The power of love

Nichols, Edgerton and Negga on civil rights drama Loving.

by Richard Mowe

Loving team in Cannes, from left, Ruth Negga, Jeff Nichols and Joel Edgerton
Loving team in Cannes, from left, Ruth Negga, Jeff Nichols and Joel Edgerton Photo: Richard Mowe
Loving director Jeff Nichols: 'I wanted to talk about two people in love in what could 
 be one of most pure love stories in American history'
Loving director Jeff Nichols: 'I wanted to talk about two people in love in what could be one of most pure love stories in American history'

Photo: Richard Mowe

Director Jeff Nichols who is attending the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere tonight (May 16) of Loving with stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton by his side, has a reputation for exploring parts of American that are often overlooked in mainstream cinema.

Mildred and Richard Loving were an interracial couple whose marriage in their home state of Virginia was forbidden by law. It was taken up by civil rights lawyers and went all the way to the Supreme Court for the law finally to be changed.

Nichols who grew up in Arkansas and as youngster attended Little Rock Central High - where the desegregation crisis happened in 1957 - has a background of awareness in civil rights history but had not heard of this particular cause celebre.

“It is obvious that the social and political repercussions were of immense importance. But it seemed to me that the best way to get to the heart of it was to talk about these two people rather than the political ideas and laws,” Nichols told a media gathering.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving in Jeff Nichols’ Cannes Competition 
 entry
Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving in Jeff Nichols’ Cannes Competition entry Photo: Richard Mowe
“If I had not focussed on these two people then it would have been a waste of time. I did not want to make a courtroom drama - I wanted to talk about two people in love in what could be one of most pure love stories in American history.”

He and his cast immersed themselves in an HBO documentary on the case by Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story). Nichols’s wife watched it too and then she gave him an ultimatum - if he did not make it as a narrative feature she would divorce him.

Richard died in 1975 and his wife passed away in 2008. Nichols discovered that only one of their three children, Peggy, was still alive, and arranged to meet her, accompanied by Negga. “I had tons of questions about their home life. But she was shy, tight-lipped and did not speak very much just like Richard. After she had read the script she began to cry because she said they were all gone. I had taken control of these people to write the script and I was aware of the challenge of honouring them. I hope it represents the essence of who these people were. I like to think that this will be the ‘quiet’ film of the year and make people think about the issues,” said Nichols.

He believes that the Supreme Court can only do so much. Nichols added: “It takes a much longer time for society to get it right. I am surprised to hear some of the reactions that continue to come out of some of these southern states.”

Ruth Negga plays Mildred Loving and describes her as 'an incredible woman'.
Ruth Negga plays Mildred Loving and describes her as 'an incredible woman'. Photo: Richard Mowe
Unlike Mud which he wrote with Matthew McConaughey in mind, in the case of Loving the real couple were in his head. “This was partly because I had been watching the documentary. I had to find people that physically resembled them because they were in my head. The rhythm of Richard’s dialogue is very staccato and they both had particular accents. So to use non-US actors [Ethiopian-Irish Negga and Edgerton from Australia] meant they had to start building the accents from scratch. Ruth was first actress we auditioned for the role and she completely embodies Mildred Loving.”

Negga described Mildred as “an incredible woman. Jeff has done her and Richard justice. But they need a bigger platform because what they achieved was amazing.”

Loving has a US release slated for November

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