Feature: Gugu Mbatha Raw for The Awards Issue

Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s face lights up as Helena Christensen walks into the suite of the Kensington hotel where Bazaar’s photo shoot is set to take place. The actress and the supermodel-turned-photographer have never met but, as fellow Goodwill Ambassadors for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, they have admired each other from afar. So when the opportunity arose for Christensen to travel to London from Copenhagen to capture Mbatha-Raw on camera, honouring her philanthropic contributions, both were eager to make it work. “I wouldn’t have squeezed in this trip for just anyone,” says Christensen, whose diary is booked up months in advance, “but for this woman, and this magazine…”

Mbatha-Raw’s collaboration with UNHCR began five years ago, when she embarked on a trip to Rwanda to see at first-hand the plight of refugees; she was formally named an ambassador in February 2021. She says the opportunity came “out of the blue” for her, since at the time she was concentrating on her flourishing acting career. However, with hindsight, the chance to engage with issues surrounding immigration made sense, given her own family history.

Born in Oxfordshire to two medics – her white British mother worked as a nurse and was a staunch supporter of the NHS, while her Black South African father was a doctor who had come to the UK to flee the apartheid regime – Mbatha-Raw was often exposed to political conversations whose ramifications she did not fully comprehend until later in life. “It’s only since adulthood that I’ve really understood the journey he made and the reasons why he felt persecuted,” she says. “Working with UNHCR has been like coming full circle, helping me put my father’s experience into context now that I have more emotional resilience.”

Growing up, however, it was drama that impassioned her, despite her family having no connections with showbusiness. “I was an only child, so getting into theatre was initially a way of being around fun people,” she says. “I was desperate to move to London and start acting from the age of about 12, but my mum said I had to finish school first – which I think made me even more determined.” When the time came, she successfully auditioned for Rada, graduating in 2004, and soon began to secure roles on television, stage and film, making her breakthrough as the lead in Amma Asante’s 2013 period drama Belle. Her entry into the profession was fairly smooth, partly because she was doing the job for the love of it rather than for the fame, though she was aware of the potential pitfalls. “After you leave drama school, you realise there’s this whole thing called ‘the industry’ that’s different from the art and craft – friends of mine who have been in this world for a long time say they’re still negotiating a balance between why they got into acting in the first place and the business that surrounds it,” says Mbatha-Raw. “It’s about how you protect that fragile, pure part of yourself.” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Document

On paper, the plot of Surface carries a level of drama that reaches soap opera standards: an attempted suicide that might have actually been attempted murder, a steamy affair, shifting allegiances, and a memory loss-induced identity crisis. But reviews of the series have been largely choral, agreeing that its pacing feels slow, not indulging in the hyper-saturation in plot typical of such series. Its star, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, cites its intrigue as more mysterious than splashy. “There is an introspection and a nuance to the world, because it’s complex and detailed,” she explains. “That doesn’t mean it’s gentle.” While labeled a psychological thriller, the show’s depth derives more from its exploration of identity and its potential to change than from a dense dexterity in plot.

Mbatha-Raw’s character, Sophie, is introduced after a traumatic head injury. She doesn’t remember the incident, or really anything else. The Apple TV+ series tracks the unfolding of Sophie’s past as she tries to make sense of conflicting stories from the people closest to her. For Surface’s protagonist, who has little context or understanding of the person she was, self-discovery carries entirely new meaning. In elevated and modernized form, the show addresses a long-contemplated question: Are our personalities innate, or do we have control over who we are and who we are capable of becoming?

Following the show’s premiere, Mbatha-Raw joins Document to discuss the nuances of her character, the evolution of mystery, and a mass grappling with identity.

Megan Hullander: How do you build a character who doesn’t even know herself?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: I mean, that’s the challenge. Obviously, we get to know a lot more about Sophie’s past and who she actually is [throughout the series]. But in terms of actually playing her, it was a nice opportunity to embrace the more sensory elements, like the idea of muscle memory. Even if you don’t know a lot of the details of your life, taste and smell and sight take you back to a more childlike energy. Those things are that much more visceral. So that was kind of something that I used to make it feel very sensory. Being able to rebuild from a blank slate is always fun, because it really gives you a strong arc.

Megan: Looking at the whole of your career, there’s a lot of versatility in the characters that you’ve taken on. What parts of yourself, if any, did you allow to come through with this character?

