This feature originally appeared in the May issue of InStyle. For more features like this, subscribe to the magazine now. And be sure to catch Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle, in theaters today.
Not many actresses we know play the sax. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (first name pronounced "goo-goo") is the exception. "Growing up, I performed with a youth band," says the Brit, who this month stars in Belle, a period drama that tackles love and racial politics in 18th-century England. "I haven't picked up the sax in an embarrassingly long time." We get it. She's busy. Still, we're happy to, ahem, toot her horn. Here's why:
She has a sense for scents . Though she's loath to be seen as "actor kooky," Mbatha-Raw employs aromatherapy to get into a character's head. "Different fragrances promote different emotions and I find that fragrance gets me in the frame of mind for that person," she says of picking a perfume for each role she plays. For Belle the actress chose Elizabethan Rose by Penhaligon because "Belle was classic, just like the flower," but for her current project Blackbird, she wore Dead Sexy by Tokyo Milk. "It was very overt and much more musky."
She's got a yen for yoga. As for off-duty rituals, Mbatha-Raw is a die-hard downward-facing dog fan, taking her yoga mat wherever she goes. "It keeps me grounded and energized."
She can play the goddess . For her next movie, Gina Prince-Bythewood's Blackbird, a love story in which she plays a rising pop star, Mbatha-Raw wore "the highest shoes you've ever seen," as well as purple hair extensions. "These props reflect what has become goddess-like in our culture," she says, waxing philosophic. "Corsets were a challenge in Belle; fake nails tripped me up in Blackbird," she says. "Guess I'm not a mani type of girl!"
For more, turn to page 352 of InStyle's May issue, now available on newsstands and for digital download, and check out Gugu Mbatha-Raw's fashion feature where she rocks this season's modern monochrome looks in our gallery!