Ruth Negga will soon become a household name. The 34-year-old actress has plenty of credits under her belt (including a starring role on AMC’s Preacher), but it’s her breakout performance in Loving, opening today, that is earning her major Oscar buzz.
In the film, Negga and co-star Joel Edgerton play Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple living in civil rights-era Virginia. When the couple discover they’re pregnant, Richard proposes to Mildred. But in 1958, Virginia still had strict anti-miscegenation laws in place, so the pair drives to Washington, D.C., in order to marry. Authorities quickly discover the Lovings have violated Virginia law and arrest them. The arrest is the beginning of a years-long battle, eventually culminating in the ACLU taking on the Lovings’ case and bringing it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Negga’s nuanced portrayal of Mildred is often what propels the film, as the story slowly builds on the Lovings’ relationship, their growing family, and their struggle to live a normal, quiet life while at the center of one of the most important cases of the time.
“As a black person, I’ve always been interested in racial history, especially in America,” Negga told InStyle at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It was quite shocking to me that a couple who had such a huge impact on American legal history wasn’t at the front of our consciousness.”
The opportunity to bring the Lovings’ story to light, along with Mildred’s bravery and determination, was part of what drew Negga to the role. “I just thought, what an incredible story and what an incredible woman. Our film shows her going from sort of a young, naive, sweet girl, to a girl who’s still lovely and sweet, but finds her strength. And I think as a woman of color at that time, it’s really quite extraordinary.”
Negga calls Mildred one of her “heroes” and hopes that viewers will feel the same way after seeing the film.
“The discussion about strong female characters is becoming a bit more intelligent now. It’s not just necessarily a certain type. There’s many different forms of strength and I think that on the surface Mildred wouldn’t strike you as your typical strong lady but she had a very quiet tenacity.”
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Negga brings that quiet tenacity to life on screen, and it plays perfectly with Edgerton’s equally subtle portrayal of Richard Loving, which is also garnering acclaim.
“Joel is one of the most supportive actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s just such a good energy on set. I think that he brings a kindness and a joy,” Negga said of working with Edgerton.
Loving opens in theaters today, Nov. 4 and expands on Nov. 11. Watch the trailer above.