And A with ] Thandie Newton

[ Q

FYI: pop culture news

July 01, 2004|By Susan King | Susan King,Los Angeles Times

Usually cast in sympathetic roles, Thandie Newton gets to show a more wicked side in the sci-fi adventure-thriller The Chronicles of Riddick.

In the sequel to the 2000 cult hit Pitch Black, Newton plays Dame Vaako, an ambitious, ruthless woman cut from the same conniving cloth as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. Dame Vaako makes life miserable for the film's heroic antihero, Riddick (Vin Diesel), and rules her weak-willed husband with an iron fist.

Born to a Zimbabwean mother and English father, Newton spent the first three years of her life in Zambia. Then, political unrest sent the family to England to live. While a dance student at the London Art Educational School, she was cast in the 1990 Australian film Flirting, which starred Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.

Between acting in the films Interview With the Vampire and Jefferson in Paris, Newton, 31, earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Cambridge University. Since graduating, she's worked with such esteemed directors as Bernardo Bertolucci (Besieged) and John Woo (Mission: Impossible 2). She made her American TV series debut this past season as a guest star on NBC's ER, as Noah Wyle's love interest.

Did you relish playing the villain for the first time in your career?

It was so much fun and so liberating because she has a one-track mind. Very often your character has some type of internal conflict and you spend all your time thinking when you are going to reveal the inner struggle of the character. And with this woman there was no inner struggle. She knew exactly what she wanted. She has an ulterior motive. It's all about ambition and greed. She is not concerned about the future of the human race. It was fun, but that said, I had really, really had a good long look in the mirror before I took the role.

Why?

Films have a very big influence on people, especially young people. I was thinking -- is this a great message to send out there? Ultimately, it is in the realm of fantasy, and because it has so little relevance in today's world there is nothing you can truly relate to. The only thing that does have bearing on our lives is this whole notion of good vs. evil.

Since your character slithers around like a snake in the grass, it seemed apropos that your gowns were reptilian in design.

They actually coined the phrase "mockadile." Fifty percent of my research for the role, such as it was, took place in the costume department -- talking about the costume and how the clothes would suggest certain qualities about the character. The script doesn't penetrate as deeply as a family drama, so much has to be suggested about what you see visually.

The ER episode in which your child dies in the womb just weeks before the birth was just heartbreaking.

I know. I couldn't believe it when I read the script. I wanted to call [executiv!e producer] John Wells and say, "What are you doing to these people?" But you know, this happens to people all the time. People lose their children like this. ... Both Noah and I have young children. We spent three days preparing for the scene in the worst funk.

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