In Conversation: Thandie Newton – Vulture

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As outspoken as Thandie Newton has been throughout her career, there are still stories shes been holding off on telling. Not because shes shy, but because shes waiting for the right moment. So careful what you do, everybody, she says. Because you might find yourself fucking over a little brown girl at the beginning of a career, when no one knows who she is and no one gives a fuck. She might turn out to be Thandie Newton. At 47, Newton feels shes more powerful than ever, which manifests in our Zoom conversations as a kind of stunning vulnerability. Its rare for an actress whose 30-plus-year career has ranged from odd art-house films with Bernardo Bertolucci to blockbusters like Mission: Impossible 2 to, well, Norbit to speak so plainly. Shes unsparing about her own career choices and yet maintains the wisdom and compassion to forgive herself. We got to press on, havent we, my love?

Are you in your bedroom right now?I am. Its very hard to find a quiet spot. We currently have my family in isolation. My son, whos 6, my 15-year-old daughter, and my 19-year-old daughter, whose girlfriend is living with us too.

What were you doing when lockdown first started?I was in Montana doing a movie, Gods Country. Its one of the most inspiring projects. I was loving it, but also willing its end because it was that demanding. And Id come off 12 months of pretty intense work with Westworld.

In Westworld, your performance is so poignant, both ferocious and beautiful. Do you have conversations with the showrunners around the arc of the season or where you would like your character to go?I like to stay sane about my position, which is that I am being employed to tell someone elses story. Where I do have a degree of choice is in taking the role, but once Im in, Im a team player. I do have frustrations with Maeve, but thats part of her story line.

What are some of those frustrations?Well, season one, the evolution of this robot who then has the revelation that shes not human, and that she had a past that involved a child, and the betrayal of that, and then using information to empower herself it was such a powerful story. Im not surprised that it hooked people in. And then the second and third season has Maeve with a different directive, but its not her own. Shes following other peoples leads, by and large. In the first season, she was driving, dominating, pretty straightforward. I think Maeve is a metaphor for the dispossessed in the world, and shes become that kind of leader, but shes not had a chance to lead, and I dont think she necessarily should. She certainly doesnt want to.

When you were a kid, you said you didnt feel like you were beautiful, but I think people consider you beautiful. When did things shift?I think its hugely to do with my ethnicity. When I set out in the adult world, I was pretty young 16 was when I started working in movies. I had no sense of myself. One of the reasons why is because I was not considered anything. There was a lot that people could have been interested in in me when I was young. They didnt want to express it, because they didnt want to praise the Black girl.

I had this dance teacher, cause ballet was my thing. I came from a very small town. We didnt have capoeira and this and that. Not even like jazz or fucking modern that would have been way too ghetto. Year after year, I was a star student. Id always be given the solo to make the school look good. So at the end of every year, thered be this big performance wed all do in this dance school. The dance teacher and I dont mean her any ill, Im not slagging her off, but its the truth at the end of every year, shed give prizes. She would give this ceramic ballet dancer, like a little kind of Oscar. It was screamingly obvious that I should have been given prizes. She never did. Not once.

I didnt even think about it. Because, look, this all instilled in me a work ethic and perfectionism. Its not pride in my work or pride in the perfectionism. Its If I dont do this, no ones going to let me do anything else again, ever. It was out of survival. The last year I was in her school, I remember I didnt get the prize, and my mom had obviously realized I wasnt going to get it. We didnt have much money, but when I got home, she had bought me this beautiful figurine of two dancers. Because she was so proud of me, she wanted to compensate.

We didnt talk about it at the time, but the damage was so done. It just made me super-vulnerable to predators. Thats the truth. Because theres so much about not having a sense of my value. I suffered quite badly for a couple of years from anorexia, and it all feeds into this. Just wanting to disappear. What happened for me was I had a very complicated relationship with I never chose. I let other people do the choosing for me. That saddens me.

