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Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Interview Magazine

06 August 2020
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Since her breakthrough role in 2013’s Belle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw has made a career out of playing forward-thinking and boundary-breaking characters. As a mixed-race woman unwilling to conform to the aristocracy in 18th-century England, the British actress brought tenderness and toughness to the role, qualities she has carried through to other performances, such as the troubled pop star she played in 2014’s Beyond the Lights and the outgoing party girl Kelly in Black Mirror’s beloved episode “San Junipero.” In her latest role, as Vera in Jessica Swale’s Summerland, Mbatha-Raw takes on yet another period drama, exploring the limits of love and relationships during World War II. As she tells her friend and “San Junipero” co-star Mackenzie Davis, portraying well-rounded, multifaceted romantic characters—most of whom occupy spaces they weren’t created for them—is inherently radical, but also necessary. Below, the two actors discuss the lasting impact of their cinematic love story, traveling back in time to bring women forward, and the annoying task of explaining why they’re drawn to strong, political, rebellious parts.

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MACKENZIE DAVIS: Hi, how are you doing?

GUGU MBATHA-RAW: Oh my god! I’m good, how are you?

DAVIS: I’m good. Are you still in L.A.?

MBATHA-RAW: I’m still in L..A. Where are you?

DAVID: I’m in Canada.

MBATHA-RAW: I mean it’s such a strange time, isn’t it? I may see if I can pop home at some point, too. I just think being home in a pandemic, being in your home culture, is soul-nourishing. We’ll see, watch this space.

DAVIS: I had such a nice day yesterday. I did a Gugu double feature. I watched Summerland and followed it with Belle.

MBATHA-RAW: You’ve basically been in England for a whole day. You just went historically down the rabbit hole.

DAVIS: It was a nice historical and geographical spread of the English countryside and London in WWII.

MBATHA-RAW: Thank you, friend, for committing to that much screen time with me.

DAVIS: I kind of struggle to watch my friends work sometimes. If I know them, I don’t rush out to see their work. It’s nice to have a reason, because I love you and I admire you and the choices you make. Do you have that at all with other actors?

MBATHA-RAW: I love seeing things in the cinema. I’m not so good at watching whole TV shows. I usually just watch the finale. Like, “It’s great—I’ve got the gist.” If my friends are on long-running things, I’m not great at keeping up. I trust that they are doing amazing work.

DAVIS: I feel the same way. First of all, I hate it when someone interviews me—I bristle at the psychoanalysis that goes into finding patterns in my work. I don’t know why I do things. But I think it’s interesting that you, and there are always exceptions to this, but in a lot of your work you play these very modern women who feel out of their time. You work a lot in period dramas and you often occupy this space of moving the conversation forward, either explicitly through demanding the conversation to be moved forward, or just existing in a space at a time when people would like you to apologize for being queer or female, or Black in an all-white, all-male space. I want to hear you talk about why you think modern Gugu time travels to bring women forward. [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Soho House

06 July 2020
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Friends Gugu Mbatha-Raw MBE and Amma Asante MBE first worked together on the acclaimed and multi-award-winning, 2013 period drama film Belle, which Asante directed and Mbatha-Raw starred in as Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dubbed Britain’s ‘first Black aristocrat’, Belle was the mixed race, illegitimate daughter of a naval officer, Sir John Lindsay, and an enslaved African woman named Maria Bell. In 1772, Belle’s great-uncle, Lord Mansfield, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice, ruled that slavery had no precedent in common law in England. The film’s themes feel particularly pertinent in this politically charged climate, which saw a statue of 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, toppled in Bristol at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. 

Since then, Mbatha-Raw has forged a critically lauded career built on championing strong, Black female narratives. She starred in the first-ever $100m film to be helmed by an African-American woman, Ava DuVernay’s Wrinkle In Time in 2018. She also portrayed the first Black Miss World – Jennifer Hosten, ‘Miss Grenada’ – in Misbehaviour, and received much awards attention for the Apple TV+ hit, The Morning Show. Now, Mbatha-Raw is set to release World War II movie Summerland by Olivier Award-winning playwright, Jessica Swale, as well as the Marvel series Loki, alongside Tom Hiddleston.

