A valueable entertainment export of Zambia, the exotic star is rising to Hollywood stardom after appearing in movies like "Mission: Impossible 2" and "Interview With The Vampire And Beloved." Thandie (pronounced Tan-dee) Newton was born November 6, 1972, in Zambia, Africa. Her exotic and original beauty can be attributed to her mixed heritage: her father Nick Newton, a British artist and former lab technician married Nyasha, a Zimbabwean nurse. Because of political instability in her native Zambia, Thandie's family relocated to Nick's hometown of Penzance, England, when Thandie was 5 years old. Growing up in England along with her younger brother James, Thandie was originally passionate about dance. While studying modern dance at the London Art Educational School, a back injury led her to acting when she was forced to miss classes and was encouraged to audition for a film that was on the lookout for fresh talent at her school. The movie that was holding auditions was entitled Flirting, by Australian director John Duigan. Thandie landed the role of an Ugandan teen who falls in love with the white lead, Danny Embling. Released in 1991, the film marks Thandie's feature film debut and a switch in career goals -- especially considering the Australian film awards she earned. While playing "Thandiwe" (Duigan chose the name in honor of the actress), Thandie befriended her pal and co-star, Australian actress Nicole Kidman.
Incidentally, Flirting wasn't only the name of the movie, but it was also what was going on between Thandie and director Duigan, as the two were allegedly romantically involved. Duigan continued to play an important role throughout Thandie's film career, having directed her in 1995's The Journey of August King, co-starring Jason Patric, and 1996's The Leading Man, opposite Jon Bon Jovi.
After Flirting, Thandie was cast in the 1994 bloodfest, Interview With The Vampire, starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst. After a role in 1995's Jefferson in Paris, which featured her as Thomas Jefferson's slave mistress, Thandie tried to diversify her acting portfolio (all the while studying at Cambridge university for her Anthropology degree) with her role in 1997's Gridlock'd (co-starring Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur), showcasing the actress as a heroine-addicted jazz singer.
Thandie received critical praise for the latter, and her skills were further underscored by her work in Bernardo Bertolucci's Beseiged, in 1998. That same year, Thandie starred as the title character in Jonathan Demme's adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel, Beloved. Although "Thandie" literally translates into "beloved," and Thandie herself gave a solid performance, the film bombed at the box-office.
Thandie was chosen to join Vanity Fair's April 1999 cover of the "Up and Comers," although she had not been in a high-profile role. That would all change in the summer of 2000, when she worked with her former Interview co-star, Tom Cruise, in John Woo's Mission: Impossible 2. As jewel thief Nyah Hall, Thandie practically stole the show from her co-star and the thrilling special effects, and audiences wondered who the "new actress" sharing steamy scenes with Tom Cruise was.
Not only is she far from a new actress, but the steamy chemistry between her and Cruise was surely acting; she is happily married to screenwriter Oliver Parker, who she met when starred in his made-for-TV movie, In Your Dreams. Thandie was set to join heavenly actresses Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz in the film Charlie's Angels (a part which Lucy Lui ultimately landed), but had to pass due to scheduling conflicts. There will be another Charlie in her life though, as she is set to co-star with Mark Wahlberg in the film The Truth About Charlie. Thandie and her husband recently welcomed a new addition to their family in September 2000, their daughter Ripley.
Thandie Newton: Beloved and Beguiling
From Bertolucci to John Woo may seem a stretch, but for beautiful Thandie Newton, it's all part of a growth process. She began her career in Australia with John Duigan's Flirting, now she's back working on a somewhat bigger film, Mission Impossible 2. About to hit Australian cinema screens in Bertolucci's Besieged, the actress talked from the set of Mission Impossible 2.
The last time Thandie Newton made an impact on cinema audiences was in the title role of Jonathan Demme's drama Beloved. Oscar nominations were predicted and Newton herself was singled out for mention in the majority of reviews. It was a film that was Newton's passion, despite it being the third time the actress had played a slave on the screen. "This film blew apart everything I'd ever considered about slavery, she recalled, noting that her name, Thandie, coincidentally means 'beloved one'. "The intimacy of the story made the subject more accessible than ever, at least to me."