What were you going to say? That you had a complicated relationship with ?With sexual relationships. It was like I had to give something back for being noticed. You get predators and sexual abusers, they can smell it a mile off. Its like a shark smelling blood in the water. All you need is one of those to really drive you into the dust. In a way, an eating disorder was just like, Okay, I need to finish myself off. I need to get fully rid of myself now. Unfortunately, that was while I was in an industry where a woman is utterly objectified. But a really key point, which began when I was like 21 and I met Eve Ensler

You saw The Vagina Monologues and then you talked to her afterward.She was performing in a pub in Islington in North London. Afterward, I saw her as she came into the pub and we chatted. I found myself telling her my story about being sexually abused. She didnt look at me with pity. For her, it was like, And youre here. It was the moment I turned from being a victim to a survivor. She just pointed out I was moving through it.

When youve talked about what happened in the past getting groomed and sexually abused as a teenager by the director John Duigan on the set of Flirting I noticed the language used by some journalists writing about it was quite odd. Some would call it an affair.Yes. For years. I would talk about it a lot in the press, as you know. I think its because I was traumatized. If someone brought it up and of course theyre going to bring it up in a fucking interview, man if they spoke about it in a way thats not sympathetic or they called it an affair, it was insult to injury. Its like re-abuse. I think the reason I talked about it a lot, too, is Im trying to find someone who understands. Im looking for help. Its so fucking obvious to me. What is the point if we dont expose what needs to be exposed?

When I look at my career and see how affected it was by my speaking out about sexual abuse in the industry, it was massively affected in two ways. One, because I was dealing with my trauma, and talk about being in a triggering environment, right? Also, Id come across people that were doing the same shit, and so I would challenge them, or want to get out of it, or not want to work with people. One of the biggest movies I didnt end up doing was because the director said to me, I cant wait for this. The first shot is going to be Youre going to think its like yellow lines down a road, and you pull back and you realize its the stitching, because the denim is so tight on your ass its going to look like tarmac. I was like, Oh, I dont think were going to go down this road together.

Then the head of the studio I had a meeting with her, and she said, Look, I dont mean to be politically incorrect, but the character as written and you playing the role, I just feel like weve got to make sure that its believable. I was like, What do you mean? What changes would you have to make? Shes like, Well, you know, the character, as written, shes been to university and is educated. Im like, Ive been to university. I went to Cambridge. She went, Yeah, but youre different. Shes like, Maybe there could be a scene where youre in a bar and she gets up on a table and starts shaking her booty. Shes basically reeling off these stereotypes of how to be more convincing as a Black character. Everything she said, I was like, Nah, I wouldnt do that. Shes like, Yeah, but youre different. Youre different. That was Amy Pascal. Thats not really a surprise, is it? Lets face it: I didnt do the movie as a result.

What was the movie?Charlies Angels. It was a big deal for me. Vogue had called to ask us to be on the cover, the three of us. But I just couldnt do it. I felt scared. Did I feel scared? Thats not true. Look, no one was ever going to sexually abuse me again. But I didnt want to be put in a position where I was objectified. That just didnt feel good. This is a long time ago anyway, and all those girls are brilliant. But if that was me now, Id want to disrupt rather than run away. I think thats probably the change in me.

Thats not the only thing that happened. Theres the disgusting thing that happened with the casting couch. Just this grossness. Ive got my little black book, which will be published on my deathbed.

Of names?Oh, of everything. Got to leave something behind, love. Im not doing it when Im alive. I dont want to deal with all the fallout and everyone getting their side of the story. There is no side of the story when youre sexually abused. You give that up.

Im also a Black girl, and I absolutely [felt like I was] being passed around. Being Black is important. Because certainly at the beginning of my career, when it was just, like, me and Halle Berry in our age group going up for every role: Oh, this is novel. This is a little quick flash in the pan. Well let you come in for a minute.

Its interesting how you two were positioned by the industry.Shes so cool, man. Im sure she has all her own things. Were very different. Quite interesting that we both have one white parent. Id like to just look at that. All these Black people in the public eye who are Black, and you dont think about their white parents. Like on my Instagram, its always my mum. I dont put my dad up much, and thats because I want Black people to feel they can trust me and feel safe with me that Im not a representative of this Establishment that degrades people of color. All my fucking career, I felt like, to Black people, Im not a legitimate Black person.