Gugu: I’ve got a variety of projects now that I’ve done—certainly in terms of the genres and styles—but you might see some common threads. That’s the fun of acting, really—it’s not really about you. It’s about getting out of the way. But I think, without meaning to, you bring a great deal of yourself to every role, good and bad. [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Soho House Magazine

You probably recognise Gugu Mbatha-Raw from one of her many high-profile stage and screen roles – she’s played everyone from Juliet to Andrew Garfield’s Romeo to Ophelia with Jude Law in Hamlet, not to mention The Morning Show and Loki (merely Disney+’s most-watched Marvel series ever). But away from her impressive acting career, Mbatha-Raw has been toiling away in a new, somewhat more personal role – as an aspiring artist.

Art – specifically, painting – is a long-standing passion of hers and she’s really very good at it. During lockdown, the star became something of a viral sensation for her portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which she auctioned off, donating proceeds to social justice charities. She’s since shared further works of Chadwick Boseman, Desmond Tutu and Kevin Hart – her co-star in her newest movie, Lift – to her Instagram page. The paintings are genuinely brilliant (Hart’s is especially impressive when you learn that she had Covid while painting it).

‘That was one of the first paintings I’ve given as a gift,’ she admits, of the portrait she presented to Hart on their last day of filming. ‘The film [Lift] is all about an art heist, so we visited The National Gallery with the director. I studied art at school and Kevin developed his interest over the course of the movie – and he’s in a place where he can buy some serious paintings, you know? So, I said, “Well this could be one to add to the collection – hopefully it will increase in value over the years”,’ she laughs.

We’re meeting Mbatha-Raw for a shoot at our new Soho.Home.Studio in Westbourne Grove, London. Just a stone’s throw from Electric House, the new interior design space showcases Soho Home collections inspired by the cities Soho House is located in (think handcrafted furniture alongside textiles, lighting and tableware). Situated over two floors, it features a dedicated interior design service, as well as limited-edition artwork from Soho Home’s ongoing collaborations. The timing of her visit is somewhat fortuitous, since Mbatha-Raw has recently swapped her Stateside abode for one back in good old Blighty and is currently on the hunt for interiors inspiration.

‘The mirrors are really fun and I love the small, swivelling armchairs – they have a very 1950s yet modern vibe,’ she enthuses, zeroing in on the Garrett chair, while taking snaps on her phone of every item that takes her fancy. She’s particularly drawn to the rotating artwork in store, which is created in collaboration with M.A.H Gallery. ‘I’m really attracted to the idea of having a relatively neutral canvas and depending on your mood or the season, changing the tone of the space through art. Home is somewhere I want to relax and I find colour very energising – which is good sometimes, but not when you’re resting.’

How would she describe her own interior style? ‘I’ve been so nomadic over the years, it’s probably a hybrid of the West Coast and old-school London. I’ve never had a “style” because I’ve spent the last 10 to 15 years living out of suitcases, so it ends up being quite eclectic. If you’re always on the move, you’re unable to have clutter. I like quite a clean, calming space.’ It figures then that her favourite room is her bathroom. ‘I love the sanctuary of a big bathtub and a bit of downtime, especially when you’re jet-lagged after travelling or decompressing from a busy day on set.’ [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Vogue

In her new Apple TV+ series Surface, which premieres on Friday, Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays Sophie, a woman with amnesia who’s trying to piece her life back together. “She doesn’t know who she is, and that was quite a unique challenge as an actor,” Mbatha-Raw tells Vogue. “When you’re creating a character, you often start with a backstory and build their childhood and experiences. For me, it was really liberating, as I had to start from a much more intuitive and sensory place.”

For the new psychological thriller, Mbatha-Raw also serves as an executive producer for the very first time. She says she was drawn to being a part of the project after learning it was being produced by Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. “Knowing their ethos and the type of projects that they put together—which are very female focused stories, and empowering women both in front and behind the camera—it was really a no brainer,” says Mbatha-Raw. “[Creator] Veronica West’s script was also just so brilliantly written and mysterious.”

To celebrate the new series last night, Mbatha-Raw, Witherspoon, and more attended the official premiere at New York City’s Morgan Library. “It was pretty special to see Surface on the big screen and with an audience,” says Mbatha-Raw. “Because of COVID, I had only ever seen the show on my own, so to be able to watch it with other people and the rest of the cast and crew was amazing.” The stylish star, who brings easy elegance to the red carpet, brought out a stellar fashion look for the occasion.

Working with stylist Leith Clark, hairstylist Nai’Vasha Grace, and makeup artist Vincent Oquendo, the star wore a draped Alexander McQueen gown in green poly faille, with a built-in cape detail. “The structure of the dress was so striking, and had real architecture to it,” says Mbatha-Raw. “There’s something about this dress that’s very feminine, but it also has an edge to it, which is something you always find with McQueen.” A Brit herself, she said the late designer is still one of her favorites, and this is her first time wearing the label on a red carpet. “I love that there’s a lot of fabric and pleating,” she says. “It’s very interesting—it’s not uniform.”

