One of the industry’s best-kept secrets, Ruth Negga, is poised for breakout success almost a decade after making her film debut. With high-profile roles in both Loving and the TV show, Preacher, Negga is poised to become an overnight success . . . 13 years later.
Several years, while watching late night television, I initially discovered the talents of Negga, opposite Samuel L. Jackson in The Samaritan. The film was a wonderful showcase for this actress, frail in size, but powerful in spirit and vulnerability. The appearance was noteworthy because it would mark the beginning of an interesting journey following the career of performer few are familiar with in this country.
In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Negga spoke about her lack of presence in Hollywood. “I have not been aggressive in my pursuit of being a star. I’ve never had a plan. Maybe I need to be more aggressive because it’s quite tough!” The 34-year old Ethiopian-Irish actress made her debut in 2004 in the British film, Capital Letters (also released as Trafficked in some countries) and continued to work on the other side of the pond for the next several years.
Negga’s first exposure to the American audiences opposite Jackson in The Samaritan put her on Hollywood’s radar. Since 2012, Negga has garnered small roles in notable films, such as World War Z, 12 Years A Slave, Jimi: All is By My Side and Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind.
She has struggled with the challenges that she presents as a dramatic actress, not necessarily interested in promoting her sexuality. Aware that she doesn’t fit into Hollywood’s current mold. “I don’t really know. I didn’t expect to be handed anything. I think you just know.”
One of the things that have been consistent for the intense performer is her choice of dramatic characters. “It’s what drew me to acting in the first place,” said Negga. “It can crystallize one story but speak for many. I’ve always thought that art can be a balm.”
She takes her responsibility and talent very seriously, always championing the voiceless. “History is written by the winners. My job as an artist is to speak up for those who might be perceived as the losers. Or those who can’t shout. No wonder public-school people always get into politics or acting: they’re taught to shout that much more loudly. That’s such a good skill. It just needs to be made available to everyone. There are a lot of heroes who don’t have loud voices.”
Negga is drawing considerable awards buzz for her performance in Loving, the historical drama about the couple whose interracial marriage was the subject of a Supreme Court ruling. “Mildred shied away from the spotlight completely, but she changed the course of American legal history. All she wanted to do was marry the man she loved. It took nine years. Can you imagine taking on the might of the American legal system? They were poor and fairly uneducated, but they just wanted to be with one another. They didn’t set out be activists.
The film debuted at the Berlin film festival earlier this year and was snapped up by Focus Features for a cool $9 million. Loving opens in theaters, November 4, which places it squarely in the awards hunt.
Despite all of the notoriety that she has received for Loving, she has been a constant presence on television in shows such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and her latest series. Originally written for a blond, white actress, the filmmakers cast Negga as Tulip O’Hare in AMC fantasy drama series Preacher, who brings a sexy intensity to the role.
“Definitely – I’m about to go off and play a character who was originally white and blonde and has really big boobs, and none of those things apply to me,” said Negga. “She’s sort of unforgettable. She has no morals. She’s an agitator assassin, a gun for hire, and she’s written the way male characters are usually written. Conscience is something she buries; obviously, she’s damaged. It’s really intriguing. I’d never read a part for a woman like that. They usually have a tender heart or a soft spot for some guy. Not Tulip. You read certain scenes in the script and think: are we allowed to do this? It’s great playing someone unsympathetic and not having to justify her actions.”
While we wait for her star turn in Loving and enjoy your work in Preacher, Negga also has a smaller role in the big budget film, Warcraft, portraying Lady Taria this June. While many may be under the impression that Negga is an “overnight success,” she is still ascending!