The Radiance Of Thandie
She was raised in Penzance, Cornwall by her parents, a Zimbabwean princess and a British subject. Now, she may have found her most meaningful role to date in Crash, where she plays an African American woman who is sexually violated by a racist cop, a humiliation she suffers right in front of her husband during a profile stop.
Thandiwe (pronounced 'Tan-dee') Adjewa Newton was born in Zambia on November 6, 1972, but was raised in Penzance, Cornwall by her parents, a Zimbabwean princess and a British subject. As a young girl, she studied dance, but any hopes for a career in that endeavor were dashed by an unfortunate back injury. Instead, the delicate, wan-like beauty decided on acting. But when, as a teen, she first moved to Los Angeles, she failed to find work, ostensibly because of her English accent. So, she returned home and matriculated at Cambridge which is where she earned a degree in anthropology. Subsequently, she did meet with considerable success, breaking into movies around Europe. In quick succession, she landed a series of impressive roles. In Britain she made Interview with the Vampire opposite Tom Cruise. In France, she appeared as Sally Hemmings in Jefferson in Paris opposite Nick Nolte who played Thomas Jefferson. And in Italy, she made Besieged, a steamy thriller directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Although her first screen credits list her as Thandiwe Adjewa, by the time she arrived back in America she had changed her name to Thandie Newton. Thandiwe, by the way, means "beloved" which is a little ironic, since here first title role in the states was as Beloved in the screen adaptation of the Toni Morrison best seller of the same name. Since then, the new trend towards colorblind casting has left Newton very much in demand as a leading lady. She re-teamed with Cruise in Mission Impossible 2, co-starred with Mark Wahlberg in The Truth about Charlie (a remake of Charade), and did The Chronicles of Riddick with Vin Diesel. On TV, for the past two seasons, she's been enjoying a recurring role as Kem on ER's, NBC's long-running, Emmy-winning dramatic series revolving around an emergency room in a Chicago hospital. Now, she may have found her most meaningful role to date in Crash, where she plays an African American woman who is sexually violated by a racist cop, a humiliation she suffers right in front of her husband during a profile stop. In real-life, Thandie is married to Brit writer and director Oliver Parker (Click), and the couple have two daughters, Ripley, four, and Nico, a baby born last December.
BSN: How did you prepare to do that emotionally-charged scene he where you're molested by Matt Dillon's character? How were you able to ensure that the camera would capture all the tension and such a realistic dynamic?
TN: "That's interesting, actually, because thinking about my preparation for the film, I was more focused on my relationship with Terrence Howard, with the marriage, I guess because that's Christine's back story. In terms of getting the scenes right between Matt and me, the scenes really spoke for themselves, since they're so incredibly dramatic. It was much more important, from my point of view, that Matt and I trusted each other, and understood what our objectives were, out of the scenes."
BSN: How did the two of you arrive at that understanding?
TN: "That came from just talking to Paul Haggis [writer/director] and letting him guide us, and from making the script and dialogue truthful. It was all there. We just, in a way, had to perform, and be emotional, and make it truthful. In some way, especially the scene at the beginning that you're referring to, which is incredibly difficult to watch, I just kind of turned my brain off, and did it."
BSN: Still, it must have been somewhat upsetting?
TN: "I couldn't think about it too much. I really looked to the script to guide me. The words. And it was very emotional. And it becomes very aggressive. To be honest, I don't even remember doing it. It was so disturbing."
BSN: Where did you summon that depth of emotion we see on the screen? I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve witnessed such a tremendous range from you before.
TN: "It was much more Paul Haggis who would guide. He would come in and give very specific notes. 'Thandie, think of what's just happened to you. Be more aggressive. Be more vocal.' What you see on the screen is a combination of those things. It wasn't planned to be as emotional, necessarily. That was a happy accident."
BSN: How hard was it for you to play an African-American woman?
TN: "I feel like the themes that Christine finds herself in as a character are universal. You know, the questions of betrayal, loyalty in a relationship, protection by your mate, all these things I think can be applied to anybody in a partnership. The only thing that separated the character from me, in a way, was the accent. And that was the simple bit. Other than that, I just had to really try and empathize with how a person is going to respond to being violated in this sort of criminal act, and how that would lead to preferring death over being saved by the perpetrator."
BSN: Why do you think the second scene works, given the same cop's earlier disgusting behavior?
TN: "When you look at them in isolation, it's hard to imagine how one could lead to the other. But the film, because it's such a sophisticated piece of writing, and digs deep into the psychology of each character, I think there's real resolve there. And each beat is earned. My job was just to get my accent as good as I could get it, and be free."
BSN: Did your being British get in the way at all?
TN: "Well, I have this English accent. And yet my mother is Zimbabwean and my father is English. But I've never seen myself as being English, except I guess I grew up there, and was educated there. I've always seen myself as being a person of the world, as opposed to a person from one specific place. And that's had its good side and its bad side, but, as an actor, it has been pretty great, because I feel entitled to play a person from anywhere."
BSN: Do you think people watching this film will cringe when they recognize themselves in one or more of these seriously flawed characters?
TN: "What the film doesn't do is condemn anybody. It does reveal the complicated nature of people's behavior. The dark side. But then it sheds light at the same time. So, yes, you can see yourself up there, but I think it allows you to understand yourself, and to see yourself simultaneously. Because of that, I don't think the picture elicits a destructive reaction. It's much more one of gratitude for allowing the complex natures of our behaviors to be sort of explained. I think everyone's looking to explain the way they feel. And I think the film does a really great job of that with these characters."
BSN: Finally, will your character, Kem, be coming back on ER?
TN: "Yes. And there's a resolution there. But I won't tell you whether it's good or bad."
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