THE QUIET AMER­I­CAN

Aus­tralian ac­tor Joel Edger­ton trans­formed him­self to play Richard Lov­ing, a role that re­quired dogged per­sis­tence and a deep con­nec­tion with his co-star, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Joel Edger­ton plays a man of few words in his new movie, Lov­ing. And there was more to find­ing his char­ac­ter’s voice than sim­ply cap­tur­ing the slow drawl of a quiet ru­ral south­erner of the 1950s, he says. “It was not just the way he spoke, but also the rea­sons why he didn’t speak, and what was be­hind the si­lence of a guy like him.”

Lov­ing, writ­ten and di­rected by Jeff Ni­chols, has a true story at its cen­tre. It’s about Mil­dred and Richard Lov­ing, an in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple who lived in Vir­ginia in the 1950s and brought about, in a quiet, un­demon­stra­tive way, a land­mark civil rights de­ci­sion.

Edger­ton, who plays Richard, says Ni­chols seems to have “set a mantra for him­self that he was going to tell this true story truth­fully. It sounds like a silly, ob­vi­ous thing, but in ac­tual fact Hol­ly­wood doesn’t of­ten do that. They add a bunch of stuff, they really pimp the ride, they soup-up the story, be­cause I think that the as­sump­tion is that the au­di­ence needs more than the truth for it to be a movie.”

Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing didn’t set out to be trail­blaz­ers when they got mar­ried in Wash­ing­ton, DC, in 1958, then re­turned to Vir­ginia. Richard, a brick­layer, had bought some land and planned to build a home for them. But they fell foul of the state law, which for­bade in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage. They were ar­rested and given an ul­ti­ma­tum: they could either di­vorce or leave the state. At first they left, then re­turned covertly, liv­ing in a re­mote lo­ca­tion and try­ing to avoid draw­ing at­ten­tion to them­selves. In the end, they took a stand. They could have di­vorced and still lived to­gether, but that was not what they wanted. A civil rights case, Lov­ing vs Vir­ginia, con­ducted on their be­half, went all the way to the Supreme Court, where their right to marry was fi­nally af­firmed in 1967.

It’s a story charged with im­pli­ca­tions, yet its fo­cus is al­ways on the peo­ple at its cen­tre. Film­mak­ers might once have turned it into a nar­ra­tive that fo­cused on lawyers, court­room dra­mas, ver­dicts and speeches. Nei­ther Mil­dred nor Richard Lov­ing went to court to see their case ar­gued. Their most pow­er­ful, elo­quent state-

Joel Edger­ton as Richard in the film Lov­ing; with co-star Ruth Negga as his wife Mil­dred, be­low

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