What I am evidence of is: You can dismiss a Black person. If youre a young Black girl and you get raped, in the film business, no ones going to fucking care. You can tell whoever the fuck you want, and theyll call it an affair. Until people start taking this seriously, I cant fully heal. There are so many problems to feeling disenfranchised. But I keep finding myself alone. There is now an appetite for listening to women, but theres women and then, right at the bottom of the pile, is women of color. So careful what you do, everybody, because you might find yourself fucking over a little brown girl at the beginning of a career, when no one knows who she is and no one gives a fuck. She might turn out to be Thandie Newton winning Emmys.

How do you feel about the movie Flirting? People sometimes bring up how its an underrated gem.I think its lovely. Its beautiful.

Is it complicated for you at all?I havent watched it again. I dont really want to talk about it. It doesnt make me feel good to think about it, really. Just in that moment, my stomach went a bit weird. Because of my loyalty to the film, to the people in it, to my performance in it, it feels a little bit like I approve of what happened to me during it, and its simply not true. It would be so much easier if the film was shit. Im good, though. What a shame I wasnt a shit actress. But it had Nicole [Kidman] in it as well and Naomi Watts.

There are definitely movies I regret, particularly the films I continued to do with the director I first worked with. Because I never really wanted to do any of them. He would bully me into them. He would shame me into doing them. I was in my early 20s, but when I read The Journey of August King all respect to John Ehle, who wrote it, all respect to everyone who got involved I remember saying to him, I just feel like its very simplistic. He criticized me for having an opinion. And I immediately felt like a little girl. Because, you know, when youre abused, its mental abuse as well. And we werent even together at the time Id finally managed to leave, and I still wasnt on the other side of judgment. I just thought I was fucked up; I didnt think that hed fucked me up. And thats not to say I did my best. I tried to do well. I wanted to give that character as much intelligence, humanity. Oh, and then I did another movie that his sister wrote. Oh!

Wait, what was that?Its called The Leading Man. Well, it gave me a down payment on my first flat. First ever. But that was fucking gross. And then there was one particular time where I mean, this is what Im talking about, where he lied about what parts of my body were being seen in the shot.

That was him?Yeah. And, like, this was supposed to be someone that loved you. And not just that, personally, as in a relationship, but also youve helped make his career. Hed be nowhere without me. For a number of years, there was a grain of hope that that person would atone, become someone on International Womens Day whos out there campaigning for women. Like, of course, you hope people will change, right?

So what changed? How were you able to say no and break free?Oh, by literally extricating myself physically and mentally from that individual. But I realize its not just an individual; its a system. Thats why I dont particularly like talking about the individual, because it makes that person more special. Its a whole fucking system of abuse, exploitation. Thats why watching [Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich], I couldnt even get through the first episode. I was just so undone by that. Just in terms of grooming, thats the closest to what I experienced. And its like, Oh my God, its so textbook.

Im curious about some other early roles, like Jefferson in Paris. How do you think about that now with the years gone by?I love James Ivory. He has his quirks, but I really enjoyed his kind of old-school gentleman director. I would definitely approach that film in a completely different way now. I would push for the film to be more about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. And I think that had the DNA tests been done before the movie, they would have definitely wanted to make it more about that. But it would have turned out to be a horror film, because you cant not have scenes of the two of them sexually, because obviously, lets face it, thats the main reason for that relationship. It wasnt like he was marrying her or even making his children free. His children would wait on tables and people would be like, Whoa, that looks like Thomas Jefferson. So I would want to try and focus on that if I were me now in that 21-year-old body and mind. Whereas when we made the movie, the DNA stuff was still controversial. Do you know that Sally Hemings was Jeffersons wifes half-sister?

Yes. Her dad was Jeffersons father-in-law. She wouldve looked a bit like his dead wife. Her children were his father-in-laws grandchildren, right? Or his nieces and nephews? Theyre all fucking related. I mean, she was his slave. It was rape.

It was my first big film. I dont want to name names and put words in peoples mouths, but any number of African-Americans take a shot at me for that one. Do it. Im here.

You mean they have or they should?Well, I dont think its paranoia. Spike Lee and I had a little moment. Were always respectful when we see each other. But he wasnt exactly knocking on my door asking me to work with him. I cant put words in his mouth of what he thought of it.

I know the nature of this business has had me play roles that Im embarrassed I played. Its had me misrepresent African-Americans. Because I didnt know. I have not been of great service in my career. I guess its been of service in one respect, because theres a person of color in a movie, but that can do more harm than good lets face it. Anyway, sorry. God, wow. Ive never cried in an interview before.

