Gugu Mbatha-Raw Isn’t Trying to Be Like Anyone Else
By Lindsay Peoples
June 20, 2016
If you look at Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s acting career, it takes a while for a pattern to emerge. She first gained attention at 22 as Juliet opposite Andrew Garfield’s Romeo at the renowned Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. In the criminally overlooked romantic drama Beyond the Lights, by Gina Prince-Bythewood (who made the infamous Love & Basketball over a decade ago), Mbatha-Raw played a struggling pop star. Her “sleeper hit” Belle tells the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate biracial woman brought up as an orphaned member of her father’s aristocratic family. And in her upcoming Oscar bid,Free State of Jones, she stars alongside Matthew McConaughey as a slave fighting for her freedom.
What all these parts have in common: They’re nuanced and ambitious, roles for someone who’s not content to just be the girlfriend or the wife. She talked with the Cut about forging her own path, making it in Hollywood, and what she’s most grateful for.
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Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s love for the craft of acting comes across immediately in conversation. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was a little girl,” she says. “Coming from dance and theater and what was accessible to me in my hometown, it was all I did after school and on the weekends. The idea of making my hobby into my job was the ultimate quest.” She tells me that, growing up as an only child, her drama buddies were her best friends, adding, “I never wanted to be like anyone growing up. It’s always been about the enjoyment and I’ve just never wanted to imitate anyone.”
But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had her mentors: “Watching and learning from the great Josette Bushell-Mingo, who was playing Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at the time, and then to return to the same stage six months later playing a lead role, was incredible — I fell in love with the poetry and the breadth of the language so much that I didn’t want it to end.” To date, Gugu has done four Shakespeare plays, two of which have led her to Best Actress nominations in the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards.
Whether she’s doing Shakespeare or Hollywood, Gugu has always held out for compelling parts regardless of the press or budget — or lack thereof. She knew about Belle’s development for eight years and, although she still was acting in other things, held onto her closeness with the character in the faith that she would one day play her.
“I would walk on the weekends to Kenwood House and I had no idea that this biracial aristocrat lived there, so I started to spend a lot of time here. I got the postcard of her portrait and held onto the idea of it becoming a film one day.”
Gugu says she’s learned surprising practical things from each role — like dancing and choreography for Beyond the Lights, or learning to ride a scooter in Tom Hanks’s Larry Crowne — but she’s also taken emotional life lessons from each experience. “You’ve got to find a way to relate to people. I just did an improvised episode for Joe Swanberg’s new Netflix show, Easy, and it was a huge learning curve for me, and taught me so much about fear and courage. But when you’re present in the moment, the audience, it’s incomparable.”
And how much does race play into the stories she chooses to tell? Gugu answers unequivocally: “In being a biracial woman, I think that some roles like Belle were written for that, but there’s so many levels of humanity that I can explore. I will always be a biracial woman every day that I get up in the morning, that’s who I am — but that won’t ever prevent me from exploring other people and cultures in my work.”
Her next projects — a space thriller titled God Particle by Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Roxane Gay’s psychologically striking novel, An Untamed State — offer more unlikely ways for Gugu to showcase her range and talent. But before then, there’s her new film, Free State of Jones, which hits theaters June 24.
Free State of Jones, which also stars Matthew McConaughey, tells the story of an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Mississippi during the Civil War. Gugu’s character, Rachel Knight, leads a double life — working as a house slave on the plantation by day and traveling by night to the rebel camps in the swamps to bring them information and supplies. It’s incredibly refreshing to see her actively participate in the rebellion instead of waiting on the sidelines.
Mbatha-Raw says that growing up in the U.K., she had never heard the story of Rachel Knight, and it inspired her to read more about how these poor white farmers and escaped slaves created their own mixed-race community in the South in the 1860s. “It was fascinating for me to discover the agency that these slaves had at the time. Too often are we more familiar with seeing how downtrodden slaves were because of the horrible regime, and instead I saw this woman that was trying to better herself by learning to read, despite it being illegal, and arming herself physically to be part of the rebellion. Just imagining the bravery and their struggle made me feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude.”
Photos by Andre Wagner, makeup by Nick Barose, hair by Lacy Redway, styling by Lindsay Peoples.
The versatile actress on history's lessons, motherhood – and cartwheels
by Laura Linney as told to Tim Appelo, AARP, June 5, 2019
I'm meticulous. In college I taped my lectures and at the end of the day listened to them and took very detailed notes. Now I need to work thoroughly, sinking into the script, learning. It's time-consuming, but I've always enjoyed it.
Tales of the City 2019
I was keen to return to my character from the 1990s series, to pass the story of her adventures in San Francisco on to the next generation of LGBTQ people and their straight friends. The author of the book series, Armistead Maupin, has been a great friend for 25 years. I named my son after him.
