When husband and wife Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested in Virginia in 1958, it was because he was white and she was not. Their decade-long legal battle to live as an interracial couple in their state, and their life together, is the subject of Jeff Nichols’s film, Loving, for which the Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga, who plays Mildred, was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar on Tuesday. Her sensitive portrayal and easy chemistry with co-star Joel Edgerton was the talk of the Cannes festival last year, where the film’s premiere ended with a long, rapturous standing ovation. As memory serves, Negga, who is also one of the best things about the AMC series Preacher, walked into the screening a virtual unknown—and out of it a star.
What was the first thing you auditioned for that was a professional job? Lolita, in a stage adaptation of Lolita at the Peacock Theater, which is at the Abbey Theater in Dublin. I got the part.
How old were you? Were you like a Lolita? I was two. No, I was an older Lolita, 21, 22 at the time. I had just left college.
Were you nervous? I was terrified, but nothing is more terrifying than drama school, so I was ready.
Did you want to be an actress your whole life? Were you a theatrical child? I think I was a melodramatic child, but I just loved movies. I loved storytelling and the idea that I could be part of this world and disappear into many different worlds. I was drawn to it from a very early age.
What was your favorite movie growing up? Oh gosh, there were so many. Um, off the top of my head, Labyrinth  was a big influence on me. I was very drawn to those sort of fantastical worlds.
You like David Bowie. I love David Bowie, very big fan.
Oscar Nominations 2017: Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet the Beautiful People of This Year’s Academy Awards
Emma Stone, Best Actress, La La Land
Isabelle Huppert, Best Actress, Elle
Ruth Negga, Best Actress, Loving
Natalie Portman, Best Actress, Jackie
Meryl Streep, Best Actress, Florence Foster Jenkins
Andrew Garfield, Best Actor, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, Best Actor, La La Land
Casey Affleck, Best Actor, Manchester by the Sea
Viggo Mortensen, Best Actor, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Best Actor, Fences
Michelle Williams, Best Supporting Actress, Manchester by the Sea
Nicole Kidman, Best Supporting Actress, Lion
Naomi Harris, Best Supporting Actress, Moonlight
Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress, Fences
Mahershala Ali, Best Supporting Actor, Moonlight
Lucas Hedges, Best Supporting Actor, Manchester by the Sea
Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actor, Hell or High Water
Dev Patel, Best Supporting Actor, Lion
Michael Shannon, Best Supporting Actor, Nocturnal Animals
Damien Chazelle, Best Director and Best Screenplay, La La Land
Were you familiar with the Loving case or did you first hear about it when they sent you the project? I knew about the Loving story. I had an interest in American history since I was quite young. I’m just fascinated by this country. But I didn’t really know about the people behind the case until I read Mildred Loving’s obituary. Then I discovered some of Nancy Buirski’s documentary [The Loving Story].
Did you put yourself on tape or did you audition in real life? I went into a room with Jeff [Nichols, the director] and Sarah [Green, the producer] and Francine [Maisler, the casting director]. I think it was important because Jeff wanted to meet actors to get a sense of them, not only what we could bring to the character.
He said when you walked into the room he knew immediately. Did you have that same sense when you read the script? Because you’re so unbelievably right in the movie. Well, when I read Jeff’s script I was struck by its beauty, its simplicity, but also its power. And I was struck this woman. I felt like I was on a mission to get this part. But I was very nervous. I usually don’t go into auditions in character but I knew that in order to do my best I had to sort of disappear into Mildred.
You went and bought a dress? I can’t actually remember. I think I wore a summer dress, something akin to that. I didn’t have time to go shopping for a dress because I had just spent so much time preparing in my room. But I knew that coming in the door as this woman would have an impact that I needed in order to convince Jeff and Sarah that I had the chops to play her.
Ruth Negga, Now an Oscar Nominee, Has Mastered a Gothic, Witchy Style on the Red Carpet
For a party celebrating her 2011 play, ‘The Playboy of the Western World,’ in which she co-starred with Irish actor Robert Sheehan, Negga wore a ruffled mini dress with a coordinating taupe jacket — one that she has been known to recycle on occasion.
For the London Evening Standard British Film Awards in 2012, Negga wore a conservative blue-and-teal chiffon dress accented with a red belt.
From 2013 to 2015, Negga had a recurring role on ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’; she burst back onto the red carpet scene earlier this year with the debut of her new series ‘Preacher’ — and with a witchy new style to match. Here, she wears an edgy David Koma design for the series’ Los Angeles premiere, May 2016.
Following the debut of ‘Preacher,’ Negga jetted off to France for the Cannes Film Festival with co-star Joel Edgerton, where they premiered their film ‘Loving.’ Negga came armed with the wardrobe to match the Oscar-buzz-worthy performance: She starts here with gold Suno dress for the film’s photocall, May 2016.
