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Ruth Negga Opens Up About Her Heritage and Breakthrough Role in ‘Loving’

With her mesmerizing performance in Jeff Nichols’s subtly groundbreaking film Loving, the Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga has been the talk of the town, but she prefers just to be her.

As the January cover of Vogue, Negga spoke to the magazine about how she grew up. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to a white Irish nurse and a black Ethiopian doctor. She and her mother left the country when political unrest erupted, but her father had to stay behind. Three years later, her father died in a car accident. “We found out in a letter and a phone call,” she remembered. “This was 1988. There wasn’t any grief counseling for kids.”

Her mother never remarried, but Negga grew up in a large extended family of “about 23 boys,” and never felt she was any different from her fair-haired cousins. Negga said, “I remember thinking, I’m just me. When you’re a kid, you’re just you, aren’t you? It was when I moved to England [at age 11] that I felt it, because I was Irish and black.”

Negga has returned to Ethiopia many times, to visit her father’s grave and her family there. “I find it difficult because it was an abrupt sort of ending to a lot of my life,” she explained to Vogue.“I’m always very careful to say I’m Irish-Ethiopian because I feel Ethiopian and I look Ethiopian and I am Ethiopian. But there are 81 languages in Ethiopia, and I don’t know any of them.” Through therapy Negga realized her desire to be an actor “was no coincidence. I think it makes me able to access certain things that are quite near to the surface… an honesty or something about life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Now she is being touted for an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Mildred Loving, who, in 1950s Virginia, married a white man, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), which was against the state’s law at the time. After being jailed and exiled, the Loving’s case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled they had a legal right to be married, changing the U.S. Constitution.

As Negga explained, “The film is reminding us that there’s a conversation that we need to be having still… It does annoy Joel and me when people say it’s a quiet film. Because it doesn’t feel very quiet to us. It feels really loud.” Read the whole interview here.


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