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Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton love the Lovings

Left to Right: Alano Miller stars as Raymond, Terri Abney as Garnet, Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving, and Joel Edgerton as Richard P. Loving in director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving.”
Left to Right: Alano Miller stars as Raymond, Terri Abney as Garnet, Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving, and Joel Edgerton as Richard P. Loving in director Jeff Nichols’ “Loving.” Focus Features

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton felt a great responsibility playing Mildred and Richard Loving in “Loving,” the new film from Jeff Nichols (“Mud”). The production is based on the true story of the couple whose interracial marriage changed history.

Despite having a valid marriage license from Washington, D.C., the Lovings faced a year in jail in the early 1960s when they were charged with violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Instead of going to jail, they were offered the chance to leave their home in Virginia – one of 24 states where interracial marriage was banned – and not return.

They moved to Washington, D.C. During their time away, Mildred started a legal battle for the right to live as a family in their hometown in Virginia. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed their right to marry and ended the prohibition against interracial marriages.

Richard Loving was killed in a car crash in 1975; Mildred died from complications from pneumonia in 2008.

Richard was killed in a car crash in 1975, and Mildred died from complications from pneumonia in 2008, but the actors were able to get a look at the people they were playing by watching the 2012 HBO documentary, “The Loving Story.”

“I fell in love with Mildred. I fell in love with the way she had an openness about her,” Negga says of the woman she is playing. “Everyone involved in this film generally loved the Lovings.”

Negga felt so connected to Mildred that she had a moment of mourning after the filming of “Loving” was completed. Since the filming wrapped, Negga has gone on to do very different work, including a role as Tulip on the cable series “Preacher.”

Richard is very different than any other role Edgerton has played. Over the past 20 years, he has played such roles as Uncle Owen in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” and Ramses in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

The main thing Edgerton concentrated on for “Loving” was how to get his performance right. Even the way Richard would sit quietly said so much to the Aussie actor.

Edgerton also watched the HBO documentary as a way of getting inside the head of the very shy and retiring Richard. The actor didn’t have to worry about coming up with a look for the character as the makeup, hair and wardrobe departments took care of that.

I saw (Richard’s) silence as part of the accent. Pauses are dialogue, too. It felt, in the beginning, that there were a lot of elements to juggle to make sure I just didn’t do an impression of him.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who plays Richard Loving in “Loving”

“I saw his silence as part of the accent. Pauses are dialogue, too,” Edgerton says. “It felt, in the beginning, that there were a lot of elements to juggle to make sure I just didn’t do an impression of him.”

He avoided anything about the legal aspects of the case. That’s because Edgerton knew Richard had no knowledge of legal matters, so he didn’t want any extra insights.

Edgerton concerns himself with these kinds of elements for every role, but even more so when he’s portraying a real person. It helps that Edgerton had a lot of love and respect for the Lovings. He sees playing Richard as a “real privilege.”

The one thing both actors want to get across with the movie is that this is about two average people who were put upon by a system and how they dealt with it.

“I would hope you would come out of the film and think that change starts with one person. Think about where you still hold judgments,” Edgerton says.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

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