Entertainment

‘Loving’: Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga reflect on landmark civil rights case

Mark Daniell.

By Mark Daniell, Postmedia Network

LOS ANGELES – As an actor, Joel Edgerton likes tackling unbelievable stories.

No, we’re not talking about big-budget, science-fiction fare. The Australian actor and director gets excited recounting stories of our shared human experience.

Films that move the dial and illuminate corners of humanity otherwise shrouded in darkness.

So it’s no surprise that when writer-director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) pitched him Loving, the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, he was keen.

“I don’t think it’s shameful that people don’t know the story of Richard and Mildred, but I hope it draws people in because they hold a prominent place in (America’s) civil rights timeline,” Edgerton says, during an interview at a Beverly Hills hotel.

In the summer of 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple from Virginia, fell in love and got married. Not long after, a sheriff arrested them. Their coupling violated state law and they were forced to move to Washington, D.C.

Over the next nine years, the Lovings fought, in exile, to be able to move back to Virginia with their battle culminating in a landmark civil rights case – Loving v. Virginia – that allowed them to return home.

“I had never heard about the case,” Edgerton says. “Jeff is the one that opened the door. I thought 'That’s cool, I’m Australian, I’ve got my own stories I’m concerned with in my own country.' Then I realized there were tons of people who didn’t know about Richard and Mildred in America. On further examination, I think that’s because we look to the bigger events and newsworthiness is, sadly, often about violence and people being assassinated.

“Those are the bigger events in the timeline (of race relations) in this country ... but Richard and Mildred change the law and that’s no little thing to do.”

Preacher actress Ruth Negga, who plays the quietly resilient Mildred, echoes that sentiment.

“I thought, I really want to spend time with this lady,” she says. “If I can do a good job of her, then people will find out about her story. People will celebrate this couple.”

Loving, which is generating Oscar buzz for its stars and director, is inspired by Nancy Buirski’s 2011 HBO documentary The Loving Story.

The movie could have been centred around their legal victory. But instead, Nichols gives his audience a snapshot of how the Lovings built a life together.

“Jeff is a guy that has the dirt and grime (of life) in his films,” Edgerton says. “So I fell in love with them as people. They were honest and true and didn’t deserve that situation.”

Edgerton, who is best known for his work in Black Mass (opposite Johnny Depp), the Great Gatsby (opposite Leonardo DiCaprio) and last year’s critically acclaimed The Gift, says movies like Loving give him a chance to reflect and find something new about himself.

“I remember being moved as a kid watching people being exiled from their own country,” he says thoughtfully. “People who came from a war-torn place and they literally carried all their possessions on their back. And I remember someone saying to me, ‘That could be you.’

“That aspect of saying, ‘You could be me, and I could be you’ – the moment that clicks in your brain, it’s impossible to hurt another person or to wish negativity on them. There’s something about this movie that really said all that to me and more.”

Loving opens in select cities Friday, Nov. 11. It will expand to other markets throughout the fall.

Twitter: @markhdaniell

MDaniell@postmedia.com