Im trying to understand the box that people put you in in those early years, and if you felt that colorism was a part of that.Oh, yeah. Crikey. I mean, I was perceived in so many different ways, and it was always about the individual who was perceiving. It was very much on the spectrum of Is she Black enough, or is she too Black? And the number of times I would put on a fake tan or take it down or up

When would you do that?Like the Sally Hemings story, with that movie, she had to be super-pale. With Beloved, they wanted me to be a lot darker. Jonathan Demme directed it. If he had been an African-American guy, would he have Oprah, I think she was concerned about me being light-skinned.

Did you ever talk to Oprah about it?No. When we were making the movie, we were all, Woo! We were in. I was Beloved to all of them. They deeply appreciated how far I went. Once I started croaking like a demon and made scenes that we were doing And Jonathan was extraordinary, how he created the context for your work. Nothing like it. No rehearsal. You came ready and open.

I remember another time it came up really strongly. I did this movie, Half of a Yellow Sun,which is one of my favorite characters Ive played. That, Beloved, and Maeve in the first season of Westworld. Half of a Yellow Sun is based on the book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a stunning book. I was talking to Chimamanda about it because, again, Im on the paler side. I think there had been mutterings online when they found out I was being considered: Oh, shes so light-skinned. Chimamanda and I became friends very easily. Shes from Lagos, Nigeria, and she showed me a picture of her family. Her siblings ranged from pale like me to darker than Chimamanda. She just said, when she realized and looked to her own family, Why cant Olanna be me, be this color?

Nowadays, there is regret for me. I recognize how painful it is for dark-skinned women, particularly, to have to deal with being substituted or overlooked. For example, you watch Queen & Slim. I look at Jodie [Turner-Smith]. Or, you look at Lupita [Nyongo]. To see a woman of color, to see that dark skin, that beautiful chocolate skin, my mothers skin, onscreen Its holy. I do see so clearly why theres been so much deep disappointment.

Did the reaction to Beloved disappoint you? It was supposed to be such a major movie, an Oscar contender.We were on the floor. I was like, Oh God, Im so depressed. It had had some good reviews, but it hadnt done well at the box office. And Jonathan was like, Shame on you for not witnessing all the people for whom this movie meant so much. Thats so Jonathan. And Oprah took to her bed and just ate mac and cheese. It was hard because we put everything into that movie. Id love to see it again. Jonathan was fortunate in that he was working in a time when budgets went into the art. There were no actors there being paid extortionate figures. It all ended up on-camera.

Ill never forget Oprah saying to me She was the cover of Vogue. And apparently, she said, they had 20 meetings to decide whether she should be on the cover. Twenty. I was like, Thats disgusting. What is the issue? And Oprah, her response was, Thandie, these things take time.

To switch gears slightly, I wanted to talk about Crash.Crash. Thats got a chapter in my black book, Im afraid, babe.

How the sexual-assault scene got shot sounded dodgy, to say the least, and it was not clear to me what happened. I wanted to ask you what happened.I wouldnt say it was dodgy. It was certainly not from Paul Haggiss point of view. Everything that he did was right on. The irony is that in the script, it wasnt specific what his hand was doing inside her skirt. It was just, His hand goes up her skirt, and thats it. And then in the later scene, when shes screaming at her husband, she says, You just let him finger-fuck your wife. I thought she was being ironic. I thought she was saying the worst thing she could imagine because she was trying to make a point to her husband. Because frankly, if Id been finger-fucked by a cop, I wouldnt even be able to talk. But wed shot the argument scene already. So weeks later, we came to shoot the scene, the last scene for me, the scene with the cop. At the beginning of that night, oh God, Paul Haggis got me and Matt [Dillon] together, and in front of Matt, he said to me, Are you wearing protective underwear? And theyre both like looking at their feet. Im like, I mean, Im just wearing under yeah. Why? Because I really want this to be as real as, you know I really want to go there. Im like, What do you mean? Because I just want Matt to feel like he can And I realized what he was saying. I wasnt even thinking about the [earlier] scene that Id said finger-fuck. It wasnt until I saw the fucking movie, Im like, Oh, fucking hell!

