Newton, Thandie 1972–
Thandie Newton 1972–
Thandie Newton has established an impressive list of screen credits since making her film debut in 1992. Her work has run the gamut from “art house” pictures such as director Bernardo Bertolucci’s Besieged, to Oprah Winfrey’s highly touted production of Beloved, to the big budget action blockbuster Mission: Impossible 2. Although Newton has not yet broken through to stardom, it is just a matter of time before her name will go above the title. “With her physical gifts and intelligence, she could do whatever she wants,” Edward Saxon, a co-producer of Beloved, said of Newton to Dan Jewel of People.
Thandie (pronounced Tan-dee) Newton was born in Zambia in 1972 to an English father, Nick, a lab technician and artist, and an Zimbabwean mother, Nyasha, a nurse. Newton’s full first name is Thandiwe which means “beloved” in Zulu. When Newton was five years old her family, including her younger brother James, moved to England to escape political unrest in Africa. Newton was brought up in Penzance, a port city in southwest England, and experienced few racial problems during her childhood. “I am both Zimbabwean and English. I’m from nowhere. Because of my parents, however, I realized it was a strength, not a weakness. You’re a bridge; you legitimize mixed race-ness. Is it right? Natural? Beautiful? Yes. Race problems are just made up,” Newton told Time.
In Hollywood, Newton has discovered that her background is sometimes an asset since it makes her difficult to classify. “I’m thrilled that I can get right past prejudgements. I walk into a room in L.A. and [the way people see me] might seem to be a racial thing. But as soon as I open my mouth, it isn’t about being Black anymore. Suddenly it’s about being English,” Newton told Chuck Arnold of People. At other times she finds the movie industry is baffled by the idea of a dark skinned woman with a posh British accent. “I get stuff here in Hollywood. Really high-powered people who make really, really, really dodgy suggestions about what it is to be Black. Honestly, it would leave your mouth open. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid!” Newton explained to Time.
Newton studied dancing at London’s Arts Educational School as a teenager, but a back injury caused her to switch to the school’s acting program. At 16, she auditioned for a part in the movie Flirting, a gentle story about Australian boarding school students in the 1960s. “I was dreadful,” Newton said of her Flirting
Born Thandiwe Newton in Zambia in 1972; daughter of Nick (a lab technician and artist) and Nyasha Newton (a nurse); married to Oliver Parker, a screenwriter. Education: Cambridge University, England, bachelor’s degree in anthropology, 1994.
Career: Film actress; began acting career with Flirting, 1992. Other films include Interview with the Vampire, 1994; Jefferson in Paris, 1995; The Young Americans, 1995; The Journey of August King, 1996; The Leading-Man, 1997; Gridlock’d, 1997; loaded (a.k.a The Bloody Weekend), 1997; Beloved, 1998;Besieged, 1999; Mission: Impossible2, 2000; It Was an Accident, 2000.
Addresses: Home— West London, England. Agent— Rick Nicita, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
audition to Gregg Kilday of Los Angeles Magazine. “I thought acting meant that you had to orate and put on a disguise.” Despite her low opinion of the audition, Newton got the part of a Ugandan exchange student who falls in love with a white boy, played by Noah Taylor. Jay Carr of the Boston Globe called Flirting “Solid, well-made coming of age stuff …the tenderly inscribed teens played by Taylor and Newton will live in your memory.” The Motion Picture Guide added that “the exceptionally pretty Newton is graceful and charming” as the exchange student.
After the filming of Flirting was complete, the teenage Newton began affair with the movie’s director, John Duigan, who was in his forties. It was a move that Newton now regrets. “Getting into the film business that young wasn’t terrific. It is exploitative and there is a cut-off point. At the end of a shoot everyone disperses and you’re left hanging. For me, coming from school and that sort of teacher-student dynamic, it was in the fabric of my being that I would say yes to a question,” Newton told Ariel Swartley of the New York Times.
After finishing secondary school, Newton attended Cambridge University where she earned a degree in anthropology. While at Cambridge, Newton concentrated on academics and, as she told Kilday, looked upon acting as “something I did on holidays from school.” Coincidentally, it was while Newton was studying the slave trade that she received two film offers which called for her to portray a slave. “I thought, ’How better to fuel my interest in this than to work inmovies’?” Newton explained to Lisa Kennedy of Interview.