Having a son at 49
I love being a mother. I'm so grateful to have had that experience. He's 5 and watches TV occasionally, but I love that his default is to go to a book.
When I was playing Abigail Adams, I read a book about John Adams and was, like, “Oh, Jefferson, he's interesting,” and I read a book about him and then, likewise, one about Monroe and then Madison — it just unfolds, and this whole architecture of America is revealed.
Eleanor Roosevelt shared her philosophy of life in her book You Learn by Living. It's a passing down of a personal history and lessons, large and small, like: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time."
On a fave costar
I love working with Liam Neeson. We worked as husband and wife in The Crucible, Kinsey and The Other Man, and we were in Love Actually. You're able to start at a much deeper level when you're with someone whom you've worked with a lot.
Tragedy and comedy
My series The Big C was a comedy, but about someone with terminal cancer. Comedy is a survival technique. When things are overwhelming, when you're in chaos, when you're really scared, it's a way to cope.
"You learn more from failing than you do from succeeding. It's important to befriend failure; it's not pleasant, and it's painful, but it's necessary to grow. "
- Laura Linney
I haven't done a cartwheel since The Big C, but I bet I could. It's important to still feel connected to your body even though it's changing drastically.
You learn more from failing than you do from succeeding. It's important to befriend failure; it's not pleasant, and it's painful, but it's necessary to grow. I wish everyone a manageable failure at one point in life. You learn about grit and how to pull yourself out of a tough situation. Then, hopefully, you get things that are good. Now I consistently work, and I know that's rare. But for me, it's been so far — knock wood — a wonderful, wonderful life.
Four-time Emmy winner Laura Linney, 55, stars in Netflix's Ozark and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (which premieres on June 7).
Jerry Seinfeld review – multimillionaire with a masterly common touch
Hammersmith Apollo, London Now in his mid-60s, the comedian is still delivering beautifully honed, brilliantly timed observations on everyday life
Sunday 14 July 2019
feel like a blacksmith up here sometimes,” says Jerry Seinfeld in a routine addressing 21st-century communication. Talking has been superseded; it’s an outmoded thing to do. That may be true when it comes to phones – or true enough to make a joke out of – but there’s nothing unfashionable about talking a la Seinfeld, whose brand of observational comedy spawned a thousand imitators and remains standup’s dominant mode. Tonight, we see it executed with perfect mastery by a man whose performing powers seem undiminished at a hard-to-credit 65.
Laughs flow freely throughout his 70 minutes on stage. Insights into the real Jerry, or new perspectives on the world – well, there are fewer of those, in a set whose proficiency feels a little facile, just a teensy bit soulless. Two-thirds in, he steps away from the gags to promise us a change of tack, a glimpse of where his life is in 2019. But what follows is more of the same common-touch comedy, in this case about marriage (he’s at 19 years and counting) and kids. Several of the “men do this, women do that” gags are retrieved from his back catalogue. His take on family life you could call timeless – or lacking in novelty.
But, technically, the jokes are so neat – and the delivery, exemplary. This man can do comic timing like Paul McCartney does melody. The opening sequence is a belter, as Seinfeld anatomises the night-out experience. Why are we here? Why is he? This is a “bogus, hyped-up, not necessary special event” designed to pass the time and make us feel our lives are great. But then – next gag – “‘sucks’ and ‘great’ are pretty close”, says Jerry, and isn’t everything a bit rubbish anyway?
It’s a deft start, narrowing the gap between megastar and audience, then stretching it again as comedy requires. But there’s little in tonight’s show to suggest the rarefied life multimillionaire Seinfeld must lead. His modern-life-is-funny gags are hard-wired to be relatable, from the routine about all-you-can-eat buffets to the number addressing the cult of “hydration”. Each is drolly brought to life as our host role plays gluttonous overeaters or energy-drink junkies exhaustedly craving a fix.
Perhaps because what Seinfeld is saying is often trivial, attention strays to how he’s saying it – with a sense of rhythm and cadence so finely tuned it could be applied to almost anything and still make you laugh. You might doubt there’s more humour to be wrung from that hoary standup subject, mobile phones. But Jerry manages it, with a routine looking at the anthropology of Uber, and wondering (as he did about dog ownership many moons ago) whether nowadays the human owns the phone, or vice versa.
As per his wonderfully withering gag about the vapid phrase “it is what it is”, the material zeroes in on how ridiculous we all are. But it also advertises senior citizen Seinfeld’s increasing detachment from the whole rigmarole. In the only section he couldn’t have delivered any earlier in his career, he celebrates life as a sexagenarian, when you can say no to everything with impunity, and anticipates his next decade, when – why bother speaking? – a dismissive wave should suffice.