The star adds that she’s been going through a real green fashion phase lately (last week, for instance, she wore a fringed emerald green Dior dress). “Green is the color of the Heart Chakra,” says Mbatha-Raw. “I love what green represents: life and freshness.” Even her Cartier jewels last night—a High Jewelry bracelet and earrings made of platinum, diamonds, and peridots—were green. When it comes to red carpet dressing in general, Mbatha-Raw says she always looks for a sense of ease. “I like to feel confident and powerful,” she says. “I want to feel like I’m wearing something that I can have a great time in.” [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Jessica Plummer for Interview Magazine

There’s no shortage of weird landlord stories out there, but The Girl Before brings the concept to a whole new level. In it, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (of The Morning Show and Loki) plays Jane, a woman recovering from a recent trauma. She seizes a chance to shed the past—and a lot of her stuff—by moving into a sleek, inexplicably affordable jaw-dropper of a house. The only conditions are that the house will collect data on her (it’s rigged up like a giant “smart” device), and that she must follow a lengthy and exacting list of rules (no gardening, no pictures on the wall, etc.) set by Edward, the home’s mysterious owner and architect [played by David Oyelowo]. In time, Jane learns that Edward has some demons of his own involving the home’s previous tenant Emma [played by Jessica Plummer] who, unsettlingly, turns out to look a lot like Jane.

The four-episode miniseries, based on the best-selling novel by J.P. Delaney (who wrote and executive produced the adaptation) and directed by Lisa Brühlmann (Emmy-nominated for her work on Killing Eve) takes viewers through a harrowing psychological labyrinth filled with twists and turns. But the show was also a head trip for its costars Mbatha-Raw and Plummer, as the cast and crew often struggled to tell the two women apart. Recently, the pair caught up via Zoom, and discussed the eerie feeling of playing doppelgängers, their landlord horror stories, and the show’s recent HBO Max release. — EVELINE CHAO

GUGU MBATHA-RAW: You read a lot of psychological thrillers?

JESSICA PLUMMER: Yeah, it’s my go-to genre. Normally it takes me a few days to get through a script, but this one, I literally sat down and read in one sitting.

MBATHA-RAW: It’s such a page-turner, isn’t it? I love that the show has two female leads, which is so refreshing. And it’s stylish, but has substance. It looks really glossy and cool, with the clothes and the house and the architecture, but the characters have all of these deep, emotional things going on.

PLUMMER: Absolutely.

MBATHA-RAW: Tell me about the process of getting into Emma. It’s funny, because we never really acted together. So David [Oyelowo] and Ben [Hardy] know your process much more than I do.

PLUMMER: You know what’s so funny? I actually watched an interview you had done, I think ages ago. You spoke about giving your characters a scent, and I was like, oh my god, I’m doing that.

MBATHA-RAW: Wait, you chose a scent for Emma? What was it?

PLUMMER: Jo Malone Lime Basil and Mandarin.

MBATHA-RAW: This is amazing. Jane’s was Le Labo Rose.

PLUMMER: That’s so funny, I almost gave Emma a rose scent.

MBATHA-RAW: Girls connected.

PLUMMER: I know. I thought a rose perfume would be good for Emma, but when I sprayed it on myself, I felt like it needed to have a bit more zing.

MBATHA-RAW: That totally makes sense, because anything citrus has that zing. I feel like Emma, and you naturally, have that vivacious and bright energy. With Le Labo Rose, I wanted something that feels a bit more heavy and sophisticated. Also because of the rose quartz, which both our characters share. [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for The Tatler

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is on a quest. For a cup of tea. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask: after all, it is mid-afternoon and we have met at the grandest hotel in San Francisco, the Fairmont, which sits atop Nob Hill. She has a word with the concierge who says that unfortunately tea is unavailable at this hour and advises us to try another hotel nearby. So off we go into the sunshine, Mbatha-Raw joking about how hopeless the Americans are at tea anyway: ‘You get hot water and a teabag on the side and they haven’t even taken it out of the wrapping.’

The next hotel, almost equally luxurious, seems to confirm this. ‘Tea?’ asks the host in the lobby café. ‘Of course.’ He directs us towards a hot-water dispenser and some paper cups. Mbatha-Raw and I look at each other, slightly aghast. ‘We’re so British,’ Mbatha-Raw explains politely. ‘Where can we just sit down and get tea?’

‘Ah yes,’ says the host, with just a flicker of a smile. ‘Have a seat and John will be over to serve you your tea.’

