Gugu Mbatha-Raw on Motherless Brooklyn

gugu mbatha-raw motherless brooklyn interview film noir femme fatale edward norton director

I always think you can’t really play a genre. You have to be grounded and real, and then the world – hopefully – is built around you. One of the things that I loved about Laura is exactly that: she’s not your classic femme fatale, she’s not a 50s housewife. She’s a layered, multifaceted human being, and you know we don’t often see that very often in female characters – and certainly female characters of colour in the 50s – so I just tried to bring as many emotional nuances to her as possible.

This is very exciting! Another in-person interview, and – crucially – my own on-screen debut! (Well, sort of, the Edward Norton interview was actually filmed first.)

I have no idea how the video is – I now suddenly understand why some actors never watch their own films, even the idea of watching this back feels too awkward – but I do remember Gugu being very lovely to talk to. (And myself getting a bit tongue-tied!)

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Film Review | Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

motherless brooklyn film review edward norton gugu mbatha raw alec baldwin willem dafoe

As Lionel Essrog, Norton offers a characteristically precise performance – every tic and spasm of the 1950s gumshoe’s Tourette’s syndrome meticulously recreated, in many ways the pinnacle of the careful affect Norton is known for as an actor. But to focus on the precision of the performance obscures its sensitivity. What might at first be written off as an ostentatious display of overly attentive histrionics, justified only by itself to itself, belies something much more tentative and tender. There’s a lightness to Norton’s work here, something gentle not lost in his formal dedication to the psychical neuroses; Lionel is rendered with vulnerability and treated in turn with empathy. There’s a depth beyond the superficially impressive imitation of the rhythms of Tourette’s – a crumpled, weary interiority suggestive of a man always slightly out of step with his surroundings.

Another new review from me! Something I was conscious of particularly with this one was how I wrote about acting, specifically; actually engaging with the details of performances is something I find difficult to articulate, so I’m trying to work on that a little harder. Fairly pleased with what I wrote in the end, actually, so that’s nice!

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