Get to know Ruth Negga, the Oscar-nominated breakout star of 'Loving'

Written by  Published in Art Wednesday, 25 January 2017 08:21

As revealed during Tuesday's Oscar nominations, the best actress race comes down to two familiar young stars (Emma Stone and Natalie Portman), a Hollywood icon (Meryl Streep), an internationally-beloved name (Isabelle Huppert) and one fresh face — Ruth Negga.

Negga's moving role as Mildred Loving, one-half of the couple that helped to legalize interracial marriage in America, earned Loving its only Oscar nomination on Tuesday. The nomination is the latest win for Negga, who broke out on TV, before stealing our hearts in Loving and catching our eye with her impeccable awards-circuit style.

Get to know one of Hollywood's freshest faces ahead of the Oscars on Feb. 26, and read the full list of Oscar nominees here.

She's Ethiopia born, Ireland raised and London taught.

Negga was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to an Irish mother and an Ethiopian father. When she was four, her family moved to the U.K., and Negga was raised in Limerick, Ireland, before going to London after her father died in a car accident when she was seven. "I had quite a scattered childhood," she told the Guardian. "I was Irish in London, because I had my secondary school education there. I never really fitted anywhere."

She studied acting at Trinity College in Dublin before making her debut in the 2004 Irish film Capital Letters. A string of supporting film roles, theater productions and BBC programs followed.

In an interview with Indiewire, she worried that Hollywood's narrow-mindedness on race has resulted in her ethnicity costing her roles. “I’ve gone into auditions and I think they have an assumption about me when they see my photo and then I open my mouth and they say, ‘Where exactly are you from? And you were born in Ethiopia? But you’re Irish, but you also kind of sound English. That’s really strange," she said. “They want to put you in a box in LA, that’s how they tend to do it there, so if you don’t fit in that box, it makes it more difficult.”

Her potential breakout role in 12 Years A Slave was cut

Negga's Hollywood career started heating up in 2013, when she booked a recurring part in the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even more exciting, she was cast in Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, as the fiery runaway slave Celeste, one of the most rebellious characters in Solomon Northup's book.

But what could've been the actress' first big Oscars moment ended up on the cutting-room floor. As screenwriter John Ridley explained to NPR, they spent several days filming scenes of Negga escaping through a crocodile-filled swamp, but the footage was eventually cut from the final film, leaving her character with just a brief appearance.

"That’s an understatement!" Negga told the Irish Times about her 12 Years disappointment. ‘I got a call from (director Steve McQueen) and I knew as soon as the phone started ringing, I just knew," she said. "He let me down gently.’

She stole scenes in AMC's Preacher.

Before she was breaking Supreme Court boundaries in Loving, Negga was cracking skulls as the gun-toting Tulip in the ultra-bloody AMC series Preacher, which premiered last year. Her role as the titular character's ex-girlfriend proved the actress can play action anti-heroines just as well as she can inspirational historical figures.

Negga praised her Preacher role to the Guardian “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," she said, describing Tulip's original look in the graphic novels.
She was an early awards front-runner.

She racked up early praise with her role in Loving, starting at Cannes Film Festival in May.

Based on the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Negga stars alongside Joel Edgerton as the movie follows the couple at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, the ruling that eliminated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

"Negga, a breakout from AMC’s Preacher, is an instant awards contender," Brian Truitt wrote in USA TODAY's three-star review. "As Mildred, she fuels much of the film’s emotion, sitting in jail pregnant, dealing with relatives divided on whether her love is worth being in quasi-exile, and needing to return to farm life for the good of her kids. Negga gives her vulnerability but also strength of heart."

#OscarsSoWhite ends with this year's nominee class
She's a believer in the power of black women

In interviews surrounding Loving, Negga spoke out about how stories of inspiring black women throughout history, long neglected in Hollywood, need to be told.

“A lot of women of color's stories from [the civil rights] era have been sidelined,” she told ScreenDaily. “It’s time for a renaissance, truly, of a celebration of their contribution. There were a lot of black women involved in the civil rights struggle, in a very active way. There are many individual stories that are fascinating. Mildred’s is just one of them.”

In an interview with USA TODAY, Negga spoke about how her character of Mildred gave her husband Richard strength. "Many black women, that’s what they did for many black men,” she says. “Often their role in society was to give them back their strength. It’s interesting that in this case it’s a white man. I don’t think we’ve seen that very often before.”

Fame still makes her nervous

Despite her high-wattage public appearances, Negga is still adjusting to the Hollywood spotlight.

“I find it a bit overwhelming sometimes,” she told USA TODAY at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I’m shy at public speaking, which is tough. But I love this film...and I think it’s professionally and personally one of the best things that ever happened to me."

TIFF: Ruth Negga copes with 'Loving' spotlight
She's a rising Hollywood style star

Negga's metallic Louis Vuitton gown at the Golden Globes launched her onto many best-dressed lists.

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 21:21

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