At last we are settled comfortably in a corner with a pot of Earl Grey and some milk on the side. The café is quite crowded but, although she is now one of the most high-profile British actresses in the US, Mbatha-Raw goes unnoticed. Dressed in faded grey jeans, a white shirt and a big yellow scarf, she does not draw attention to herself: ‘I’m living out of a suitcase at the moment, so [I just wear] what’s not too crumpled. Normally I’m top to toe in black, so you’ve got me on quite a bright day.’ She is especially pleased with her beige suede Isabel Marant boots. ‘I stole them from The Girl Before [her current BBC series]; they were for [somebody else’s character] and they didn’t fit. So I thought, “As no one’s wearing them…” Hilarious. I don’t often steal things from shows.’

People often can’t quite place her. ‘Sometimes they say, “You’re an actress, aren’t you? What have I seen you in?’ And it’s always cringey because it could be so many things and I don’t really want to stand there and list my whole CV and they’re going, “No, no, no…”’

It’s certainly an impressive CV. There was her breakout role in the award-winning period drama Belle, the riotous Misbehaviour with Keira Knightley, and the neo-noir crime drama Motherless Brooklyn with Alec Baldwin. (Mbatha-Raw and I meet a couple of weeks after he accidentally shot dead a cinematographer, which she describes as ‘a shocking tragedy’.) More recently, she has played celebrity wrangler Hannah in the Apple TV+ drama series The Morning Show, executive-produced by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. And she stars in the 2021 Marvel TV series Loki with Tom Hiddleston, who was at Rada at the same time as Mbatha-Raw. [More at Source]

Feature: Gugu Mbatha-Raw for The Guardian

As those of us who have spent more time than usual at home over the last couple of years will know, those four walls can be a sanctuary, prison or, at times, both. Beautiful, monolithic and eerily empty, the house in the new BBC/HBO drama The Girl Before is definitely both. “The house,” says Gugu Mbatha-Raw with a laugh, “is the real star.” At one point in the first episode, Mbatha-Raw’s character Jane appears to have developed an intense relationship with it, caressing its smooth stone and glass.

In The Girl Before, adapted from the bestselling psychological thriller by JP Delaney, Jane passes a rigorous vetting process before being allowed to rent this minimalist dream home. In return for cheap rent, she has to agree to around 200 strange and stringent rules set by the architect and owner. “No books?” she says, incredulous, when the estate agent reels off some of the stipulations (no pictures, no ornaments, “no children, obviously”). Jane will be watched, her every move and metric monitored, even her moods influenced, by the technologically advanced house and its creepy creator. She soon finds out that she is the second tenant – and she makes a chilling discovery about the first, Emma (played by Jessica Plummer).

Mbatha-Raw does not seem so attached to houses. She bought one in Oxfordshire last year, but has barely had a chance to live there. She is, she says, “a nomad for work”. When we meet in a central London restaurant, Mbatha-Raw has not long returned from Vancouver where she was filming the lead role in Surface, a drama for Apple TV+. Before that, she was in Atlanta, filming the Marvel fantasy series Loki, in which she plays the judge Ravonna Renslayer. The fact that The Girl Before was so different to Loki appealed to her; from period drama to fantasy to Shakespeare to futuristic love stories (she starred in San Junipero, still regarded as the most uplifting episode of Black Mirror), Mbatha-Raw seems resistant to typecasting. “I’d never done a psychological thriller before,” she says, remembering when she read the script for The Girl Before. “I also loved the fact that it was female-driven; there wasn’t just one great female part, but two.”

Both Emma and Jane have a relationship with the architect-owner, Edward, played by David Oyelowo, who is extremely controlling (and quite possibly murderous). Control seems to be the main theme, not just in Edward’s abusive coercive control-type behaviour, but something all the characters are trying to wrestle with, often as a result of grief or loss. “I looked at it as a journey for Jane, getting her power back,” says Mbatha-Raw.

I can’t say I loved the book, with its nasty undercurrents and excruciatingly unsexy dialogue; Edward is not only extremely controlling, he is also a finickity bore, obsessed with limescale deposits and where his olive oil comes from. But if anyone can infuse him with grace and charisma, it’s Oyelowo, and the calibre of the team – not just the cast, but the director Lisa Brühlmann, who has directed episodes of Killing Eve – is reassuringly high.

Mbatha-Raw, in her first producing role, brought Oyelowo, who is a friend, on board. She was also a producer on Surface, which is being made by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine. The experience of being a producer, she says, has been interesting, “because, in some ways it validates the opinions or ideas that you may have, but perhaps it’s not your place to say, or you’re encouraged to stay in your lane as an actor.” Has she felt unable to speak up before? “Not personally,” she says. “I know other actors who have felt that way.” [More at Source]