Award-winning English actress Thandie Newton seems just as comfortable in an action picture as she does in a drama. After being drained by Brad Pitt's vampire in "Interview With a Vampire," Newton went on to win accolades for her performances in "Beloved," "Mission: Impossible II," "The Truth About Charlie" and "Crash." More recently, Newton portrayed Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's "W." and earned praise for her role in Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls."
We caught up with Newton in Los Angeles as she was promoting her second movie with Perry, "Good Deeds," which opens in theaters on February 24. Newton plays a janitor struggling to care for herself and her young daughter when a friendship with a successful businessman (Perry) changes the course of her life. The well-spoken actress was eager to talk about the deeper meaning behind the inspirational film.
"Good Deeds" is your second Tyler Perry film. Are you officially his new muse?
We have a very easy rapport. There is lots of ad-libbing and spontaneous lines, and I'm not like that normally! I'm usually very prepared and clear about what I'm going to do. It was the same as in "For Colored Girls" -- I was so involved in what I was doing that I would go off page. The scenes that I have with Tyler are very playful and I would look forward to them because we just spark off each other really well.
Your character, Lindsey, is homeless and her daughter is taken away from her to be put into foster care. As an actress, what were you thinking about to get yourself into that state of panic and despair?
I just imagine if I were in that situation. It flows and you can get there if it is believable. What's so awful about the movie is that this is a very current issue for a lot of people, particularly right now. When one problem occurs -- for her, it was the death of her husband -- it does tend to snowball. As soon as you slip off that ladder, to get back on it again is really hard. You see it now with the homeless, people not making their mortgage payments, Wall Street and all these wars.
Lindsey doesn't see any of this coming, which is why she tries to pretend it is not happening to people around her. She's still in shock from the fact that her husband is dead when her kid gets taken away. She doesn't have time to adjust to life before the next thing happens and the next thing. It's like trying to dig yourself out of an avalanche with a spoon. That's what she is faced with.
The wealthy Wesley, played by Tyler Perry, and janitor Lindsey are from two different worlds but connect somehow. How important is it for us to try to understand people whose lives are very different from our own?
It's very important because it concerns your life. If we go around rejecting other people based on face value, we are going to miss out. Every single human being has a story to tell and is fascinating. How many times have you sat in a cab and allowed yourself to talk to the driver because -- let's face it -- that could be the last half hour of your life? We don't appreciate every moment because we think there are bags of moments to piss away in the future.
Secondly, we're social beings and rely on each other. The success of our species is communication. Once humans could communicate, we could bring down that mammoth or track that tiger. Now we've got these amazing skills for communication but we are disconnecting from one another. I'm talking about the importance of communication that allows us to be progressive and help each other.
Do you think Wesley and Lindsey have a future together? Do you think about what happens to your characters after the end credits?
It depends. If I've had a good time on the movie, I'll think about it for a while. I tend to think about it from the audience's point of view, so I'll think about the different possibilities for the characters. Of course, I've got my own opinion about what might happen to Lindsey and Wesley, but I don't want to set that in stone because people tend to look to the actors or the writers to have final say about what happens to the characters. In a way, it's better to let the audience decide for themselves. Conversations after movies tend to happen when you leave things open for interpretation.
Is there any character you have played that you enjoyed so much that you wish you could play her again on-screen?
I really enjoyed my character in "For Colored Girls" very much. I loved how she didn't give a s**t and she'll say whatever is on her mind. I'd like to explore her coming to an understanding about her dysfunctional behavior, but I don't think Tyler is going to want to do a "For Colored Girls 2."
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You have been a chameleon that moves effortlessly between high-society characters and a janitor like Lindsey in "Good Deeds." Do you consider yourself a character actress?
What's great about the work that I do is that I get to try out all these different things, and I have a lot of say about how a character ends up. I like experimenting and trying new things because I do think I'm a character actor at heart. I get leading-lady status because that's just the way it goes if you're attractive, and it's pretty pragmatic, but what I love is transforming.
I feel that about a lot of actors like Jude Law -- a very beautiful man -- when he plays character roles like in "The Road to Perdition" or "Contagion." As an actor, I'm excited by the ability to throw away the preoccupation with aesthetic beauty and just get into the gristle of the character. I'm very grateful that I get the opportunity with a role like in "Good Deeds" to throw away the push-up bra and just get real.
Do you think we will see you collaborate with Tyler Perry in the future?
I think you will see us work together again. "Good Deeds" calls on all my strengths, and I was happy to have the challenge of playing this character and the problems that she goes through.