It’s a lovely joke, but an unlikely scenario. Because nothing tonight suggests that, even at 65, Seinfeld’s appetite for talking – far less his aptitude – is remotely on the wane.
I thought everyone was funny in the beginning. Then, in my early 20s, everybody started to get very serious, so I decided I would rather hang around with the people who still just wanted to be funny.
What was your big break?
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1981. That was like the first time you go sky-diving, and they say, "We've got the 'chute all set up, all you've got to do is convince your body that there's no problem jumping out of this plane."
Stage or screen?
Both. TV is intense when you're performing for a live audience and for a much larger audience beyond. When there's no studio audience, it's a bit dry.
What's your favourite TV show?
Top Gear. Those guys understand that they can cheat everything, it doesn't matter. They also know that the main thing we want to see is people having a good time making fun of each other. I'm a car fanatic.
Which comedians do you most admire?
Lots. I love Chris Rock, Jerry Lewis and Bill Cosby. The great thing about comedy is that you don't really have to think about it, you just go, "I like this guy, I don't like this guy" and it's all fine.
What advice would you give to a budding comedian?
If you are able to do it, you'll be found out very quickly. Figure out what your thing is and you'll be fine.
What one song would be the soundtrack to your life?
Oh boy, am I supposed to cry at this point? I really like this song Suavecito by Malo from 1972. It feels like a summer day. It always puts me in a good mood.
Is there anything you regret?
No. Regret is very philosophical and very arrogant. It's like: "Things should go the way I want and when they go wrong something terrible has happened."
Do you suffer for your art?
Yes, but I don't mind suffering. You suffer in all things – work, relationships, whatever else you do. Unless you're eating ice-cream, you're suffering.
What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you on stage?
I once did a show when nobody even knew I was on. It was in a discotheque in Queens, it was 1977. I went on and nobody stopped dancing. I stood there and did the show to myself.
What is it about standup that keeps you coming back? You can't need the money.
No, it's not about the money. It's about walking the true path of the samurai.
What's the worst thing anyone has ever said about you?
I don't have a good memory for that stuff. It's all kind of small to me.
Born: Brooklyn, New York, 1954
Career: Best known for hit sitcom Seinfeld. Plays the O2 arena on 3 June.
High point: 'Seinfeld. I just can't believe that we somehow got that many good people in the same place at the same time.'
He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.
Peter Fonda, celebrated actor known for Easy Rider, dies aged 79
Son of Henry Fonda and brother of Jane Fonda died after battling lung cancer, family says
Friday 16 August 2019
The actor Peter Fonda has died at the age of 79 following a battle with lung cancer, his family has said.
Fonda, who co-wrote, produced and starred in the classic 1969 road movie Easy Rider, died peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Friday, his family said in a statement.He was the son of Henry Fonda and younger brother of Jane Fonda.
A statement from his family said: “It is with deep sorrow that we share the news that Peter Fonda has passed away.
Graham Greene: 'The Battle of Britain was won on Benzedrine'
11 April 2016
For this 1968 profile from the Telegraph archive, republished to mark the 25th anniversary of Graham Greene's death on April 4, the novelist VS Naipaul spent two days in the south of France with Greene, who said some astonishing things.
Graham Greene has been living in France for two years. The French tax authorities are less harsh on the writer; the franc is free. Travel is easier, and travel is important to Mr Greene who, at 63, still likes to feel, as he says, that he is living on a frontier.
He has always been a political writer, interested in the larger movement of events. Before the war the frontiers were European. Now these lines of anxiety run everywhere. When I met Mr Greene he was off in a few days to Sierra Leone; and he was planning an Easter visit to the West Indies to St Kitts and Anguilla. He is an expatriate, but he feels very English. And though there are moments when he regrets the passing of the Victorian peace, he wishes, like the narrator of The Comedians, his last novel, to remain committed to the whole world.
Discovering two authors’ talents, faults in ‘Greene on Capri’ by Shirley Hazzard
Tuesday, January 3, 2017 1:30am LIFEA READING LIFE By Heartwood, Everett Public Library staff
This blog post is prompted by the news that Shirley Hazzard died this past December at age 85.
It’s kind of funny to me that I read this book without ever having read Graham Greene (though he’s long been on my radar, and I’m a fan of the film The Third Man). Funnier still since I’d also not read anything by Shirley Hazzard (her Transit of Venus won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980, and The Great Fire won the National Book Award in 2003). But a few years ago, one of my book-talking buddies handed me this book and said I should read it. I must say I was quite taken by the cover, and seeing the book’s slim length, I decided to give it a try.