With her mesmerizing performance in Jeff Nichols’s subtly groundbreaking filmLoving, the Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga has become a star for our time.
“I’m a rag of a woman today,” Ruth Negga says in her faint Irish accent. She is pointing to her chipped green nail polish and apologizing for her eyebrows. She cut her hair herself, she says, before asking a professional to tidy it up. Earlier today she went to get her passport renewed. “Maybe . . . you could—blend?” the photographer said, gesturing around his face. She took a look and realized she had been quite slapdash with her bronzer and powder.
By lunchtime, there’s no trace of this—with her huge, doll-like eyes and closely cropped hair, she is as glamorous as a thirties aviator in Paige jeans and an olive bomber jacket—but it’s easy enough to imagine Negga dismissing vanity as a fool’s game. Her gift for self-mockery and her appetite for the craic—an Irish expression for fun or gossip or high jinks—are matched only by her levels of propulsion: Her neat, tiny frame always seems to move forward at great speed.
When director Jeff Nichols was trying to get financing for Loving, in which Negga and Joel Edgerton star as Mildred and Richard Loving—the real-life interracial couple whose quest to be considered legally married in 1958 Virginia became a landmark civil-rights case—he kept hearing the same thing: “Who’s Ruth Negga?” Few people are asking that now, but even so, Negga is not offended. “I’ve been working. Keeping a low profile—until bam!” She laughs. “Nothing slow and steady about me.”