I went into the makeup trailer and burst into tears. I was really worried, and I was upset. Not that I had to do the scene, but I was upset that I had no idea that thats what we were going to be conveying in the movie. Because as far as I was concerned, to insinuate that a cop would hand-rape a woman in the streets, and in a racially charged way, too, I felt this fear that I didnt want to be part of putting that out in the world, because I thought it couldnt possibly be true. Here I am now working with Kimberl Crenshaw for the African American Policy Forum, her amazing Say Her Name, which is basically a whole campaign trying to raise awareness of the fact that, yes, Black men are being killed by the police and its horrific, but the numbers of Black women who are sexually abused by the police, it is actually a phenomenon. There are so many cases, but you dont hear about them. But thats how much Ive grown. You could say that Paul Haggis knew a thing or two more than I did.

The movie has been very polarizing since its release. I dont know if youve read Ta-Nehisi Coatess piece about it. He really hated the movie.Maybe thats why he doesnt respond to me on Twitter. Im not kidding.

He called it the worst movie of the decade.I assumed because its Ta-Nehisi Coates that [his piece] would be pithy and interesting, but it was pretty ineffectual. It felt, to me, like the movie wasnt that bad really, because if it had been he would have taken more time and effort to defang the movie. I think hes an extraordinary thinker and writer, and Ive been deeply comforted and changed by his work. I dont take things personally if someone doesnt like the work Ive done. I blame the movie. The movie made him write a shitty piece.

One of the main criticisms of the film has been that it gives Matt Dillons character this redemption arc just because he saved you from a burning car.Yeah. Thats something even at the time I didnt buy into. There was a moment I remember, being taken away from the car, and I had to turn around and look at him. I had a sense that that look was supposed to be a look of connection, like, You saved me, but for me, the look to him was, Oh, okay. It turns out I got saved by the worst person in the world. Like, My trauma does not end here. Thats for sure. I didnt feel that it was redemptive. Certainly, not from my characters point of view. Its complicated.

Part of why its complicated to me is that, not to gas you up too much, but you are really good in the movie.Im quite good.

You are.Yeah. Weird.

It is weird because I think the movie does have this very deep white liberalism its trying to protect. Your character gets kind of swept up in that narrative, which is, to me, Matt Dillons redemption narrative.I completely agree with you. Even with Ludacris and Larenz Tate, when theyre annoyed about being treated as stereotypes, but then it turns out that they are carjackers. I feel like that was just for one joke. It was literally for that one joke, which is like, Ooh! Wow! Youre going to put that label on these guys for one joke?

The movie was clever and witty, but it basically stopped the judgment. It neutralized the very real rage that African-American people feel.

Post-Crash, I feel like you should have been in prestige vehicles. What happened after, in that period up until Westworld?Ive had a number of breakdowns, I guess. I remember going to the audition for the new Bond movie, the first one with Daniel Craig. Id just done Crash, and yes, I was really hot, and it was my moment. And I remember going into that audition, and I was so thin and so messed up. It doesnt have as much to do with the business as you might think. It was stuff going on in my life that was way more important and difficult than whether I was going to work. Its interesting to think of what I did do at that time.

Is that how Norbit happened?Norbit was in that time, yeah. The only movie my kids have seen that Im in.

No! Really?Yeah. Isnt that terrible? Oh my God. Eddie Murphy. They made me jump through hoops for it, too. Can you really be funny? People love Norbit, though.

Do you?I havent seen it for a very, very long time. I mean, its so offensive that its not offensive, I guess? Because I remember when we first did it, the background to Eddie writing the script was that he found himself watching these online home movies where really large women, African-American women, would beat up their tiny husbands. There was just this spate of stuff online. Eddie found them hilarious. Thats what the movie was born out of. When I went to talk about the project, the first draft I read was way darker. It was about this woman fucking abusing this guy. I think it was always supposed to be a comedy, but you can imagine how twisted that would be. Thats why I wanted to do it. And then it just got very I dont know how to describe it Its like it turned into a kind of Baskin-Robbins commercial. Eddie was hardly ever there, which was really sad. He has the best stand-ins youve ever seen. Literally, from five feet away, you would think they were Eddie. I think I probably did most of the movie with his stand-ins.