Newton's commitment to her character - a mysterious 20-year-old with the mind of a 2-year-old - was such that she didn't resist one of director Jonathan Demme's script alterations: He wanted a shot of 400,000 ladybugs crawling over Beloved, from head to toe. "By that point, she says, I had already explored so many dark places that working with a few hundred thousand insects was a picnic." So it's not surprising then, that Newton still remains devastated that audiences largely ignored the film that she worked on with such intensity. "I was surprised at how frustrated I was. I guess I realised that it wasn't the time for that kind of film, maybe the wrong decade, but I still think it has a long life ahead of it." It's interesting that the actress takes the film's commercial failure, personally. "You can't deny that if you're in a film which isn't successful, it's as though you haven't actually given that performance in the way that judges what the business side of Hollywood thinks of you."
Though Thandie doesn't come across as a Hollywood type, whatever that may be, she views it in a very matter-of-fact way. "It's a system which is actually quite easy to read. There are certain rules within that system, and I don't feel threatened by them. Also if you're in a movie that's done well, then cash in on the success and do other things quickly, then your career ends up as a very fast turnover, which is something else I'm aware of. I just decided not to use those things in terms of how my life to turn around; I DON'T want to be at the mercy of superficial ways of looking at cinema." Of course, that perspective may have changed through her decision to co-star in one of the biggest films of next year's US Summer slate: Mission Impossible 2. "It was easy to decide to do that film after I read the script. But also I had long admired John Woo for years, even well before stuff like Broken Arrow. His Hong Kong films are just extraordinary. So when I heard John Woo and Tom Cruise were coming together to make a movie, it seemed like his amazing combination, similar to Tarrantino and Travolta. On the surface, it might all sound bizarre, but the end result is unique." Working with Woo has given Newton a whole new perspective on the movie making process. "He manages to be so incredibly expressive as a filmmaker, the way he uses slow motion is just brilliant."
It's the second time Newton has worked with Cruise (the first was on Interview with a Vampire) and remains genuinely enthused on the superstar. "He's a genuinely nice guy and incredibly focussed. One learns a lot from working with him."
The exotic experience of Mission is a far cry from her African roots and education. The British-born daughter of a Zimbabwean mother ("A princess of the Shona tribe") and an English father, Newton spent her first years in Zambia until political uncertainties drove the family back to Cornwall on England's south coast.
There, the appearance of a black person was still considered exotic in the mid-1970s, but the locals were fascinated rather than hostile. "I've never really experienced racism," she asserts. "My parents protected me, and as an actress, being black has been an advantage. You're different, so you get noticed and in this business you need something to get you noticed, don't you?" At age 11, having left her parents and brother in Cornwall, Newton studied modern dance at London's Arts Educational School. After an injury put her out of action, she was perfectly happy to audition for director John Duigan, who fortuitously arrived at her school looking for a young black actress to play the lead in his film called Flirting. Although she'd never had drama training or the slightest interest in becoming an actress, Newton got the part and, at 16, found herself in Australia working with Nicole Kidman. She returned home bitten by the acting and travel bugs, and promptly went off to visit her then boyfriend in L.A. He suggested she find an agent and, with the almost casual insouciance that characterizes her approach to show business, she picked up the telephone and in a mere three days had an agent, an audition and a film offer. The latter was withdrawn when the producer, confronted by her English accent, lost confidence.
Back home again and "a little scarred" by that experience, Newton decided to get some "real" education ("I owed it to myself, and to my parents, who had sacrificed so much for me"). She chose the August halls of learning at Cambridge and emerged a few years later with a degree in anthropology. "It gave me such an eye into different cultures, and that's given me confidence for the different roles I've chosen to play," she says. In between semesters she made a number of the 10 films that span her 9 year career, including Loaded (1994), Interview with the Vampire (1994), The Journey of August King (1995), Jefferson in Paris (1995), The Leading Man (1996), Gridlock'd (1997) and of course last year's Beloved. Newton's latest film, as distinct a work from Mission Impossible and Beloved as you can find, is Bernardo Bertolucci's latest film, Besieged.
