From co-writer/director Julia Hart, the indie drama Fast Color follows Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman with supernatural abilities who is on the run in the hopes of keeping her powers a secret from those who would consider her dangerous. When she finds no other option but to go back to the family that she abandoned, she must reconnect with her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter (Saniyya Sidney), where she will learn that together they are stronger.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw talked about what drew her to this project and character, feeling like filmmaker Julia Hart was a kindred spirit, exploring the dynamic between three generations of women, her talented co-stars Lorraine Toussaint and Saniyya Sidney, what she most appreciated about Ruth, and the biggest challenges of the shoot. She also talked about voicing a character for the upcoming Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and why it was a dream come true, what made her want to sign on for the Apple TV series The Morning Show opposite Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon, and her desire to keep mixing it up with her work.
Collider: I tremendously enjoyed this movie. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from it, and I really thought it was so interesting.
GUGU MBATHA-RAW: Oh, good. I’m so glad.
This seems like the type of film that it would just be easier to read the script for, instead of trying to have someone describe it to you. When an indie superhero movie came your way, what was your reaction, and what spoke most deeply to you?
MBATHA-RAW: I read the script during the time that I was filming The Cloverfield Paradox. That movie was really intense, and all set in space and all shot on a soundstage, so it was all interiors with a lot of CGI special effects. It was big budget sci-fi. It was a very claustrophobic type of story for my character, so to be able to read something like Fast Color was just so refreshing. It was a very raw, authentic, grounded world, set in the desert. Having been on a soundstage, the idea of being out in a wide open space seemed really appealing. The idea that it was about three generations of women, and that it was focused on these intimate family relationships, was really intriguing to me. And also, the character of Ruth and the opening of the script totally hooked me in. The idea of seeing a woman on the run, who seems to be somewhat wild, in this fight or flight adrenaline zone, where you’re not sure if she’s criminal, what she’s done, who she’s running from, or what she’s running to, I just found her really intriguing, as a character, with the complex and fragile and tough, all at the same time.
I was really intrigued by that, and I knew Julia Hart’s work from Miss Stevens. I read the script in about 90 minutes, and then I called my agents and said, “I really want to meet Julia. This is so refreshing and intriguing.” So, we sat down at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. It’s so funny because it was a rainy day in L.A., which is actually a good omen, considering this movie, not to give out any spoilers. Talking to Julia, I instantly felt that she was a kindred spirit, even down to her music choices in the script, from Lauryn Hill to Nina Simone. And then, there was that mother/daughter dynamic, which being an only child and growing up mostly with my mom, I could relate to the things that grounded the story. I was also interested to explore playing a character who is an addict, in a supernatural world. That was interesting to me, to have that facet of her using drugs and alcohol to numb her power because it was something that scared her and she didn’t know how to harness it. Being able to ground that struggle in somebody recovering from addiction and researching Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 steps, and the program of meetings, alongside Ruth being a mess for coming into her own power, there was just so much about it that I thought was beautiful and unusual, and a really grounded, interesting story.
I love that we get to know your character through the generation that came before her and the generation that comes after. It’s really cool to see these three generations of women. What was it like to work with your co-stars, Lorraine Toussaint and Saniyya Sidney?
MBATHA-RAW: At the point that I met Saniyya, she was already so accomplished, in her own right. She’d already worked with Denzel Washington on Fences, and had starred in Hidden Figures, and she was only 10 years old. Meeting Saniyya in the audition process, it was instantly clear that she was the one. She is so intelligent and curious and playful, and so great to work with. I was really intrigued by this idea of legacy, and the idea of many generations of power being passed down through the generations of these women, and being able to see Ruth reflected in both her daughter and her mother. There was also the fact that Julie had chosen to give them different types of power. Lorraine’s character has the power tricks, and Saniyya’s character is able to take things apart and put them back together again, and then Ruth is in the middle with these seizures that can actually move tectonic plates and elementally affect the weather. To me, that’s a celebration of how every generation has something unique to offer, and everybody’s power and purpose is different, and we all have something special to give the world. I really like that. I knew Lorraine’s work. I had seen her in one of Ava DuVernay’s first films, The Middle of Nowhere, and I really thought she was very soulful and brought so much gravitas to the matriarch of this supercharged family. It was really special working with both of them.
