'People are looking for integrity, somewhere': Ruth Negga finds a deeper relevance in her interracial marriage historical drama, 'Loving'
Early on in his planning for the film, Nichols auditioned Negga at the urging of casting director Francine Maisler. In preparation, the actress, who was in Los Angeles to shoot a recurring role on Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” had been studying archival footage of the Lovings from the 2011 HBO documentary “The Loving Story.”
“Ruth had the voice, she had the posture, the facial expressions,” Nichols said. “It wasn’t until after we were done and I started to speak with her that I realized she had an Irish accent. By then the die was already cast. She was Mildred. When she left the room I turned to [producer] Sarah Green and Francine and said, ‘Well, do we really have to see anyone else?’”
In an interview in Los Angeles in October, Negga, her high heels tossed on the floor beside her, elbows propped on her knees, carried herself with a casual tomboyishness.
“Mildred would never sit like this,” Negga said, gesturing at her open knees, before standing and demonstrating her character’s more upright affect. The actress said she absorbed Mildred’s more formal mannerisms from studying the documentary, and during production she fell asleep at night listening to audio of Mildred’s voice.
“In the documentary, Mildred’s looking for shorts and shoes to put on her daughter,” Negga said. “And she bends over into the wardrobe from the top down, she just bends.”
During preproduction, Negga met Peggy Loving, the only daughter and survivor of the Lovings’ three children. “I spent most of that meeting just silently crying,” Negga said. “We both cried. And she said, ‘You have a good spirit to play my mom.’”Neil Jordan, who cast her in a key part in his 2005 film “Breakfast on Pluto.” Though she worked steadily over the last decade, including in smaller roles in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “World War Z,” and a performance in “12 Years a Slave” that ended up on the cutting room floor, 2016 is the year of Negga’s breakout as a lead in the United States.
That she is making that leap in such a personal and timely film suits the actress wholly.
“We’re living in a very tumultuous time,” Negga said. “People are looking for integrity somewhere, for a direction to take. The Lovings’ story isn’t over.”
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