What was one of the first decisions you felt you made where you were in control?Oh, thats such a lovely question. Oh, lets try and think of a good one. I was doing a show and I feel sad saying this because I really loved the writer it was going to be something for British TV, and then it didnt happen, and then it got picked up in America, and we were so excited about it, but then a producer and showrunner was just sexist. I refused to do a scene where Id have to take my top off. I just thought, Its not that kind of sex scene. It was the first sex scene in the whole series. I was the lead in this new TV show.

Rogue?Yeah. And I didnt want to do it. It didnt make sense for the story with the two characters playing husband and wife who are kind of estranged. I was like, It just doesnt make any sense to take it off. He goes, Listen, kid. Thandie Newton. Top off. Ratings. And I laughed. I was actually really grateful for the honesty. And Im like, Well, listen. Then definitely fucking not. But he still got the other actor to pull my top down in the scene. And thats whats there.

Thats really fucked up.And then we were shooting in Canada. I guess its hard getting extras, people of color. And it was supposed to be set in Oakland, and Im continually saying, Weve got to populate this cast with more people of color. It doesnt make any sense. You cant get more fucking African-American than Oakland. He said, But we cast you. So we took care of that. This is the producer. That was in the second season. I thought, I cant do this. I just cant. We had this sort of sexist, casually racist idiot, you know? I had an agreement at the beginning of the second season because I was pregnant with my last baby. I was going to be in my third trimester when I made the show. And I said, Look, if you want me to do another season, I want to be released from my long-term, six-year contract if I come back. He refused to put it in writing but agreed.

And you know what happened. They got picked up for season three, and I said, I want to go, and then, of course, theyre like, You cant. He had a gentlemans agreement with my agent, and it was all very respectful, apparently. And I went through fucking hell because he hadnt told my dear friend, who was the writer of the show. So I ended up losing his friendship too, because he assumed I was just going, I dont want to do it. Obviously, I did get out of it. I just had to do a few episodes, which wasnt easy. Everyone hated me for leaving, but no one knew of the agreement a year before. It was extremely painful. I actually thought I might retire then, because I had my baby and my husbands career was doing great.

Then Westworld was sent to me. And if it hadnt been for Rogue, I wouldnt have wanted Westworld so much. But Ill tell you, this was so hideous. On the last days of doing Rogue I got killed miserably. I get dumped in a laundry container by this nasty guy, whos a great actor. I get taken down to the bowels of the hotel, where we had this huge fight where he strangled me to death, and then I get dumped in this garbage-disposal tank, and the last shot of me is sinking down into garbage, like into sewage, babe. But listen to this: On the side of the garbage-disposal tanks, it says WESTWORLD GARBAGE DISPOSAL. They all knew I was going to go on to do Westworld because Id already signed up to do it.

Thats so petty.Isnt it? I ended up in the fetal position, weeping, sobbing.I had put two years of hard work into that show. And there I was: Westworld Garbage Disposal.

Newton in Westworld. Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Im curious if you could talk about one mistake you made that you felt like later prompted growth.Its very difficult as an actor to know. You have so little to go on. You have the script and you have the director. Theres a lot of the other way around, where I did something and then it ended up not doing what Id hoped it would do. Doing something with all the best intentions and then feeling frustrated. I felt a bit like that with W., I must say. I really thought Oliver Stone was going to stick it to the administration.

But you felt like the film didnt?Yeah, very much so. We were making it, he was like, Were going to have this post-credit sequence. They are all going to be in cages in the Hague.

Okay. A mistake that ended up being a good thing.

Or one that made you think.I did a movie with Bertolucci [Besieged, 1998]. What a privilege. Hes a filmmaker.

I was trying to watch it. I couldnt find it.No shit. Its kind of beautiful. But that was supposed to be a one-hour movie made for television, based on a short story. I wanted to work with Bertolucci. And it was really great. Went to Rome for eight weeks. Shes an African student in Rome, a medical student, very bright. And there were a couple of dream sequences where shes in Africa, and there were a lot of problems wherever she was from. We went to Kenya to shoot for a week briefly for the dream sequences.

