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The Hottie Stop interviews Gugu Mbatha-Raw, star of Concussion and Beyond the Lights

04.11.2016by: Eric Walkuski

Gugu Mbatha-Raw isn't a name that's easy to forget, is it? Well, there's a lot you're not likely to forget about her. The British beauty has actually been acting for the last decade or so, but a few well-timed "breakout" roles in the last year or two have put her into the spotlight. After working on several movies and TV shows in the UK (she was even on Doctor Who!), Gugu started to make waves in the states with movies like LARRY CROWNE, BELLE and BEYOND THE LIGHTS. And, just a few months ago, she made a serious impression playing Prema Mutiso, the wife of Will Smith's character Dr. Bennett Omalu in CONCUSSION, which just hit Blu-ray and DVD. (Order it HERE.)

I spoke with Gugu while she was in Toronto shooting MISS SLOANE (with Jessica Chastain) to talk about catching up with American football, studying at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts with the likes of Tom Hiddleston, her love of fine art and, of course, her name. 

Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

You've been very busy these last couple of years; what's this whirlwind been like for you?

I've been having an absolute blast, it's been really amazing. Coming off of BELLE and BEYOND THE LIGHTS, which were exciting lead roles, and getting to work with amazing movie stars like Will Smith and Matthew McConaughey, you know. And then I went back to theater last year and did a play at the Globe Theatre. These have been really stimulating experiences, artistically, and there's been a huge amount of variety, so I've been really enjoying the work.

Do you prefer the theater or making movies?

It's really hard to put one over the other, because they're so different. I love theater because that's where my roots are and my soul is in the theater, but I'm learning so much in film. I've been doing theater for a long time, I was on stage at the age of six, singing and dancing, so I feel like I've done more theater in my life, so for me I feel like I've got a lot more to learn - well, in both - but I think it's nice to have variety and do both.

Since you were on the stage at such a young age, was acting the only option for you?

I really loved performing as a child, singing and dancing were where I really sort of came from, and then I got more into musical theatre and that lead to acting, but probably from the age of 11 I knew that performing in some capacity was what I loved to do. So I just sort of stuck with that, really. [Laughs]

Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

Was there anything else you were passionate about growing up?

I considered fine art for a while, I love art and painting and drawing; that was something that took up a lot of my time as a teenager as well. But for me I just got so much joy from performing. I loved art and drawing, but I think that was more of a solitary pursuit, and I think I ended up choosing acting because it was more social. [Laughs] I knew that would be something that would be more collaborative, and you can be collaborative with art too, but at the time that was more of a private thing, and I know I would have gone into a deep dark artistic hole.

What can you tell me about getting involved with Concussion, how much did you know about the real case before you signed on?

I knew nothing, I have to say. As a foreigner to America, I didn't grow up with American football at all. In England we have soccer and rugby, but I was never much of a sports fan, so for me it was a journey of discover. [Laughs] It was really inspiring to work on a piece that was inspired by real people, and to know there was a lot of deceptions involved in how the issues of concussions in football came to light. For me that was interesting, because it really became about telling a story about truth and justice and people having the information they should have. And even though the movie came out a few months ago, I'm still reading about how the NFL dealt with concussions, every other day there seems to be something new coming to light. It's definitely a film I'm proud to be a part of because of how it generates conversation.

 Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

What kind of research did you do into the real woman, Prema Mutiso, you played? Did you get to meet with her?

Prema herself was a little more reticent to be involved in the creative process, so I wanted to respect that. Peter Landesman, who was writing the piece, met with her, but I didn't get to meet with her until closer to the end of filming. That was kind of okay, because I'd have conversations with the director about the character and her role in the story. For me it was working on the accent, because Prema is from Kenya, and working on that and building the relationship with Will and build the arc of how she supports him. Both of them were outsiders, both from different countries in Africa, and both coming together with a sense of destiny, and I sort of related to her quiet strength in what could be a very macho, masculine film about football. I think Prema brings a sort of warmth, and earthy femininity, to it.

Did you take up watching American football? Did you feel it necessary to familiarize yourself with it?

Absolutely. Not only were we filming Pittsburgh where football is unavoidable, there's such a strong sense of pride with the Steelers, you can't really walk down the street without seeing someone without Steelers gear on. But I had to catch up in my football knowledge, and so I had football on all the time in my hotel, just trying to get a grip on the game. It is an exciting, exhilarating game; my character in the movie gets into it as well. I think we tried to create a balanced view of why football is so beloved. I did understand that; coming from theater, I can understand the theatrical rush and the audience. There's something quite brutal about football, but it is a version of theater, so I sort of related to it on that level.

So you're not a soccer fan? I thought when you came from the UK it was a requirement.

No, we're all individuals. [Laughs] I mean, I'm certainly aware of our football and a lot of my friends are really into it, but me, not so much. I was more of the girl in choir and theatre and ballet class, so you wouldn't have seen me on the soccer field.

Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

What would your team have been?

I genuinely didn't have a team, I wasn't into sports at all at home. So I'd be lying if I made up a team I supported.

I watched a few interviews with you earlier and it seems like everyone makes a big deal of your name. Does that get tiresome?

Not really, I think people are getting the hang of it now, which is really exciting. [Laughs] I totally understand it's an unusual name, especially in America, most people haven't come across another Gugu before. In South Africa, on the other hand, it's a very common name, so I think it's all about familiarity. Just keep pronouncing it and keep sticking with it and people get the hang of it eventually.

Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

You studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, which is a legendary school, how much did it help you in your career?

Well, it was so formative. I auditioned when I was 17 and I went there when I was 18, for me it was combined with leaving home and moving to London for the first time, so that was sort of my college experience. It was intense and wonderful, for the first time being surrounded by like-minded people from all over the country as opposed to being a big fish in a small pond in my home town.

Did you have any notable classmates or teachers?

All of our teachers were wonderful, I must say, and some of them I still stay in touch with. And amazing actors actors were there when I was there, people like Tom Hiddleston, who was a year below me, and Ben Whishaw was a year above me. It's funny when you bump into people years later and everyone's working and you remember them when you were 18 and rolling around on the floor in drama school. It's great to see everyone doing well.

That's very cool. Thank you again for your time, good luck with shooting in Toronto and everything else.

Thank you so much, great talking to you.

Gugu Mbatha Raw Concussion Beyond the Lights Belle

CONCUSSION is currently available to purchase HERE.  

Source: Movie Hotties

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