The film is set in Rome, where reclusive British composer Jason Kinsky (David Thewlis) lives in the building he inherited from his aunt, while his cleaning woman Shandurai (Newton) resides in the basement, studying medicine. One day, Kinsky tells Shandurai that he loves her and will do anything for her, so she asks him to free her husband, a political prisoner back in Africa. To acquire funds for the man's release, Kinsky begins selling his possessions, including his piano, while Shandurai hangs out with her friend Agostino (Claudio Santamaria), a man angling to get her into bed. Shandurai is one of Newton's more complex characters and represents quite a switch through her comparative internalisation, but it was a character the actress was able to tap into. "I identified very strongly with this woman's need for repression based on what she's been going through in her life. Though she's very quiet, I gave her a heavy quiet, if you know what I mean. She was a remarkable creature to play." As for working with master filmmaker Bertolucci (who actually made the film for television on a shoestring budget), Newton was ecstatic over the experience of working with the Oscar winner. "He's full of infectious passion and he genuinely adores actors, so he goes out of his way for them, and allows you to have input; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience working with him, and it's a film that I'm very proud of."
From Besieged to Mission is quite a leap, but it's a leap the actress revels in - she's having a ball. "Oh it's a lot of fun doing this, and it's great doing an action film - I can utilise my dance training for this film, which has been invaluable." Newton is consistently bemused by the media's obsession with the film, and the so-called secrets emanating from media spies. "God I think it's hilarious, all the stuff I've read so far; where do they get it from? People seem to think this is such a glamorous profession, but it's a job, and a hard one. You get picked up, go to the set, do your job and go home." But what a job! As passionate Newton is about acting, her other main passion is husband, Spanish screenwriter Oliver Parker whom she met two years ago when the British TV movie In Your Dreams - his script about date rape - drew her to his project. Ever since, she says, "you couldn't fit a piece of paper between us" Husband and family now remain her number one priority. As for professional life after her not-so-impossible Mission, "I have one of two film offers to decide upon very quickly, so I can't talk about what I want to do just yet."
Thandie Newton’s Law
EXCLUSIVE Thandie Newton/The Truth About Charlie Interview
Beautiful 30-year old Thandie Newton is very picky as to what she does. Motherhood, she says, is a strong criterion in her decision-making process. "I went to see Red Dragon the other night, and after the first five minutes, I felt physically sick and just terrified, because I genuinely felt the horror of what that was being implied. A family, children, and it's like we are able to just shut down enough of us to be able to enjoy it, or find it intriguing. I just can't go there anymore because of the fact that I'm a mother, knowing that kids are MUCH more sensitive, so I wouldn't want to do something like that."
Married to writer Oliver Parker, they have a 2-year old daughter, Ripley, both of whom were with the actress while she was shooting her latest film, The Truth About Charlie, admitting that with her family around her, in that most romantic of cities, "It's hard not to be romantic and was quite extraordinary. My husband and I had a beautiful time once when I wasn't working," she says, smilingly and she would go for "Walks with my baby. The Luxemburg Gardens were just right around the corner from us, and we would go there. Whenever I felt stressed or just needed to relax, I would head to the Luxemburg Gardens because they had the most tranquil atmosphere, and I would sit there with my baby. It was in the summer so it was beautiful. To be in any city, when you are working on a film, that has a decent budget, isn't a bad thing. We had a car and a lovely guy who drove us everywhere and would sometimes take us to restaurants if we needed to. I felt like we had the key to the city."
The Truth About Charlie, directed by Jonathan Demme, is a remake of the 60s classic Charade which starred the legendary Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Newton plays the latter's character in this very French New Wave remake, playing Regina Lambert, wife of a wealthy businessman whose murder on a train leads a group of would-be killers on her own trail searching for some missing money. Mark Wahlberg steps into the old Grant role of a mysterious stranger whose intentions are consistently unclear.
The trick for Newton was to avoid comparisons with Hepburn and make the role her own. "I just didn't think about it and it's only now that it occurs to me that it is obviously an issue that's of significance. It was so not significant when we were making it", explains Newton. “Demme is such a good filmmaker, why would he copy anyone else? So, I knew that it was going to be something that stood out on its own. Thus it was important for me, as it was for Jonathan, to get that, and it wasn't even to try and not do similar things to Charade, but rather: Let's just see how we go, see how it evolves, and if things come out to be the same, or if things turn out to be different, it is purely accidental. I also think that maybe I was in denial about what the ramifications of doing something that had been made before, but I wasn't flattering myself, since I wasn't cast because of any similarities. I knew that by virtue of the fact that Jonathan wanted to update it, make it completely different, just depart from it totally, that in casting me, he was doing that too, departing, moving on, and you see with Mark Wahlberg, that he's so not like Cary Grant, his age, his manner, there's nothing like it."