In Jefferson in Paris, which was released in 1995, Newton played Sally Hemings, the young slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. Directed by James Ivory and starring Nick Nolte as Jefferson, the controversial film portrayed Hemings as an alluring vixen who enjoys a warm relationship with her brooding master. In the 1996 film The Journey of August King, Newton played a runaway slave who is reluctantly assisted on her northward trek by a young white farmer, played by Jason Patric. The film was also directed by John Duigan. Although she has negative feelings about their romantic association, Newton has praise for Duigan’s directorial talent. “John is a very good director, and he allowed me to see that film acting is subtle— sometimes you must do less than you would do in life,” she told Kilday. Newton worked with Duigan a third time on the 1997 backstage drama The Leading Man, which co-starred Jon Bon Jovi.
Newton again portrayed a slave in Beloved, the 1998 screen version of the Toni Morrison novel. In this mystical film Newton played the title character, a ghost who haunts the memory of her grieving mother, played by Oprah Winfrey. The complicated role called for Newton to enact infant behavior, including smearing food over her face, vomiting, crying, and walking and talking as if she had just learned how. “You can do so much if you are uninhibited with your body. And your voice. To me, there’s a melody behind every character’s speech pattern,” Newton explained to Swartley.Beloved’s director, Jonathan Demme, marveled at the croaking voice Newton developed for the character of Beloved. “The voice was a big part of the character, and she was literally brilliant,” Demme told Time. Margo Jefferson of the New York Times called Newton’s performance in Beloved “uncanny and amazingly bokLshe is terrifying to watch.” Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post wrote that Newton as Beloved “steals the show playing a part that is meant to be interpreted not just as tetched person or a ghost of the dead but as a metaphor for the vestiges of a horrific past.” Newton does not consider the prevalence of slave roles as evidence of Hollywood’s limited view of African Americans. “People say, ’Oh, you’ve played a slave girl three times,’ but I say: ’Get over it. Just look at the films. They’re all completely different,” she told Swartley.
Newton’s list of leading men includes the late Tupac Shakur. The two appeared together in the 1997 sardonic comedy Gridlock’d, which was directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall. Shakur played a musician who tries to overcome his drug addiction after a singer friend (Newton) overdoses. Newton said to Time about Shakur, “I was rude to him. ’What’s that tatoo?’ I’d ask him. We had a flirty-rude relationship.”
In director Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1999 drama Besieged, Newton played an African medical student living in Rome who is earning a living by working as a housekeeper for an eccentric English pianist, played by David Thewlis. Newton used her Zimbabwean mother as a model for the African character’s style. “That’s my mum. I would sit watching, especially in the mornings, when she would just get up out of bed and put on her cloth in such a swift movement,” Newton said to Swartley.
Newton’s first worked with Tom Cruise in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire, a film in which Newton had a small role. Cruise was so impressed with Newton that her name was quickly mentioned for the role of his leading lady in Mission Impossible 2. The lead female role was especially important since Cruise and director John Woo wanted to give the film a stronger romantic story line than most other action films. Initially, Newton was not enthusiastic about being “the girl” in an action thriller. “When Tom and John Woo asked me to audition, they said it would have a love story. I said ’Yeah, yeah, yeah. The girl’s going to be screaming while the men are showing off their muscles,” Newton told Time. Once Newton was signed to the part of international jewel thief Nyah Hall, the script was rewritten with Newton’s classy style in mind. “We actually designed the character around her. She exuded an elegance and intelligence that this character needed,” Cruise explained to Time.
In preparation for the role of Nyah Hall, Newton wrote a lengthy biography or “backstory” for the character, but ended up throwing it away before filming started. “Who the character was meant nothing at all. Where she was from meant nothing. Everything’s about the moment. The instincts of the characters, how they respond to the situation. It was quite mythical in a way,” Newton told Swartley.
Upon its debut in theaters in May of 2000, Mission: Impossible 2 was a box office smash. The film grossed $70 million during its first week in release. Most critics enjoyed the film’s heart-stopping action sequences and praised Newton’s beauty, but few considered the love story strong enough to be an effective display of Newton’s acting talent.
Newton has been married since 1998 to Oliver Parker, a British screenwriter she met when working on a British television film. “I was completely and immediately besotted,” Newton was quoted by Jewel as telling OK Magazine about her meeting with Parker. Newton turned down a role in a big budget screen version of the popular 1970s series Charlie’s Angels in order to appear in It Was an Accident, a modest budget film written by Parker and set for release in late 2000. Newton and Parker, who live in West London, are expecting their first child at about the same time. Newton is looking forward to motherhood. She told Swartley, “I think when you are called to protect something, a child, instinctively you feel more powerful.”
Motion Picture Guide 1993 (films of 1992). New York: Baseline, 1993.
Boston Globe, November 20, 1992, p. 41.
Entertainment Weekly, June 26, 1998, p. 24.
Interview, November 1998, p. 52.
Los Angeles Magazine, March 1999, p. 106.
