Thandie Newton has a practical and fiercely honest perspective on her career, at least in Hollywood. The still luminous actress, who turns up as a kind of Lady Macbeth figure in the new Vin Diesel blockbuster, The Chronicles of Riddick, also turned up for several episodes of the hugely popular E.R.
She was easily persuaded to join the cast of the show as an AIDS worker in Africa, who ultimately falls for Dr John Carter, gets pregnant and loses their baby. “I really liked the storyline and really enjoyed watching the show but as a fan: Thursday night, order take out, friends and ER. I don’t have that kind of career where people really tell me what to do,” she suddenly concedes. “So I did it and I had a lot of fun doing the first one, but then it became just a little bit of a bind even though I enjoyed every like everyone I had to play opposite.”
Newton says she has at least one more episode to shoot, which will presumably wrap up her storyline. “It’s amazing what they can do, in that they can provide closure to a storyline and you don’t even have to actually be there,” she says laughingly. “The other good thing about TV is you film eight scenes a day. I mean, the first day I was shooting I had lower back pain at the end of the day because I had not sat down all day. God, it was fantastic. I loved it. Fucking films. You can spend hours and hours waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting. And that’s OK if it’s a very involving piece. Also, if you have the will power, it means you can pursue other careers quite happily in the trailer. You know, you can be a fashion designer or a writer.” An option that she is seriously considering, she says. “I think I’ll probably write something, a Family. Drama. I’m good at frame works and plots, but my dialogue is atrocious. It gets very over-wrought. My husband’s a writer and his dialogue is brilliant, so, I’m very often his script-editor, so I think we’ll probably write something together.”
One would imagine that shooting a film such as Chronicles of Riddick, affords Newton an opportunity to contemplate her future. In a career spanning some 15 years, when as, a beautiful adolescent, she made an auspicious debut in Flirting, Newton’s career can be defined as diverse and unpredictable. Yet here she is parading around on screen in a tightly adorned golden costume, chewing the scenery as one of many antagonists in Riddick. She is surprised when it is suggested that her appearing in a Vin Diesel film seems something of an anomaly.
“I really believe that if you’re a strong actor, good actor, you can literally do anything and will always bounce back from wherever you are, and you know what? I’ve been involved in projects that hands down I thought would be a success or at least would guarantee some kind of quality, and they haven’t or they’ve gone some way to doing that but not,” Newton passionately explains. “I just feel like it’s got to be about the process and about the doing of it, rather than be about how it’s going to be perceived. It’s got to be about what it feels like at the time of actually making that project, because just a few times I’ve worked on projects because I think that it will seem great, or it will be a really good career move or about perception and I haven’t had a good time. I haven’t enjoyed the experience and it’s not that I knew I wasn’t gonna enjoy it, or knew that I was gonna enjoy it, I wasn’t doing it for the experience of making a film necessarily, and I just decided I wanted to do things that were going to make me feel interested.”
Newton said that agreeing to do Riddick had nothing to do with it being a Vin Diesel film or, in cynical terms, about pure Hollywood business. “A decision that would come before that will be about timing. I hadn’t worked for about six months, was really unhappy with my representation which I don’t really think about but it was very clear that it was not working. I would have these meetings with an agent that would say, ‘there’s no reason in the world why you can’t be the next …’ and you know, you’re gonna be this huge star and I suddenly realised that what was happening was that I was continually feeling like a failure because I was constantly being pitched as, ‘you could be this, you could be this’ and I suddenly realised, I wanted to celebrate how much I’ve done right now. I want to be really glad. I thought, I’m really happy with what’s going on right now and I also really believe that I have a talent as an actor and I know that I will work on projects that have depth. But to be honest, those things are few and far between and I don’t want to be not working for six months because I’m waiting for an amazing script, so when I read the Chronicles of Riddick, I liked the idea. I liked the twists and turns in the story. I didn’t really think about Vin. I literally hadn’t seen a Vin Diesel film. I know who he is. and I know that the kids love him, and I also thought that he would definitely fit this role as a kind of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian, Terminator kind of quality. I was willing to take a chance on that and I liked the idea of playing this Lady Macbeth. It seemed like a lot of fun to me.” Newton found her character appealing, “because it was a strong, malicious character which I hadn’t done before and thought it was interesting to play someone who the audience wouldn’t automatically sympathise with.”
Newton also loved the fact that whether Riddick succeeds or fails, “it will not do so, based on my participation and that is something you have to think about. You don’t want to be involved in a hugely high profile film that could be an absolute disaster, but also, it’s not good to supposedly be carrying film after film and then not doing well because then people just associate you with bad material.”
Newton has survived in an industry which, by her own admission, chews out actor after actor. Yet, some 18 films since 1991’s Flirting, the 32-year old actress says that it’s “the occasional film that just reignites my love for acting,” Newton says. “I can go through months where I just want to quit and it’s funny the films that do reignite that love,”
Thandie’s consistent strength in this volatile business, has as much to do with her family as anything. Happily married to writer Oliver Parker, the couple has a four-year old daughter, Ripley. She says balancing marriage, motherhood and career have proven a challenge she has met with gusto. “It’s been perfect because there were times before we had Ripley when I just didn’t enjoy the sitting around, the down time, or the lack of emotional and intellectual stimulus and satisfaction. That really bothered me and I just thought I’ve got to find another career, which you can’t, because it is just too demanding. Then I became a mother and it just fills every space, that isn’t filled with something else important. It’s just like this incredible balloon that blows up and fills life up.”
Newton continues to call London home, refusing to base herself here in Los Angeles. “London is like a bit of a holiday resort because I don’t work much in England, which is fine. I don’t mind because I work steadily and I’m quite happy to, because when I come to LA it’s all business and I just sort of put my head down.” Newton is planning to co-write a script with her husband for a Hollywood studio, has an Indie film, Crash, due out later this year, and then hopes to concentrate on another important production. “I want more babies,” Newton confesses. Asked why the big gap between Ripley and future children, Newton says, “We’re just dining out on the experience of being with her. Of course having kids close together is a good idea because they get to be really great buddies but I just I wanted to. Wait and devote as much energy and time to her. It’s taken this long to feel like she’s ready.”