Anyway, when it came to editing and showing, he showed a few people, and it became clear that this movie was going to be more than a TV movie. It ended up being a feature, going to festivals, highly praised. Which youd think is a good thing. And I was proud, obviously. So he used all the footage from Africa, and [the film] ended up being an hour and a half. The footage from Africa was a big old chunk. But they never specified where in Africa it was. It was a generic African country in a state of serious unrest. And I remember being on a panel in Cannes with Bernardo and the producers. A journalist said, Isnt it offensive that youve painted such a broad stroke across the whole of Africa by making this generic African state? I remember saying, If thats what you perceive, it says more about you than it does about the movie. I was just defending the movie because I was so horrified that it could be perceived that way. But the truth was I actually agreed with the journalist. You can see how it happened because it was supposed to be a one-hour movie and it was supposed to be a little poem. But its not good enough. Certainly not now. And not then either. The casual ignorance of that is damaging.

I did want to know what you thought about Paul Haggis specifically.So I heard about Paul and the whats happened so far?

I think its stuck in the legal system, but multiple women stepped forward about rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Did that surprise you?Nothing surprises me, Alex. It really doesnt. If someones a colleague, you dont want to massively think about what theyre like as a partner. I dont know. It certainly wasnt apparent to me. He wasnt saying that my jeans are going to be so tight that it would look like tarmac on the road. I told you that with Paul, he was concerned that I was going to feel comfortable in that scene. I didnt feel anything predatory about him. Heres the other thing: I was only on the movie for a few days. So the time Ive spent with Paul has not been so much, but obviously we did the press thing together. I certainly didnt know him well. I was aware of his being a Scientologist, which was surprising to me. Just any person whos really smart, I find it strange. Ive worked with Tom Cruise, and he was very generous and open about sharing Scientological stuff. Christmas gifts would be something to do with Scientology.

Like what?Like a book with the greatest hits of Scientology, a bit like a Bible kind of thing. I was curious, because its like, Wow, if its going to attract people, powerful, high-profile people, theres got to be some glue that sticks this shit together. Didnt find any.

What was your experience like on Mission: Impossible 2? And why didnt you do another one?Oh, I was never asked. I was so scared of Tom. He was a very dominant individual. He tries superhard to be a nice person. But the pressure. He takes on a lot. And I think he has this sense that only he can do everything as best as it can be done. There was one time, we were doing this night scene, there were so many extras with pyrotechnics and you name it, and it was a scene with him and me on the balcony. And I dont think it was a very well-written scene. I get angry with him. Were frustrated with each other. And were looking out over Spain. It wasnt going well. And John Woo, bless him, wasnt there. He was downstairs looking at everything on a monitor. And John had made a decision at the beginning of the movie, unbeknownst certainly to me, that he didnt speak English. Which I think was very helpful to him, but it was extremely unhelpful to the rest of us. So this scene was happening, and Tom was not happy with what I was doing because I had the shittiest lines.

And he gets so frustrated with having to try and explain that he goes, Let me just lets just go do it. Lets just rehearse on-camera. So we rehearsed and they recorded it, and then he goes, Ill be you. You be me. So we filmed the entire scene with me being him because, believe me, I knew the lines by then and him playing me. And it was the most unhelpful I cant think of anything less revealing. It just pushed me further into a place of terror and insecurity. It was a real shame. And bless him. And I really do mean bless him, because he was trying his damnedest.

I remember at the beginning of the night, seeing this slight red mark on his nose, and by the end of the night, I kid you not this is how his metabolism is so fierce he had a big whitehead where that red dot was. It would take anyone else 48 hours to manifest a zit. I saw it growing, and it was like the zit was me, just getting bigger and bigger. I remember calling Jonathan Demme. I described the night to him: A nightmare. As I was describing it, it was clear that I thought I was the big fucking problem. And Jonathan was like, Thandie, shame on you for not backing yourself. He was really sweet. And then Tom called and I thought, Oh, this is it. The apology. No, he was just like, Were going to reshoot this next week. Im like, Way brilliant. And the next time we shot it, I went in there and I just basically manifested all the because I realized what he wanted. He just wanted this alpha bitch. And I did as best as I could. Its not the best way to get the best work out of someone.