Although other upcoming projects may have taken a hiatus due to COVID-19, Mbatha-Raw has been spending her enforced period of inactivity avidly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Via the Instagram-based venture, Still We Rise, she has been auctioning her own artworks of two African Americans who tragically lost their lives to police violence, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Proceeds go to charities that support social justice, including Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Movement for Black Lives and the Bail Project.

Ahead of the release of Summerland, the Black British powerhouses – Mbatha-Raw in LA and Asante in Denmark – caught up during the last few days of lockdown. Their frank and personal conversation encompasses protests, Britain’s past and, at this very necessary junction, their prescient hopes for the future.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: ‘When I saw the statue of Edward Colston being pulled down, I was thinking, “My gosh, if Belle was to come out now, would it be received in a different way?”’

Amma Asante: ‘I sincerely think it would be received in a way that it should have in the first place. The film was about love in so many ways, but it was actually also asking some very powerful questions about today. When I saw that statue being pulled down, I unfortunately couldn’t hide my excitement on social media. My delight was evident.’

GMR: ‘I don’t agree with the statues being glorified, obviously. But I also think that we can’t erase the past. I think you have to be able to know the scars of history to learn from it. If there hadn’t been a painting of Belle, then we wouldn’t have known about her.’

AA: ‘That was the evidence of who she was.’

GMR: ‘And we still need the evidence – we can’t erase all the negative, and then it just disappears and we forget what happened.’

AA: ‘I think we should put them where they belong, which is in museums. Once these relics are put in museums, then more nuanced conversations can occur. If you are Black, walking through your town centre and your four-year-old daughter says, “Who’s he? Why is he up there?”, how do you explain it?’

GMR: ‘There’s no context. I think that’s the thing about at least putting it in a museum.’

AA: ‘It’s so important to how we understand who we are. To own who we have been is the only way to truly be able to celebrate the things that are worth celebrating and change the things that weren’t. I hope that is where the conversations will land us.’ [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Harper Bazaar UK!

02 March 2020
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Opening the 1970 Miss World contest, the presenter Bob Hope was in a particularly ebullient mood. “I’m very, very happy to be here at this cattle market…” he leered to the tittering audience. “Moooooo!”

His enjoyment was short-lived; moments later, the clatter of a football rattle resounded around the Royal Albert Hall, and the stage was invaded by outraged women protestors, hurling flour and stink bombs. They forced the obnoxious Hope to flee from the set and disrupted the BBC’s broadcast in what has come to be seen as a watershed moment for feminism.

“I watched the whole ceremony and it’s shocking, particularly the bit where the women all have to turn round to show their bottoms…” says Gugu Mbatha-Raw, over lunch at a smart Marylebone restaurant. “It definitely makes you realise quite how far we’ve come.”

This particular Miss World contest is the subject of Gugu’s thought-provoking new drama, Misbehaviour. She takes the role of Jennifer Hosten, who, as Miss Grenada, became the first black woman to win the Miss World crown. “I came to [the part] with an air of judgement, of, oh, you know, beauty queens,” she admits, “but I’ve become more open-minded as to what that represents. I think it’s very easy now to look back and say, ‘Why would you do that? It’s so superficial.’ What’s interesting is that rebellion can often be a luxury.” For her research into the film, Gugu visited Grenada to talk to Hosten. “She’s in her seventies now, and she’s got such a regal presence, such posture, these bright, bright eyes – she’s very demure, quite proper but very centred.
“It was amazing to meet her and find out about a moment in her life all that time ago that really informed all her opportunities and choices. She felt like she was an ambassador for her country, and she was breaking boundaries in her own way.” Hosten went on to be appointed Grenada’s High Commissioner to Canada. Meanwhile, just a few days before we meet, the Miss World title is awarded to Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica, meaning that in 2019, for the first time ever, all major beauty titles have been won by black women. “Optics are so powerful: who gets to be celebrated?” says Gugu.