Thandie previously worked with Demme on the commercially disastrous Beloved, which starred Oprah Winfrey. It is clear that Demme and Newton were keen to re-team. "Because we had had such a great connection on Beloved, we worked really well together, and then that was a bit of a more technical thing, before we got to know each other really well after Beloved. We also have a similar sense of humour, the same outlook on life, the same values, and friends. I think if you can work with someone with whom you work well together, but who you get along well with, and have a laugh with, that's so important."
Although Truth About Charlie is a big studio film, Newton's attraction of doing this, was "more to do with working with Jonathan again, because I knew that with him directing, it was going to be very different, and wouldn't fall into the same remake that some movies fall into." For Newton, the work, not the career has always remained of paramount importance to the actress. Hinting that she didn't particularly enjoy the Mission:Impossible experience, she decided against Charlie's Angels in favour of a smaller British film, It was an Accident, written by her husband. Hollywood fame holds no interest to this intelligent Cambridge graduate, and lives with her family in London. While Jonathan Demme calls Newton underappreciated as an actress, Thandie disagrees. "I don't feel like that at all. I think there are so many reasons why people get cast, and you can't ever know those reasons or predict all those reasons and making a film is a very complicated affair. You know, it's a lot of money going into it, so if a stingy old director, isn't confident in the person that they've cast, they shouldn't go with them. Whether they make a mistake with me, I never ever feel put out if I'm not getting a role, or not being considered. Like is too short to be sort of analysing what you are ultimately never going to know. Also, I am really glad the way things have worked out, and I feel like I have reached a point now where there are some things I won't do, because I am not interested in doing them."
It was the Australian film Flirting, starring Nicole Kidman and featuring a complete unknown Naomi Watts, that put Newton on the map. Still friends with both women, Newton had no idea at the time she shot that film, at age 18, that she would still continue to embrace an acting career, years later. "I think most actors feel like, God, maybe I won't be doing this next year, even though there may not be a next year."
Enjoying motherhood, Newton continues to be selective as to what she will do. "If I'm going to work on something, it's going to have to be something that it is creatively satisfying, that is going to interest me, for all the reasons why you think that someone would choose anything. And, because of my daughter, I don't want to be doing everything I can, because I don't want to be away from her too much." Motherhood has obviously changed her life, she says, gushingly. "I feel very rooted. Having lived out my adolescence in this business, it's not the best place to do that, really, and having a child, was like being introduced to myself. When you have a child, you have to feel like you're the best person that you can be, because so much of what they learn is by example. And it's not like I read this, it's seems obvious, but it's starling how much you throw away. How much stuff isn't important, how much, the stuff I was preoccupied with, the grievances I had, just my preoccupations, my time I would waste. Everything is very simple now, and very, much more focussed. I am not fearful of anything."
More fast facts about Thandie Newton
Birth Name: Thandiwe Newton
Her Quote: "When we moved to England, there were very few black people in the town. We were almost a novelty. It was an opportunity for the neighbors to tell others, 'I met an African girl, how exotic!' I always saw being black as something very useful, a mysterious element I could use to enrich my personality. Then I went into the arts, where difference is celebrated. So I've never really experienced racial hassle."
Claim to Fame: Title role opposite Oprah Winfrey in Jonathan Demme's Beloved (1998)
Husband: Oliver Parker, director; married July 1998
Grandfather: owned antique business in Penzance; paternal grandfather
Father: Nick Newton; English
Mother: Nyasha Newton; Zimbabwean princess
Daughter: Ripley; born September 17, 2000
Her name Thandie is a Bantu term for "loved one"
England's Arts Educational School
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England; majored in anthropology.
