As revealed during Tuesday's Oscar nominations, the best actress race comes down to two familiar young stars (Emma Stone and Natalie Portman), a Hollywood icon (Meryl Streep), an internationally-beloved name (Isabelle Huppert) and one fresh face — Ruth Negga.
Negga's moving role as Mildred Loving, one-half of the couple that helped to legalize interracial marriage in America, earned Loving its only Oscar nomination on Tuesday. The nomination is the latest win for Negga, who broke out on TV, before stealing our hearts in Loving and catching our eye with her impeccable awards-circuit style.
Negga was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to an Irish mother and an Ethiopian father. When she was four, her family moved to the U.K., and Negga was raised in Limerick, Ireland, before going to London after her father died in a car accident when she was seven. "I had quite a scattered childhood," she told the Guardian. "I was Irish in London, because I had my secondary school education there. I never really fitted anywhere."
She studied acting at Trinity College in Dublin before making her debut in the 2004 Irish film Capital Letters. A string of supporting film roles, theater productions and BBC programs followed.
In an interview with Indiewire, she worried that Hollywood's narrow-mindedness on race has resulted in her ethnicity costing her roles. “I’ve gone into auditions and I think they have an assumption about me when they see my photo and then I open my mouth and they say, ‘Where exactly are you from? And you were born in Ethiopia? But you’re Irish, but you also kind of sound English. That’s really strange," she said. “They want to put you in a box in LA, that’s how they tend to do it there, so if you don’t fit in that box, it makes it more difficult.”
Her potential breakout role in 12 Years A Slave was cut
Negga's Hollywood career started heating up in 2013, when she booked a recurring part in the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even more exciting, she was cast in Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, as the fiery runaway slave Celeste, one of the most rebellious characters in Solomon Northup's book.
But what could've been the actress' first big Oscars moment ended up on the cutting-room floor. As screenwriter John Ridley explained to NPR, they spent several days filming scenes of Negga escaping through a crocodile-filled swamp, but the footage was eventually cut from the final film, leaving her character with just a brief appearance.
"That’s an understatement!" Negga told the Irish Times about her 12 Years disappointment. ‘I got a call from (director Steve McQueen) and I knew as soon as the phone started ringing, I just knew," she said. "He let me down gently.’
She stole scenes in AMC's Preacher.
Before she was breaking Supreme Court boundaries in Loving, Negga was cracking skulls as the gun-toting Tulip in the ultra-bloody AMC series Preacher, which premiered last year. Her role as the titular character's ex-girlfriend proved the actress can play action anti-heroines just as well as she can inspirational historical figures.
Negga praised her Preacher role to the Guardian “I’m about to go off and play a character who was originally white and blonde and has really big boobs, and none of those things apply to me," she said, describing Tulip's original look in the graphic novels.
She was an early awards front-runner.
She racked up early praise with her role in Loving, starting at Cannes Film Festival in May.
Based on the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Negga stars alongside Joel Edgerton as the movie follows the couple at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, the ruling that eliminated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
"Negga, a breakout from AMC’s Preacher, is an instant awards contender," Brian Truitt wrote in USA TODAY's three-star review. "As Mildred, she fuels much of the film’s emotion, sitting in jail pregnant, dealing with relatives divided on whether her love is worth being in quasi-exile, and needing to return to farm life for the good of her kids. Negga gives her vulnerability but also strength of heart."
She's a believer in the power of black women
In interviews surrounding Loving, Negga spoke out about how stories of inspiring black women throughout history, long neglected in Hollywood, need to be told.
“A lot of women of color's stories from [the civil rights] era have been sidelined,” she told ScreenDaily. “It’s time for a renaissance, truly, of a celebration of their contribution. There were a lot of black women involved in the civil rights struggle, in a very active way. There are many individual stories that are fascinating. Mildred’s is just one of them.”
In an interview with USA TODAY, Negga spoke about how her character of Mildred gave her husband Richard strength. "Many black women, that’s what they did for many black men,” she says. “Often their role in society was to give them back their strength. It’s interesting that in this case it’s a white man. I don’t think we’ve seen that very often before.”
Fame still makes her nervous
Despite her high-wattage public appearances, Negga is still adjusting to the Hollywood spotlight.
“I find it a bit overwhelming sometimes,” she told USA TODAY at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I’m shy at public speaking, which is tough. But I love this film...and I think it’s professionally and personally one of the best things that ever happened to me."
|Ruth Negga shined at the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Photo: Jordan Strauss, Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)|
Oscars 2017: Ruth Negga nominated for best actress award
Irish-Ethiopian actor Ruth Negga has been nominated for best actress at the 89th Academy Awards.
Ms Negga was honoured for playing Mildred Loving, the African-American woman whose case helped end Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, in Jeff Nichols’s powerful, subtle Loving.
Consolata Boyle, the Irish costume designer, was nominated for her work on Florence Foster Jenkins.
There was also a best original screenplay mention for the Irish co-production The Lobster. That film was produced by Dublin-based Element Pictures with the assistance of the Irish Film Board.