Distractingly beautiful herself, and appearing far younger than her 36 years, Gugu has an unselfconscious freshness that could not be further from a beauty queen’s manicured perfection. She has come to our lunch straight from a yoga class and arrives dressed down in a monochrome ensemble of jeans, a scarf and an embellished rollneck from Sézane. “This is as jazzy as I normally get,” she confesses. “My wardrobe is mostly black because I dress up for a living, and it makes me feel calm and neutral.

The waiter, who can clearly recognise star quality when he sees it, rushes up with a menu, and she studies it with frank delight, eventually settling on potato ravioli and sea-bass with champagne sauce, and diving for the bread basket. “Ooh! It’s warm!” she exclaims, then complains vociferously about the inadequate dinner served at a celebrity event we both attended recently.

In short, Gugu is one of those rare people to whom it is easy to warm immediately. Perhaps this attribute is why she doesn’t always shy away from less sympathetic roles; on the contrary, she appears to revel in them. “You can’t always be the goodie everyone’s rooting for,” she says, laughing. [More on Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Dujour

17 December 2019
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If it seems like you’re seeing Gugu Mbatha-Raw everywhere lately, it isn’t your imagination. This past fall, the actress was on the promotional trail for not just one but two acting projects, which, in the perfect confluence of events, were both released on the same day, November 1.

In Motherless Brooklyn, directed by Edward Norton, she plays Laura, an activist lawyer in 1950s New York City, in an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s detective novel. The film, which stars Norton, Alec Baldwin, and Willem Dafoe, was shot in Harlem and has a jazzy, noir sensibility that Mbatha-Raw was eager to sink her teeth into. “It’s a genre that is so cool and isn’t often done,” she says.

The actress related to the contemporary themes of the film and the strong role, which Norton added for her. “Laura is an activist in her community; she’s not your typical 1950s housewife or heroine,” she says. “She’s so layered and a real underdog.” You may remember the 36-year-old Royal Academy of Dramatic Art–trained English actress from the short-lived J.J. Abrams television series Undercovers and the British sci-fi series Black Mirror, but she broke into film five years ago in the period independent movie Belle and played a pop star in Beyond the Lights. And now she’s made the jump into the big leagues with these starring roles.

Her other project, Apple TV+’s first series, The Morning Show, has no shortage of huge stars, either, including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. It was Mbatha-Raw’s second time working with Witherspoon in a female-led project. (They briefly worked together in 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay.)

“It’s so special to work with Reese on this show,” Mbatha-Raw says. “I’m so impressed by what she’s built with her production company and what an amazing group of actors she’s assembled. She’s such a generous artist and is leading the way in terms of female storytelling.”

The actress was in the midst of shooting Misbehaviour (a film that follows the 1970 Miss World pageant in London, which saw the crowning of the first black winner) and jumped right into filming Apple’s television show-within-a-show in New York City. She did, however, have time to jet to Aniston’s cast party, held at her Los Angeles home before they began filming, and bonded with English costar Bel Powley on set. The show, in which she plays Hannah, a booker for a popular morning TV show, focuses on the drama between the anchors and crew behind the scenes, with a #MeToo plotline. “It’s so relatable for our time,” she says. “It really gets under the skin of that conversation.” Her Hannah is ruthless, ambitious, and disciplined. “I really enjoyed exploring the cost of ambition and the wear and tear of the New York media world. Hannah has such an interesting dramatic arc.” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu for Fashion Magazine Canada!

16 November 2019
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After introductions, we chat briefly about her latest projects and she starts laughing at my cellphone. But in a nice way. “Do you need me to call Apple for you?” she teases.

See, my phone doesn’t look like a grown-up’s cellphone. It looks like someone took a rock hammer to its upper-right-hand corner, shattering the glass and exposing a mysterious chunk of metal that I pretend is a battery but seems potentially dangerous. Cracks, like crooked sunbeams, cascade down my screen from there, and little dead spots, like burn marks, have recently appeared all over it. My phone doesn’t just look injured; it looks sickly.

