I think it's a way of operating in that world. I wish it wasn't so, but that is the reality and I think it's important to show that was the reality of the time. This wasn't out of choice. This was out of necessity. If you stuck your head above a parapet at the time ... being a woman or person of color, there were huge risks involved. The repercussions of that were often violent. That's another theme in our film. The threat of violence is, I think, omnipresent in our film — the threat of what could be. That was a very potent tool of keeping people quiet at that time. And I don't think just then. I think that resonates now.
On shooting in Virginia and walking in "the footsteps of inequality":
We shot at the actual courthouse where they were sentenced. We shot at the [jail] in which they were held. We couldn't shoot inside Mildred's jail cell because it was so tiny. We shot a stones throw from where they lived. We felt a connection to this couple when we were roaming our crew around Richmond and its surrounding areas. It's almost like it speeds up history and brings it closer to you in a thrilling way, but also a sort of shocking way. It's very maddening and saddening to think that you're walking in the footsteps of inequality. That was very moving for all of us, not just me.
On how equality is a work in progress:
I think [equality is] something we should be constantly working on, like our grades or our kindness as human beings. I don't want to say it's not achievable, but it's not something that will ever be over in a pretty bowtie or wrapped-present sort of way. I think what we want to contribute is to remind people of that.
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