Thandie Newton can really pick 'em
Costars, that is. The 26-year-old Cambridge-educated actress already lists movies with Jon Bon Jovi (The Leading Man), Tupac Shakur (Gridlock'd) and Jason Patric (The Journey of August King) on her résumé.
Now, Thandie (pronounced Tan-dee) is ready to generate some serious costar power. This winter, she can be seen opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2. It's a mission the Zimbabwe-born, Britain-raised Newton will gladly accept.
Actually, the John Woo-directed action thriller marks a reunion of sorts, since Newton had a small role opposite Cruise in 1994's Interview With a Vampire.
She'll be found later this year with David Thewlis in Besieged, the latest effort from Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci.
Considering Newton stumbled--quite literally--onto acting a few years ago, she's doing just fine. "I was trained to be a dancer, and I got an injury when I was 16 and I couldn't dance," she says. "In that week, there was a call from a casting director for any African-looking girl. My teacher said, have a day out in London, because they were paying for the train ticket."
Much to her surprise, Newton landed the part--in the Australian film Flirting--and began a steady stream of small- to medium-size roles. Her biggest gig to date? The 1998 performance as the ethereal title character in Oprah Winfrey's Beloved.
Recently, Newton found her own beloved, getting married in mid 1998. Don't ask for details, though. This is one leading man she wants to keep private.
Thandie Newton Talks About "The Truth About Charlie"
"The Truth About Charlie" stars Thandie Newton as a young woman desperately searching for answers about her husband's murder and a missing fortune. Mark Wahlberg costars as the mysterious 'helping hand' who is ready to assist her in her search for the truth.
Writer/producer/director Jonathan Demme admits the chance to see Thandie Newton in the role of Regina Lampert (originally played by Audrey Hepburn in "Charade") was the key motivation behind making "The Truth About Charlie."
"I was really keyed to making another movie with Thandie. She's truly a great young actress: charming, deep, incredibly smart, funny, so totally classy, and ready to try anything as an artist, really fearless, and equipped with a remarkably imaginative point of view on character and story," said Demme, adding, "When I saw 'Charade' again, I immediately felt that here was a superb vehicle for this exceptionally gifted and thus-far underutilized actress."
THANDIE NEWTON (Regina Lampert)
Were you familiar with the original "Charade?"
The first time I ever saw "Charade" was at Jonathan's [Demme] house. He said, "Come and watch this great old movie with me." We watched the film and he said, "Don't you think that would make a great update?" I thought it would. [He asked], "With you in that part?" I said, "Oh please, shut up." Then two years later, we were doing just that. That's why I would pull him aside on the film set and go, "Oh my God, can you believe this is happening?" I mean, maybe that's what people who sort of go into a business together feel like, that all of this is happening. I'd also feel freaked out sometimes because everybody [was] there. I thought, "Oh my God, this was just an idea that germinated in the den of your house while we were watching a video."
Was it daunting to take on the Audrey Hepburn role?
No. What I thought when he said, "You in that role," I genuinely did think, "Oh, yeah, right." It wasn't until a good six months later that he said, "'I want you to do this and I want you to read this updated version that I've done." I very quickly read a new version - "The Truth About Charlie." I didn't have time to reference back to the other one. It was very different, [with] different characters and so on.
I take my job very seriously and I don't tend to look outside of what I'm doing. I tend not to look at what other actors have done to inspire what I'm doing either. I concentrate solely on the piece. I was aware that I was playing Regina Lambert, not playing Audrey Hepburn playing Regina Lambert. Maybe I was in denial because I was playing a role that she played, and that's as close as I'm ever going to come to Audrey Hepburn, is to play a role that she played. That in itself is an amazing thing.
Was there any discussion of trying to make sure you're different from Hepburn?
When I read the new "The Truth About Charlie," I was aware that there were a few lines that were the same. I never went back to "Charade." I thought that had to be left alone so that I could be free and fresh to interpret it from my point of view. It was never referred to, ever. If there are any similarities, they're accidents, or [we] decided we wanted to draw from that film some great lines or situations. But all that said, I heard [Demme] do an interview recently where he made a point that the best set pieces in "Charade," he decided to absolutely do new stuff. Like the great orange scene in the club when they're passing through. That would've been great but they did that - and they did it beautifully. He wanted to try and use that as a challenge to do something equal. Then he came up with the Tango, because Jonathan wants to be challenged. I don't think he's interested in just taking a film and using it in every way.