“Do I need to sort this out?” she asks.

She probably could, too. After all, she’s basically an employee of Apple these days. Her latest project—or one of her latest projects, actually—is The Morning Show, an original 10-episode series for the tech giant’s new streaming service, Apple TV+. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, it takes people inside and behind the scenes of a Good Morning America-type talk show. In it, Mbatha-Raw’s character works as the show’s celebrity wrangler. But with Apple being Apple, she says she can’t explain much more than that.

But the character really is more than she seems. “She has a lot of secrets,” says Mbatha-Raw. “What I like about it is that it has a strong point of view and [tackles] the post-#MeToo era in the media landscape. Plus, it’s America’s sweethearts together in one show. I knew it was going to be amazing and have something to say.”

She can talk a little bit more about Motherless Brooklyn, the Edward Norton passion project about a private detective with Tourette’s syndrome (which can make sneaking around a little tough). It’s a kind of spiritual adaptation of a Jonathan Lethem novel, which is handy for Mbatha-Raw since her character isn’t in the book. “My character comes up as this Woman in Blue that Norton’s detective character is following. She was born in Harlem and grew up in the jazz club owned by her dad. And she works for the community against racial discrimination in housing. She has a law degree. Suddenly she has these layers to her—she’s not just a femme fatale. She has a purpose. She is much more than meets the eye.” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Harper Bazaar!

21 April 2018
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Gugu Mbatha-Raw is high on life. I can hear the smile in her voice when she picks up the phone—her joy bubbles over the line, and it’s wholly warranted.

The last seven days marked a frenzy of career highs for the 34-year-old Brit: the surprise Netflix release of her latest film, The Cloverfield Paradox, was the talk of the Super Bowl; she joined the cast of the Edward Norton-directed Motherless Brooklyn alongside Willem Dafoe and Bruce Willis; and she premiered her other Netflix movie, a heartbreaker of a romantic dramedy titled Irreplaceable You, in New York.

Oh, and last Friday, she became a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace (MBE). Casual. “We’ve been joking that I’ve been working on my damehood since I was 12,” she tells BAZAAR.com, laughing. “I’ve had one rung, three rungs down from a dame, so I’ve still got some more to go.”

It’s not difficult to imagine Mbatha-Raw walking in the footsteps of famous thespian dames like Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Harriet Walter. She, too, got her start on the stage before establishing herself through starring roles in Amma Asante’s Belle, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond the Lights, last year’s Disney mega-hit Beauty and the Beast, and a critically-acclaimed, Emmy-winning episode of Black Mirror.

But these triumphs merely set the stage for a year poised to shoot Mbatha-Raw to the highest rung of superstardom. Though critics panned the Julius Onah-directed Cloverfield Paradox, it’s worth a watch for Mbatha-Raw’s performance alone. She commands the screen, no easy feat alongside talents such as David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, and Elizabeth Debicki. And that’s merely the start of a string of highly-anticipated projects including the Ava DuVernay-directed A Wrinkle in Time, which is set to claim another box office victory for Mbatha-Raw when it hits theaters March 9.

Below, the actress opens up about her big week, venturing into STEM with her latest projects, and the fairytale Cloverfield moment that led to her casting in A Wrinkle in Time. [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for InStyle Magazine

15 April 2018
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Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s acting portfolio boasts roles like a bonnet-wearing 18th-century aristocrat in Belle, a violet-haired pop star in Beyond the Lights, and a futuristic astronaut in The Cloverfield Paradox, to name a few. It’s impossible to predict whom the 35-year-old is going to play next—and that’s just how she likes it. “No one wants to be stuck in a box,” Mbatha-Raw says. “I have a short attention span and want to keep myself interested. Variety is the spice of life, and I never want to get bored.”

At our New York City shoot, she is in full-on storytelling mode, assigning personalities to the many hats she tries on. An oversize green Mulberry topper is “very My Fair Lady,” a straw-bow Delpozo style is appropriately dubbed Minnie Mouse, and a wide-brimmed Elie Saab design is so “Anne of Green Gables” that Mbatha-Raw jokes she should go get some honey from her bees as she poses.

