Born in London on Nov. 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, in which 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: Well, For Colored Girls is exactly like that one, isn’t it Kam?
KW: 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.
KW: Rev. Florine Thompson asks: 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: Editor/legist Patricia Turner says: I think you’re a great actress! 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: FSU grad Laz Lyles asks: 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: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: 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: Yale grad Tommy Russell asks: 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 anther 20 years or so.
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: 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.
To see a trailer for For Colored Girls, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbklqYMaYGg