Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga is one of Hollywood’s most exciting rising stars. The actress has received countless nods for her performance in Loving, including most recently a 'Best Actress in a Leading Role' nomination at The Oscars, arguably the world's most prestigious awards ceremony. She has also been nominated for 2003’s Most Promising Newcomer at the Olivier Awards, and has frequently been seen treading the boards at every playhouse from The National to the Old Vic.
A private person, Negga now finds herself thrust into the realm of media intrusions, but she remains philosophical about the sudden shock of attention. “It’s a little overwhelming and I’m very grateful,” she says in her gentle Irish accent. “But at the same time, I have also been comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to strive for great things and not get there as long as you’re doing what you love and enjoying that. I’m very proud of Loving and I want to do everything I can to get as many people to see it as possible because it’s such a deeply honest film about an extraordinary couple.”
Directed by Jeff Nichols, the film is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a mixed-race couple whose 1958 marriage led to their arrest in the state of Virginia, obliging them to move to neighbouring Washington, DC. That led to the landmark civil rights case – Loving v. State of Virginia – that ultimately saw the US Supreme Court decide in their favour, thereby overturning all state laws prohibiting mixed-race marriages.
Emotionally charged and deeply moving, the film couldn’t feel more timely as racial tension continues to dominate headlines both in London and around the world, but as Negga is quick to point out, at its heart it is a rare and wondrous love story.
“It’s lovely to see how people are responding to the story of Mildred and Richard - this deep, soulful and respectful love between two human beings,” she says warmly. “People who see this film will want to know how they can find that kind of love because it resonates so deeply. You think, ‘I want to find that kind of love too’. You want to celebrate this couple.”
Her own love story has been considerably more straightforward, having been in a relationship with fellow actor Dominic Cooper since 2010. The couple, who live in London, consistently quash the myth that work and pleasure should never mix, starring together in last year’s Warcraft and DC’s comic book series Preacher (currently set for its second series). “We did a play together a few years ago and Dom is such a lovely, kind, generous performer. He understands that it’s a collaboration. The whole reason I got into acting is because I like playing with other people,” says Negga.
“And there is no better place than London – it has artistic energy soaked into every wall and, when you’re feeling inspired, it is the best sounding board for any performance, whether that’s to a thousand people in a theatre or a few in a street performance. I just love its energy.”
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to an Irish mother and an Ethiopian father, the family moved to Ireland when Negga was four. Three years later her father, a doctor, was killed in a car accident and a few years later she and her mother moved to London. In the few interviews the actress has done, Ruth often talks of a defiance in claiming her identity for herself. “My feelings of difference were down to having parents of different races. I had quite a scattered childhood. I was Irish in London because I had my secondary school education there. I never really fitted in anywhere.”
But if Negga is to belong anywhere, it is among the brightest stars in Hollywood as she joins the illustrious few to receive an Academy Award nomination. “As a young girl I would dream about that,” she says with a smile. “Then you find yourself struggling to get work and find those roles that mean something to you and you stop thinking about awards and you focus your thoughts on the work.”
Yet for the actress, outside of the fame and the accolades, the biggest joy is spreading the story of this incredible couple. “Their story deserved to be told,” she says conclusively. “I thought that if I can do a good job of Mildred, then people will find out about her story and celebrate this couple. She was a very reserved woman, but she had this quiet strength and a strong sense of justice which helped carry them through that difficult time, and surely we all want to be that person.”