There’s no doubt that Mbatha-Raw loves what she refers to as the dress-up element of getting into character, but when it comes to her hair and makeup, she prefers to keep things simple. “I feel most beautiful when I’m not being perceived as beautiful,” she says over coffee in Brooklyn a few days after our shoot. “If I’m not thinking about what I look like, then I’m just happy and free to be myself.” Growing up in rural Oxfordshire, “a million miles away from Hollywood or any big city,” she was raised by her English mom, a nurse, and her South African dad, a doctor, to “nurture the soul, spirit, and intelligence rather than the exterior.” That notion has stuck with Mbatha-Raw, so it’s been a process for her to accept the value placed on appearance in the entertainment industry. “I’ve had to come to terms with the concept of beauty without judging it as a vacuous thing,” she says. “My image is part of my job, but I’m getting more comfortable with knowing that it doesn’t define who I am or mean that I’m a superficial person. It’s about expressing yourself.” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for The Observer

21 March 2018
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Late last year, Gugu Mbatha-Raw received a phone call from her mother. A letter had arrived at the family home in Witney, Oxfordshire. It wasn’t in just any old envelope; this bore a seal, and the words “Her Majesty’s Service”. Mbatha-Raw giggled down the line from Los Angeles. “Mother!’ she said. “It’s the damehood!”

The truth’s not so far removed: when we meet for lunch in London in January, Mbatha-Raw is fresh from a trip to Buckingham Palace to collect an MBE. “It was incredible,” she says sounding wistful, slightly in awe. “A chamber orchestra performed, sun streamed through the windows. Afterwards there was champagne and photos. It felt like a very posh graduation.” Still, if you think she’s wide-eyed about it, you should see her parents: “I think they’re more impressed than they would be if I won an Oscar.”

Awards season and its role in celebrating, or at least promoting, issues of diversity and equality is everywhere when we speak. “As much as people may be critical of those zeitgeisty moments, they have changed awareness,” she says. “Producers and casting directors have had to interrogate their choices, and it’s the same with the women’s movement: people are now calling out who’s not in the room, who’s not represented.”

In many ways, she observes, we’re repurposing awards ceremonies now. As protests? “Yeah, and that’s a good thing. I think we should be using them as ways to have discussions, rather than just treating them as shiny ego boosts for the industry. Because at some point, you have to ask: ‘What are these pats on the back for?’” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Stylist Magazine!

14 March 2018
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As the entertainment director of Stylist, it’s easy for me to say someone is an important name to know. Someone you should commit to memory and follow their career path because what they are doing is versatile, skilled and barrier-breaking. It’s not often the Queen agrees with me (to my chagrin). But this time the Queen does agree with me, recently awarding Gugu Mbatha-Raw – that aforementioned name to know – with an MBE for services to the arts, an honour she received a few weeks ago at Buckingham Palace: the royal seal of approval in its purest form.

Mbatha-Raw, 34, is an actor who has been working hard for years, gradually increasing her profile, proving and improving her talents. It’s interesting that 2018, a momentous year for women, is the year that she will be catapulted into the big time with her ability to command whichever screen she is on. I suspect it’s also of note that she’s an actor who has largely worked with female directors on her biggest roles (except 2016’s sublime Black Mirror series three episode San Junipero), including her breakout role in 2014’s Belle, directed by Amma Asante, and Beyond The Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood the same year, which both centre on women who want – need – their voices to be heard in very different confines. [More at source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for British Vogue!

09 March 2018
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Gugu is on the cover of the April issue of British Vogue! She looks amazing photographed by Mikael Jansson and styled by senior contributing fashion editor Kate Phelan, with hair by Eugene Souleiman and make-up by Hannah Murray, the portrait of Mbatha-Raw wearing Valentino, marks Gugu’s Vogue debate. Check out the photos and digital scans and maek sure to watch the video (under a read more cut because it autoplays).

   

Digital Scans > April 2018 – British Vogue
Photo Sessions > 2018 > Set 006<

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