Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Behind the Scenes of “For Colored Girls”

“For Colored Girls” is Tyler Perry’s latest film, adapted from Ntozake Shange’s 1975 Tony-nominated “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” The film follows nine women, each representing a color of the rainbow, and their struggles with issues such as rape, abortion and identity as women of color. The all-star cast includes Thandie Newton, known for her roles in “Crash” and “W,” who plays Tangie, the lady in orange.

Excerpts:

Q: So your character does some nasty things. Is it difficult to kind of find that part of you to bring that character out and that wickedness?

TN: Honestly, it’s not a part of me. That’s the challenge. And that’s what made it very difficult. It was hard for me to feel sympathy towards Condi Rice when I was making “W.” and I still played her. Similarly I found it really hard to sympathize with Tangie. But it wasn’t until I was involved in the movie and going through that journey and then having the ultimate catharsis of speaking the truth about her abuse that I started to feel sympathetic. A person’s behavior is only as violent as the abuse toward them, but then there are often times people who have had horrible experiences that don’t wreak havoc and alienate themselves from people by being cruel. Something that I’ve realized in the last couple of days, funnily enough, that I think is largely responsible for Tangie’s behavior is her lack of education. But I think there’s a lot to be said for that – that here is someone who wasn’t given the tools of self-discovery through education. I think education does allow someone an anchor and a sense of identity and tools to reason stuff out. So now I feel huge sympathy and empathy toward her and I think that her behavior was only as gross and uncomfortable as the struggle that she’s in.

Q: At which point did you start sympathizing with her? Was it through the script or was it actually while you were performing her?

TN: One of the reasons why I haven’t haven’t come to that place was because I only knew I was gonna do the movie two days before I had to get on the plane. Literally, they had already started shooting. I have a very peaceful life. I’m a mother. I’ve come through all my mid-twenties angst, so to be playing this person who’s calling Phylicia Rashad a piece of shit – I mean God almighty. I felt that I needed to know where this was coming from. Otherwise it was just sensational and manipulative and not real. But I quickly came to understand what she was dealing with and I think it was partly my own denial. I didn’t want to be in that place of unconsciousness. It’s a weird thing to have to do that at work. It was different from anything I’ve done. Because in the past when I’ve played a lot of violence and anger, it’s been because I’m a victim. Tangie’s not a victim. She’s empowered, but she’s empowered by a toxic reality.

Q: Was it difficult for you to incorporate a long passionate monologue into your acting and other dialogue?

TN: No it wasn’t because Ntozake Shange was like the fairy godmother that kind of came in and spoke our truth for us at certain points. And what’s beautiful is that because all the poems are in Ntozake’s words and it’s her voice, it’s like we’re all speaking with her voice at the most intense times of our evolution in the movie. I think that comes to symbolize the oneness of us as women and that we all experience the same pain. We all have at our recource a voice of wisdom and a spiritual guide, and in this case, it was Ntozake. If we can tap into it, there it is. It informs and it’s incredibly wise and it’s ultimately going to liberate us from our very difficult place.

Q: Because this is really an emotional movie, from where did you draw inspiration?

TN: The play. I hadn’t read the play before. I can only put that down to being British, and it’s not part of my cultural heritage and so on. But when I read it, I was like ‘Wow. Where’s this poetry coming from?’ I was blown away by the book. Blown away. The language is electric and sensual and the rhythms are just perfect. It just felt like the beginning of a movement. And I guess it was in some ways in the ‘70s. After that it was thinking about the shit we get ourselves in when we don’t deal with our trauma. The way we can lie to ourselves and get ourselves tangled up in all kinds of nonsense that’s really hard to escape from. All negative behavior comes from fear and pain. And if we realize that properly, any time we slip into that negative behavior we have to recognize ‘Okay what am I afraid of? What am I in pain about?’ And then we learn. Really it was just thinking about what this character’s been through.

Q: What amount of difficulty does having to be aware of your accent add in pressure? Does that add pressure in your performance, that not only are you worrying about conveying these emotions but you’re also worrying about keeping the illusion up?

TN: Well, because I think it’s a lot to do with how many times I’ve had to do it the past – using an accent. And it’s not just about using the accent, it’s about relaxing with using the accent because what the distraction can be is ‘Did that sound right? Was that okay? Did I do that right?’ I have to just not check myself and allow the director or other actors to do that for me. And if I do that, funnily enough, the irony is that the accent’s better. It’s when I’m constantly editing myself. I think it’s the same when you’re learning another language. When you stop translating in your head, that’s when you’re really speaking the other language.

Q: What was it like working with Whoopi Goldberg?

TN: The first time I met Whoopi, I was 18 (years old) and it was a movie called “Made in America.” It was Will Smith’s first movie, I think, and Whoopi was the mother in that. It was my first American movie and I auditioned for the director and he was really excited. I met Whoopi, and she had to get out of this huge limo and these dark glasses. I think she’s an extraordinary talent – her one woman show, her movies, her voiceovers even. My kids went to the planetarium in New York yesterday, and they came back saying ‘Whoopi was the voice in the planetarium.’ She should be in the dictionary. She’s an adjective for something, or a noun. She’s just a complete cultural landmark and extraordinary presence. And I was really humbled by how much she needed me in her work this time because she hadn’t been in a movie for 12 years and this was her coming out of retirement. And I had to really broaden myself because I had to support her in the way she supported me. There’s kind of a crazy idea that someone who’s a powerhouse and who’s achieved so much, that they’re not going to need you. So it was humbling, but at the same time I came away from the experience of working with her feeling a lot of shared self-worth, you know. And she’s a super, super nice feeling person, so doing the scenes together where we had to beat up on each other, there were a lot of apologies that passed between us the whole time. We both got bruises from each other. I beat on her back. She gripped my arm and gave me bruises. But, it was pretty cool going home and taking photos on my phone of the bruises Whoopi gave me and sending them to my husband back in London.

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Behind the Scenes of “For Colored Girls”