John Carney’s Sing Street, which seemed in with a chance of best song, lost out in an unusually competitive year for that category.
Most nominations ever
The international headline news is that Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, an airy Hollywood musical, tied with the record for most ever nominations. It equalled the tally of All About Eve and Titanic with 14 mentions. Having already broken the record for Golden Globe wins, La La Land now looks like an unbeatable favourite for the best picture prize.
Following in La La Land’s wake were Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, a head-spinning science fiction drama, and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, the tale of an African-American adolescence. Both compete in eight races.
Three films picked up six nods: Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, a hard-edged tale of grief; Garth Davis’s Lion, the moving tale of an adoptee in Australia seeking his Indian roots; and Mel Gibson’s hugely violent, unashamedly sentimental war film Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson’s apparent welcome back into the fold following personal scandals a decade ago is one of the day’s big stories. He is one of the five men nominated for best director.
In truth, there were relatively few shocks among this year’s nominations. Ms Negga’s odds had slipped a little after failing to secure a Bafta nomination, but she always seemed like a contender. Amy Adams will feel disappointed not to have secured a best actress nomination for Arrival.
None of the contenders in that race were, however, from the outer regions of left field. Isabelle Huppert, the admired French actor, finally secured her first Oscar nomination for playing a determined rape survivor in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle. Emma Stone is in for La La Land. Meryl Streep breaks her own record as she becomes the first actor to clock up 20 nominations. She is an outsider for her comic turn as a hilariously bad singer in Florence Foster Jenkins.
The Academy will be relieved to have moved on from last year’s controversy surrounding the dearth of acting nominations for people of colour. The experienced Viola Davis, an unbackable favourite for best supporting actress, becomes the first African-American woman to secure three Oscar nominations with her mention for Denzel Washington’s Fences. Mr Washington looks like the only person who could conceivably beat Casey Affleck, nominated for Manchester by the Sea, in the best actor derby.
Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, black actors from the United States and England respectively, received supporting nominations for their roles in Moonlight. Octavia Spencer, who won an Academy Award for The Help, competes against Davis and Harris, but with odds of 1/12 at meaner bookies, Ms Davis looks to have that comfortably in the bag.
Dev Patel, an English actor of Indian descent, is in the best supporting race for Lion. Seven out of the 20 acting nominations went to people of colour.
Nine films for best picture
The Academy nominated nine films for best picture – it can list between five and 10 – all of which were in most pundits’ starting line-up. Unless Moonlight, the presumed second favourite, can pick up wins at the Producers’ Guild or Directors’ Guild, La La Land will cruise to victory on February 26th.
In Limerick, Ms Negga’s uncle Ger Malone said the family was “bursting here with pride at her nomination. WhatsApp is whopping away now in the family [text message] group, from as far away as Australia.
“The majority of her family are in Limerick – aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her mum is in the UK, and she visits Limerick frequently,” he said.
Ruth Negga leads great Irish day at Oscar nominations
It has been a great day for the Irish at the Oscar nominations with Loving star Ruth Negga, costume designer Consolata Boyle and Irish-made surreal comedy The Lobster among the nominees.
Tipped for a Best Actress nomination as far back as Loving's Cannes Film Festival world premiere last May, former Love/Hate star Negga has seen off strong competition, including Amy Adams (Arrival) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women), to secure her place on the five-strong shortlist.
Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) complete the nominees.
Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle is among the nominees for her work on the Meryl Streep-starring film Florence Foster Jenkins. It is the Dubliner's second Academy Award nomination: she was previously nominated for The Queen in 2007.
She told RTÉ that she was shocked but delighted at the news.
I am truly humbled by the news this morning, and I thank the Academy for this recognition, which I share with my co-collaborators Jeff Nichols and Joel Edgerton.
It has been such an honour to have been given the opportunity to tell the incredible story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who serve as an inspiration that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. The Loving's fought quietly yet tirelessly, and changed the course of American legal history.
Today, to be among such extraordinary women - my fellow nominees, my peers with films this year, and the legendary performers whose work of years past has long inspired me...this means a great deal to me.
The Lobster, which was funded by Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board, produced by Dublin company Element Pictures and filmed in Kerry and Dublin, is among the nominees in the Best Original Screenplay category.
Its director, Yorgos Lanthimos and his co-writer, Efthymis Filippou, are nominated for their script for the acclaimed Colin Farrell-starring movie.
Element Pictures' producer Ed Guiney expressed his delight at today's nomination: "We are so pleased that Yorgos and Efthimis' amazing and hugely original script has been recognised by the Academy. It's an incredible achievement and we congratulate them and all of The Lobster team."
However there was hard luck for John Carney's Sing Street which missed out on a nomination for Best Original Song in what is an unusually competitive year in that category.
The Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys extended her congratulations to today's nominees saying "I would like to personally congratulate Ruth, Consolata and the team behind The Lobster for their incredible achievements."
La La Land leads this year's shortlist with a record-equalling 14 nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress.
The Oscars will take place on Sunday February 26.