Have you developed a shorthand working with Jonathan Demme?
I suppose so. Yes, in that I'm not afraid of what he might say or of disappointing him. None of that worries me because we have this kind of baseline of respect and he's a great, great friend. You can tell, I'm sure, that he's a great friend, a great person to have in your life.
The two films were so different that it was hard to know if we were really working the same way. "Beloved" had a certain set of demands and we didn't actually know each other very well on "Beloved." I kept my distance from everybody because it was quite a hard part to play. I just felt it was easier for me just to withdraw and only be there when I had to be 'Beloved.' With this film, we were just all hanging out together all the time. Jonathan and I were really good friends and had been for years. I would sometimes pull him aside and say, "Can you believe we're making this film together?" It just seemed like we got away with it because we're really good friends.
Why was the nudity necessary, and how comfortable were you with it?
Because it was Jonathan, I knew that there would be nothing. You think that you've seen a lot more in that scene, but you've actually seen nothing at all. In "Charade," there's a scene where Cary Grant has a fully clothed shower. [Demme] wanted to just flip it and have me having a nude shower. I wondered why, but Jonathan's not exploitative and it's not gratuitous.
I think the other reason why it was important is that Regina, at that point, is so trusting and so glad to have someone that she can kind of rely on. He really seems to be the business, this guy. He's gonna really help her out and she's got nothing else and no one else. On the one hand, he's in the living room going through her stuff - that's the moment when you realize that actually he is probably as much of a threat as anybody else - and she's there naked in the shower. It's just the juxtaposition of her absolute vulnerability and his exploitativeness. I knew at the time you were going to get that. And also just her naiveté. She's there washing in the shower and not thinking that there's an audience out there who's going, "Oh, God, she's nude in the shower." And there's the fact that you don't see anything, so I was comfortable with that.
Was shooting this film different from your average film?
It was different. Sometimes I wasn't even aware of what they were doing, because we were having to shoot quickly in daylight. We were having to shoot quickly because in 10 minutes, the train was going to come and loads of people were going to come in. We were really relying on what was happening at the time in Paris. We didn't want to control crowds or do anything like that because you don't have to have a permit. You don't have a fixed camera in Paris. So that was different, but I was primed a little bit for that with Bertolucci where, similarly, a lot of it was handheld and we were out in the streets. I was very comfortable with that.
What was different, though, was we had to sort of rush through and do things so quickly that I kind of lost sight of what we just did. [I thought], "Was it good? Did I get that?" There was the scene in the wheel with Tim Robbins, which was honestly the coldest day of my life. Oh God it was horrible, and Jonathan wasn't even there. He was in another little car talking through a walkie-talkie at the end of each shot. It was kind of you're on your own and that was very different. I haven't experienced [that] before. There were other times like that where they were shooting long-lens and Jonathan was miles away. If I was lucky, I could reach him on a walkie-talkie.
What was it like to work with Mark Wahlberg?
He brings many different people, actually, which is interesting for the casting of Mark in this film. I would say to Mark, "Who are you going to be today?" because I just never knew. He's got a number of different attitudes or personas, and he's not aware of it. I'm quite inquisitive and I don't just see what's there. I tend to want to get deeper. I suppose I would try with Mark, but all you get is the kind of surface personality that would change.
Is that Mark Walhberg or his character?
For the character, obviously, that would be the same too, so it was kind of disconcerting. Whether he was doing that because of the film or because that's just him, I was never sure. We worked in very, very different ways, which was refreshing. It's always nice to not know what to expect and just sort of wing it, especially when you haven't rehearsed because Jonathan doesn't like to rehearse. Mark is very, very low key. He doesn't want to talk; he just wants to do it. I just wanna chat and, because we haven't rehearsed, just talk about the scene. It did make me question whether talking was just kind of throwing up a smokescreen. Why not just get in there and do it and be more exposed? He didn't like a lot of chat. His preparation was impeccable. Sometimes I would go, "Oh, what's my line?" and he could tell me, which is embarrassing. I wouldn't have expected that he would be like that.