The director of Love & Basketball is back with a new romance! Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest drama, Beyond the Lights, hits theaters today, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as an up-and-coming R&B sensation who falls for her bodyguard (Nate Parker) while struggling with the her newfound fame. To make sure that they were well-prepared for their roles, Prince-Bythewood sent Mbatha-Raw and Parker out for a quiet lunch in Los Angeles—or so they thought.
The stars soon learned that there was more than a quick bite in store for them. “Gina set us up with this improv where we actually went on a lunch date while we were in character,” Mbatha-Raw said when she and Parker chatted with InStyle at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I was an off-duty cop, and Gugu was a pop star, and we found this place in the valley that was super obscure,” Parker added. “But then all of the sudden, fifty paparazzi showed up.”
Parker quickly sprung into action. “It was fight or flight, and I had to shield her,” he said of guarding Mbatha-Raw from photographers as they hurled insults her way. “We were making people think I was going one way and she was going another way—there was all this strategy.” While the experience was a fun bonding exercise for the co-stars, it also better prepped Parker for his role. “I really got a feeling of what it must be like to be in a relationship with a pop star, and what they go through on a daily basis,” he said.
Mbatha-Raw was equally appreciative of the unexpected rehearsal. “Having time to exist in these roles without the dialogue gave us so much,” she said. And the restaurant’s unsuspecting patrons—who Parker confirmed weren’t in on the joke—got to witness the believable performance. “We played out the whole thing in character, and people in the restaurant were like, ‘Who is that girl?’” said Mbatha-Raw. “It went on for like two hours—it was amazing.”
Check out the below trailer for the film, in theaters today!