New York Times, October 19, 1998, p. El; May 21, 2000, p. Arts and Leisure, p. 23-24.
People, February 24, 1997, p. 144; June 12, 2000, p. 69-70.
Time, May 29, 2000, p. 70.
Washington Post, March 22, 1996, p. B7; October 16, 1998, p. N48; June 11, 1999, p. C5.
Newton, Thandie 1972–
Newton, Thandie 1972–
First name pronounced "tan-dee"; full name, Thandiwe Newton; born November 6, 1972, in Zambia (some sources say London, England); immigrated to England, 1978; daughter of Nick (a lab technician and artist) and Nyasha (a nurse) Newton; married Oliver Parker (a screenwriter), July 11, 1998; children: Ripley (a daughter), Nico (daughter). Education: Studied modern dance at Art Educational School, London, England; Cambridge University, degree in anthropology, 1995.
Addresses: Agent—International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211; William Morris Agency, One William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist—I/D Public Relations, 8409 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.
Awards, Honors: Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture—drama, 1999, both for Beloved; Black Reel Award nomination, best actress—theatrical, 2000, for Besieged; Empire Award nomination, best British actress, Empire magazine, Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite female—newcomer, 2001, all for Mission: Impossible II; Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a motion picture, and Black Reel Award nomination, best actress—theatrical, 2003, both for The Truth About Charlie; Gotham Award nomination (with others), best ensemble cast, Independent Features Project/East, Black Movie Award nomination, outstanding actress in a supporting role, Film Life, 2005, Screen Actors Guild Award (with others), outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture, ALFS Award, British supporting actress of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, Empire Award, best actress, Film Award, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, British Academy of Film and Television, Black Entertainment Television Award nomination, best actress, 2006, all for Crash.
Thandiwe Adjewa, Flirting, 1991.
Rachael Stevens, The Young Americans, 1993.
Yvette, Interview with the Vampire (also known as Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles), Warner Bros., 1994.
Zita, Loaded (also known as Bloody Weekend), Miramax, 1994.
Sally Hemings, Jefferson in Paris (also known as Jefferson a Paris), Buena Vista, 1995.
Annalees Williamsburg, The Journey of August King, Miramax, 1995.
Hilary Rule, The Leading Man, Northern Arts Entertainment, 1996.
Clare, In Your Dreams, 1996.
Cookie, Gridlock'd, Gramercy, 1997.
Shandurai, Besieged (also known as L'Assedio and The Siege), Fine Line, 1998.
Title role, Beloved, Buena Vista, 1998.
Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Mission: Impossible II (also known as M:I-2), Paramount, 2000.
Noreen Hurlock, It Was an Accident, Pathe, 2000.
Herself, Behind the Mission: The Making of "M:I-2" (documentary short; also known as Behind the Mission: The Making of "Mission: Impossible II), Paramount Home Video, 2000.
Regina Lambert, The Truth About Charlie (also known as Die wahrheit uber Charlie), Universal, 2002.
Tiffany, Shade, Dimension Films, 2003.
Dame Vaako, The Chronicles of Riddick (also known as "The Chronicles of Riddick": The Director's Cut), Universal, 2004.
Christine, Crash (also known as L.A. Crash), Lions Gate Films, 2004.
Herself, "Crash" Featurette (documentary short), 2005.
Linda, The Pursuit of Happyness, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006.
Norbit, DreamWorks, 2007.
Television Appearances; Series:
Makemba "Kem" Likasu, ER, NBC, 2003–2005.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Becky Newton, Pirate Prince, 1993.
Clare, In Your Dreams, BBC, 1997.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, Fox, 2000.
Brit Awards 2001, BBC America, 2001.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards, 2001.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards, E! Entertainment Television, 2002.
Dame Vaako, Sci-Fi Channel: The Lowdown—The Chronicles of Riddick, Sci-Fi Channel, 2004.
Presenter, The 2004 MTV Movie Awards, MTV, 2004.
Presenter, The 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, TNT, 2006.
Presenter, The 2006 BET Awards Nominations Live, BET, 2006.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 2000.
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS, 2005.
Tavis Smiley, CBS, 2005.
The Oprah Winfrey Show (also known as Oprah), syndicated, 2005.
Parkinson, BBC, 2006.
Also appeared in The Word, Channel 4; as herself, "The Films of Jonathan Demme," The Directors, Encore.
Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 26, Gale Group, 2000.
Cosmopolitan, June, 2000, p. 172.
EON Magazine, May 24, 2000, p. 1.
Los Angeles Magazine, March, 1999, p. 106.
Movieline, May, 1999, pp. 50-53.
People Weekly, June 12, 2000, p. 69.
Time, May 29, 2000, p. 70.