Just last week I had the opportunity to screen the movie LOVING and interview Director Jeff Nichols, Actor Joel Edgerton, Actress Ruth Negga, and Actress Terri Abney.
The movie was done so beautifully. A brilliant story with very little dialogue.
Was it a more difficult challenge bringing these people to life when you don’t have a safety net of dialogue?
JOEL EDGERTON: One of the last roles I had done was very verbal. And, you allow the words to say so much, and you know, subtext obviously is very important but when you get all the words taken away from you, and you play a person who thinks a lot, but says very little, you have to be very focused on the specificity of what silence, is or means or is generated by um, or is a reaction to, what it’s a reaction to, and that was a lot of concession that Jeff and I had on the days of shooting those certain scenes which was like, I guess in some way writing the speeches that weren’t being said, and having a very clear idea as to you know, for example, we talked a lot on the day we were shooting scene with Sheriff Brooks. When he’s talking about a robin, a robin and a sparrow being a sparrow, and about the energetic nature of the silence and what it meant and the dotting of I’s and looking for the door and wanting to kind of get out and, but at the frustration and trying to form words. All those different reasons that could be behind silence. So it actually became real joy and focus and a lesson to take on to other projects I think for me. But Jeff was very specific in the screenwriting, that meant that it wasn’t as big a mystery as it could be in the hands of somebody else, because you know, there weren’t a lot of words of dialogue on the page, but you knew exactly what was going on.
Do you find it intimidating to play a role of a true story?
TERRI ABNEY: Yeah, I would have to say definitely you want to do the character justice, you want to honor their legacy, and you want to tell the truth and so it is intimidating. But then the prayer for me was just to rise to the occasion, and that happened by doing the homework and knowing the time period, the era and then really understanding the relationship that I had with all the other characters.
JOEL EDGERTON: The easy part of it is that it narrows the field of options, you don’t have to create a character out of nothing. You don’t have to draw any picture on a blank page, you’re told what picture to draw. But the challenge, or the difficulty becomes, putting the pressure on yourself to do it and to go beyond well, I think for Ruth and I, having so much archival footage, it’s like, the risk is you just end up acting in a bubble ‘cause you’re concentrating on the way you sound and the way your posture has changed, and the way you move, and that it becomes an impression or mimicry but it has to go beyond that. To serve the movie. And the real key was not so much the characters, but like Terri’s pointing out too, the relationships between the characters. Particularly for Ruth and I to harness the energy of a relationship that again, wasn’t our creation so much as a combination of us working with very detailed laid out plan in the screenplay that Jeff had written.
What was it like to work in the real life surroundings of the Caroline County?
When starting this project, Jeff Nichols went to Virginia to learn about the area. He felt it was important to be in the place where it all happened. He went to the courthouse where they were tried, he went to the jail where they were held, the home that they lived in/hide in…and the field where he proposes…and all of that was used in the film.
JEFF NICHOLS: These roads, these places, these fields, they were integral to Mildred and Ruth can certainly speak to that. But, playing devil’s advocate early on as a writer, you’re like, okay, well I’m just going to say well what’s the big deal? DC’s about two hours away, you know, really, this is the problem? And absolutely it is. It could’ve been another universe for her. And her separation from nature specifically, I think was a big part of her depression in DC and a big part of the drive that would push her back to the country, to bring her family back under the threat of arrest or much, much worse. So understanding that place, the physicality of it, was very important. But then when you’re in production, it adds this focus, there’s a responsibility that is so tactile because you’re walking literally in their footsteps, I mean they’re standing in front of the judges bench, that Richard and Mildred stood in front of. That can’t help but remind you that these aren’t characters in a movie. You know, these are real people, flesh and blood and we need to honor that.
If you were in the same position as the Loving’s… how would you act? Would you have taken the same path?
RUTH NEGGA: That’s a very good question. I think we all like to think that we would, that our goodness and our integrity would prevail. I’m not sure actually because it’s, you know, considering the time… the time that they were living in, it was a time of extraordinary tension, and quite a brave thing to speak up in many instances. Over the risk of violence, both imprisonment and sort of unofficially as well, you know. You risked a lot. So, I would like to hope I would. I think that why people admire this couple is they’re tenacity and perseverance in the face of you know that the bit status quo you know, the institution. And that’s what they, and it’s quite an amazing feat actually. Especially Mildred’s refusal to be silenced and that lovely sort of self-belief in herself, you know, without being sort of demonstrative of it. She’s this beautiful, she has great self-esteem, and you realize that she gets that from her family, from Virginia, from her relationship with Richard.
Why did you decided to take your role? What drew you to your part?
JOEL EDGERTON: Yeah, the story at large, I mean, fuck. Everything. Everything. I mean I kind of, I mean, maybe nice thing to relay is that when Jeff told me about the project, and illuminated Richard and Mildred’s story for me, I didn’t, like a lot of people, didn’t know about them, and I saw what an amazing story it was. And how special it was and how, I mean on a personal level as an actor, what a great gift that would be, a great challenge. I got very nervous that any of the different obstacles of Hollywood would get in the way of the movie being made. Or the finance wouldn’t come together or someone who held the money would say, that may, or that I couldn’t do the movie. It had to be somebody else. It just became that thing that was, the real challenge was, and it wasn’t that hard, was just pushing everybody out of the way while we waited to make the movie. Because I just didn’t want to not be around and not be available to do this, no matter how small a project it might feel like. It felt much bigger than anything else that was possible on-on a job.
RUTH NEGGA: You didn’t harm anyone else. You didn’t get rid of the competition.
JOEL: Well. Okay, now.
RUTH: You suggested a quiet shove.
RUTH: Yeah. It worked out, it worked out. I just fell in love with, I fell in love with this couple. Like Jeff said, you know, I felt that it’s the greatest love story never, that never been told. And I know that, I found that there’s a reason that both Nancy and I, how we found out about it. I’d read um, the, Mildred’s obituary for 2008, it was a very, it was a thin sliver of an obituary and it, and I was reading it, and I was like, this is a fascinating story, and a fascinating family and it was a picture of Mildred with her eye patch, ‘cause she lost an eye in that car accident. With the three kids, Donald and Sydney and Peggy with Peggy holding one of her children. This is like in the 70s, and it was, I was fascinated with this, and they said that they changed the Constitution of the United States and I thought, no they, no they couldn’t have. Because otherwise, I’d you know, we’d know. But they did, and we didn’t know and that always struck me. And then I watched snippets of the documentary, and I eventually watched it in full and I just was flabbergasted. I was really floored by this couple, both individually by their individual spirit, um, but their-their love for each other, which is you know, the air is thick with this love for one another in the documentary. And I think that that was very important for us, we wanted to capture that and you know, recreate that. Because it’s, it was so beautiful and so. It was a kind of love that I know Jeff talks about that you kind of are sort of a bit thirsty for, you know, ‘cause it’s not the kind of melodramatic sort of cliché kind of love. It’s a real soulful love. And I’m like, you know, they really liked one another. They really respected one another. And you really, watching them interact, you realize that they treated one another as true equals. I was incredibly moved by that, by them and their just innate goodness you know. The goodness is coming off them in sheets. You know. You can feel that when you, when you see the documentary and I just, the privilege was all mine, and I was determined-determined to play Mildred ‘cause I really did feel connected to her, and I don’t think I was, I’m unique in that. I just, I thought that I could potentially play this woman.
From acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, “Loving” celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry – and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since.
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In Select Cities November 4
Additional Cities throughout November
Disclosure: Focus Features is sending me on an all paid press trip to cover this movie (minus the travel expenses). All opinions are 100% my own.