Did you have a day on this film that was the most challenging?
MBATHA-RAW: Probably the hardest physical stuff was at the beginning because Albuquerque is at higher altitude. Some of my first scenes were running through the desert, and I’m pretty fit and can run if I need to, but running at high altitude, I hadn’t adjusted. For the first couple of days, I was terribly winded and was like “Oh, my god, what’s going on?” And then, of course, I realized that we were at higher altitude and it just takes your body longer to adjust. So, that was a challenge. And sometimes the weather was a bit crazy. We had dust storms, and sometimes we had to stop for lightning because we were out there in the middle of nowhere. I like an emotionally challenging role. That, to me, is the meaty and fun stuff to play with. It was great to have the combination of the physical and emotional.
Especially looking back, now that you’ve completed the project, were there things that you grew to appreciate about this character, that you didn’t necessarily realize would be there, when you went into the project?
MBATHA-RAW: It’s the complexity of somebody who presents as tough, but is actually really fragile underneath. That’s something that is really always intriguing to me. We shot the film pre #MeToo, and even pre the Harvey Weinstein revelation. This conversation about the Women’s Movement, women’s empowerment, and women finding their power and setting their power free has become more resonant, since shooting the movie. I’m really delighted about that because it was always something that was interesting for me before it became a cultural phenomenon, but now it’s become even more topical.
You’re also doing a voice for The Dark Crystal TV series for Netflix, which I am so insanely excited about. How cool is it to be a part of something like that?
MBATHA-RAW: It’s like a childhood dream come true for me because I grew up on Jim Henson. Not so much on The Dark Crystal because I was slightly young for that, but I was obsessed with Fraggle Rock, and Miss Piggy and Kermit. I used to do a Miss Piggy voice, when I was a kid. I also know the Jim Henson version of the Greek myths, arranged by John Hurt and called The Storyteller, which told all of the myths from Daedalus and Icarus to the Minotaur. So, to be able to voice any Jim Henson character takes me straight back to the nostalgia of my childhood, especially in this day and age, when we have so many movies where the whole movie is CGI and everything is animated to such a computerized, flawless degree. There’s something so tangible and retro and special about it. It’s just so unique, and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it. I was one of the first people to sign up, and now it’s a huge star-studded cast. The way that these things go, we’ve been recording everything separately. I’m most excited because Helena Bonham Carter is playing my mother, and I’ve always wanted to meet her. I hope we get to meet, at some point.
You’re also in the Apple TV series with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell. What was the appeal of that project? Was it something where you were immediately sold on the script, or did you need to have conversations about what it would be?
MBATHA-RAW: I read some of the scripts for The Morning Show, and the writing was just so good. There was just such great writing from the head writer and showrunner, Kerry Ehrin, and the people involved made it very appealing. It’s Jennifer Aniston’s first TV project since Friends, and there’s Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon. They’re basically America’s sweethearts, national treasures and incredibly experienced actors, and I knew that I would learn something from working with them. Also, I was intrigued by Apple and excited to be a part of the first generation of shows for them. I’m excited for the potential of what that could be. I’m really thrilled. It’s just been such a wonderful experience.
What can you say about the character that you’re playing in that?
MBATHA-RAW: It’s about the behind-the-scenes world of morning shows, and [my character] Hannah Shoenfeld is the head booker on the show. I can’t really say too much because I don’t want to spoil it, but my character is behind the scenes. It’s a quite cutthroat world, and it gets pretty juicy. I think it’s going to have people talking.