English actress Thandie Newton gets real about her difficult time with Tom Cruise, pressing on despite the adversity she faces as a Black woman, the privilege she recognizes as a biracial Black woman and turning down a role in the new “Charlie’s Angels” after a racist meeting with #Amy Pascal.
Newton is an acting legend. She’s graced our screens in iconic masterpieces like “For Colored Girls,” “Westworld,” “Norbit,” and more. In the midst of her decades-long career, she highlights that you must be wary of the talent you may not know is around you. “So careful what you do, everybody,” says the actress in a new Vulture interview. “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 f*ck. She might turn out to be Thandie Newton.”
The 47-year-old has just scratched the surface as one of the most talented actresses of our time. While she’s the woman everyone wants to cast, she says at first she “had no sense” of herself. “One of the reasons why is because I was not considered anything. There was a lot that people could have been interested in me when I was young. They didn’t want to express it, because they didn’t want to praise the Black girl,” said Newton. The actress recalled a time when a dance school teacher intentionally ignored her talents.
“I didn’t even think about it. Because, look, this all instilled in me a work ethic and perfectionism. It’s not pride in my work or pride in the perfectionism. It’s If I don’t do this, no one’s 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 didn’t get the prize, and my mom had obviously realized I wasn’t going to get it. We didn’t 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,” said Newton.
Newton says that for some time, she struggled with anorexia and had complicated sexual relationships. “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. It’s 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,” said Newton. She added that she despised her relationship with director #JohnDuigan, who sexually abused her as a teen, as an “affair.”
“Yes. For years. I would talk about it a lot in the press, as you know. I think it’s because I was traumatized. If someone brought it up — and of course they’re going to bring it up in a fucking interview, man — if they spoke about it in a way that’s not sympathetic or they called it an affair, it was insult to injury. It’s like re-abuse. I think the reason I talked about it a lot, too, is I’m trying to find someone who understands. I’m looking for help. It’s so fucking obvious to me. What is the point if we don’t expose what needs to be exposed?” said the actress.
Her abuse wasn’t only from men, but also from white women – Amy Pascal, specifically. “One of the biggest movies I didn’t end up doing was because the director said to me, ‘I can’t wait for this. The first shot is going to be … You’re going to think it’s like yellow lines down a road, and you pull back, and you realize it’s the stitching because the denim is so tight on your ass it’s going to look like tarmac.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t think we’re going to go down this road together,'” said Newton.
“Then the head of the studio — I had a meeting with her, and she said, ‘Look, I don’t mean to be politically incorrect, but the character as written and you playing the role, I just feel like we’ve got to make sure that it’s believable.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? What changes would you have to make?’ She’s like, ‘Well, you know, the character, as written, she’s been to university and is educated.’ I’m like, ‘I’ve been to university. I went to Cambridge.’ She went, ‘Yeah, but you’re different.’ She’s like, ‘Maybe there could be a scene where you’re in a bar, and she gets up on a table and starts shaking her booty.’ She’s basically reeling off these stereotypes of how to be more convincing as a Black character. Everything she said, I was like, ‘Nah, I wouldn’t do that.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, but you’re different. You’re different.’ That was Amy Pascal. That’s not really a surprise, is it? Let’s face it: I didn’t do the movie as a result,” said Newton. That movie was “Charlie’s Angels.”
Newton went on to say that she sometimes felt outcasted from the Black community due to her being biracial. “All these Black people in the public eye who are Black, and you don’t think about their white parents. Like on my Instagram, it’s always my mum. I don’t put my dad up much, and that’s because I want Black people to feel they can trust me and feel safe with me — that I’m not a representative of this Establishment that degrades people of color. All my fucking career, I felt like, to Black people, I’m not a legitimate Black person.”
She added that she recognizes her privilege as a biracial, light-complected Black woman.” 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 I’ve 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, I’m on the paler side. I think there had been mutterings online when they found out I was being considered: ‘Oh, she’s so light-skinned.’ Chimamanda and I became friends very easily. She’s 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 can’t Olanna be me, be this color?'”
She continued: “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 [Nyong’ o]. To see a woman of color, to see that dark skin, that beautiful chocolate skin, my mother’s skin, onscreen … It’s holy. I do see so clearly why there’s been so much deep disappointment.”
To read Newton’s full interview, visit vulture.com.