He wasnt horrible. It was just he was really stressed. I had the most extraordinary time, and you know who got me that role? Nicole Kidman. Ive never actually outright asked her, but when your husband is like, Who would you mind me pretending to shag for the next six months? You know what I mean? Its kind of nice if you can pick together. Nicole was a huge advocate for me.

It sounds like a difficult experience, but I have to say its very funny.That was more just surreal than anything. Look, creative stuff is difficult. I was so tender and sensitive. And, also, if you think about the timeline of that, it was still early in my healing, in my recovery. Id had good therapy. Id realized that I was precious. If it was me now, I would want to go in and go, Hey! Id be it. You wouldnt need to play me and I play you on that balcony. And I would have squeezed that spot. Bam!

The one story you shouldn't miss today, selected byNew York's editors.

*A version of this article appears in the July 6, 2020, issue ofNew York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Newton auditioned for what would be her debut role after a back injury derailed her plans for a career in dance. She was 16 when she landed the female romantic lead in John Duigans Flirting (1991) alongside Noah Taylor, Nicole Kidman, and Naomi Watts. Eve Ensler, also known as V, is an award-winning playwright, performer, and activist best known for The Vagina Monologues, which premiered in 1996. In 2006, the New York Times dubbed it probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade. Newton has publicly spoken about the sexual abuse and exploitation she suffered as a young actress for years. Newton was 16 when Duigan who was 39 at the time began grooming her on the set of Flirting. I was a very shy, very sweet girl. I wasnt in control of the situation, she told InStyle in 2011. A 2006 piece in the Daily Mail called the relationship a passionate affair and quoted an anonymous source saying they had very good times together. In a statement, Pascal said she was horrified to hear Newtons description of their meeting. While I take her words seriously, I have no recollection of the events she describes, nor do any of her representatives who were present at that casting session, she said, adding, Ive long considered Thandie a friend; Im thankful that Ive had the chance to make movies with her; and I hope to work with her again in the future. In 2015, Pascal, the former head of Sony Pictures, was fired after the Sony email hack revealed numerous embarrassing emails, including exchanges with fellow mega-producer Scott Rudin where they speculated on Barack Obamas movie taste, wondering if he preferred those starring Black people, likeDjango UnchainedandThink Like a Man. Starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu (who went on to play the role Newton turned down), Charlies Angels (2000) is an action comedy directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol, also known as McG, and a reboot of the hit TV series that first aired in the 70s. When she was 18, an unnamed casting director asked her to do sexually inappropriate things. A director, on a callback, had a camera shooting up my skirt and asked me to touch my tits and think about the guy making love to me in the scene, she told W magazine in an interview. Years later, a drunk producer told her that the director had been showing that audition tape to his friends and that they would all get off on it. Following Flirting (1991), Duigan directed Newton inThe Journey of August King (1995) and The Leading Man (1996). In 2016, Newton told the Guardian of a then-unnamed director who promised to frame a shot above her breasts, something that turned out to be a total fucking lie, said Newton. In 1998, a DNA test published in the scientific journal Nature found strong evidence that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child with Sally Hemings, a woman who was his slave. Based on the novel of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun, the 2013 film tells the story of the Biafran war through the lens of two sisters who return home to Nigeria in the late 60s as civil war breaks out. Oprah Winfrey became one of the first Black celebrities to grace the cover of American Vogue in October 1998. She lost 20 pounds after Anna Wintour suggested that she lose a little bit of weight before the shoot. Haggiss 2004 film, Crash, contains a controversial scene in which a racist police officer played by Matt Dillon sexually assaults Newtons character. Newton voiced her confusion about the scene in interviews. Scholar, lawyer, and civil rights advocate Kimberl Crenshaw is the co-founder and leader of theAfrican American Policy Forum, an intersectional think tank addressing gender and race. The forum coined the hashtags #SayHerName and #BlackGirlsMattter, which have brought attention to state violence against women of color. Newton played Condoleezza Rice to Josh Brolins George W. Bush in W., Oliver Stones dark and comic biopic about the former president. The films release came on the cusp of that years presidential election. In 2018, following a lawsuit filed by a publicist who said Haggis had raped her, the Associated Press reported that three more women came forward with sexual-misconduct allegations including another allegation of rape. He has denied the allegations and has been contesting the lawsuit.

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In Conversation: Thandie Newton - Vulture

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