At the film’s star-studded Cannes premiere, Negga stood out in a daring lace design by Marc Jacobs paired with ’50s-inspired hair and makeup.
Ruth Negga, looking like a red carpet sorceress, opts for a lacy Rodarte design for the premiere of ‘Warcraft’ in Hollywood, California, June 2016.
Negga showed up at Giorgio Armani Privé’s Fall 2016 couture show with longtime boyfriend (and ‘Preacher’ co-star) Dominic Cooper — at risk of overusing the witchy comparison for her red carpet style, the bottom is all Dorothy, the top all Wicked Witch of the West.
Branching out from her now-standard gothic all-black ensembles, Negga opts for a velvet Valentino design from the label’s ballet-inspired Fall 2016 collection at the party celebrating Cartier’s reopening in New York, New York, September 2016.
Combining her love for black lace with a bit of a more tropical aesthetic, Negga selects another Valentino design for her festival run — here, at the Toronto Film Festival’s Entertainment Weekly party, September 2016.
A sweet, classically feminine Prada design took center stage at the Toronto Film Festival looks when Negga stepped out at the InStyle/HFPA party, September 2016.
Returning to the monochrome looks she favored earlier in the year, Negga premiered ‘Loving’ at the Toronto International Film Festival in a long-sleeved grey-and-black dress by Prada, paired with a set of cabernet-colored velvet platforms for a playful edge.
Ruth Negga at the Loving after party at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2016.
Ruth Negga in Givenchy at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York, New York, November 2016.
Ruth Negga in Valentino at the premiere of Loving in West Hollywood, California, October 2016.
Ruth Negga in Prada at People’s ‘Ones To Watch’ event in Hollywood, California, October 2016.
Negga wore Valentino to the 28th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Film Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center on January 2, 2017.
Negga was dressed to win in Louis Vuitton at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Negga’s somber black Dolce & Gabbana look was the perfect take on Elvira at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Ruth Negga, like all of us, loves a skirt with pockets. This one’s Miu Miu.
A pastel riff on her usual witchy silhouettes, Negga takes on the red carpet in Valentino. Movies for grownups, indeed.
The best way to execute a conservative, ankle-length dress? Paired with a fur stole, of course. In Erdem, Negga is radiant at a Farfetch event.
Luck of the Irish: Negga can pull off that tough grass green like no one else — here, she works varying shades, including a Miu Miu dress and a Max Mara coat.
HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: Actor Ruth Negga attends the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
And what was Cannes like for you? Cannes was extraordinary. It was the first time I had been to the festival, the first time I had been on the Croisette. It was a very surreal experience to be in this place, which I had seen on television and in photographs for so many years. It was thrilling, you know, walking up those steps.
I was there. You sort of walked up one person and walked down another. It was kind of transforming, that whole experience. Well, I walked up in full make-up and then I walked down with mascara dripping.
You had like a 30-minute standing ovation, so I mean there was a lot of emotion there. Yeah, at the end the cameras, you know, film you. And after a while you’re thinking, “Uh, I need to blow my nose before it drips all over my frock.”
So what movie makes you cry? My movie. I do get very choked up when I watch it because it is a very moving, wonderful film. And the ending is a very special moment for me, an homage to this couple.
Who’s your cinematic crush? Mmm, Bette Davis is my cinematic crush. I love her.
Any particular film? All About Eve. But all of them.
Do you remember when you first saw it? Yeah, I was a teenager and just astounded by the comedy, the fine acting throughout. The story is just extraordinary, and it’s all about the theater. I found that quite interesting.
And we’ve all known a few Eve Harringtons. And if you haven’t, you’re probably the Eve Harrington.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie? I think all the dressing room scenes are just fantastic because they’re so familiar to me. You really can smell the grease paint off that film.
What’s your favorite love scene in a movie? The Bodyguard is a really romantic film. That always leaves me weeping. That was a big hit in our family. I also love Betty Blue. I think that’s a beautiful film.
That’s quite sexy. Yeah, that’s a very sexy film.
What’s your pet peeve? You know, I really resent people being late—until I’m late. And when you’re on stage, the blue screens you can see in the audience. I probably shouldn’t be thrown, but I do get thrown by things like that.
What was the wildest thing you ever did in school? I wasn’t wild in school. I left that till a bit later. I was very impatient as an adolescent to get that bit over and done with so I could go to drama school. I used to spend a lot of time in the library reading Sight and Sound and trying to learn about the movies. I think I spent my adolescence preparing for adulthood, which sounds like a waste now.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.