Joel Edgerton Q&A: ‘Loving’
“It’s a couple who through their steadfast, determined nature changed the Constitution of the United States. So it’s a big story, it’s a loud story even though it seems small and quiet,” says actor Joel Edgerton in our recent web chat about the film “Loving” (watch it above). He plays white Virginian Richard Loving, who unintentionally became a civil rights hero after his 1958 marriage to a black woman, Mildred (Ruth Negga). Interracial marriage was illegal at the time, but the Lovings challenged the racist law with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, and in 1967 the Supreme Court struck down such laws nationwide.
Edgerton, who is Australian, wasn’t familiar with the Loving story before signing on for the film, but he was surprised that many Americans weren’t familiar with it either, and he thinks he knows why. The legal battle was a “nine-year, slow, oppressive period that wasn’t marked by any kind of singular newsworthy event — there wasn’t bloodshed, no one was assassinated,” he explains, “so for that reason there’s a perceived gentleness to the story that didn’t make it on the six o’clock news, and therefore it has somewhat been forgotten about.”
The Lovings were a private, unassuming pair, and the way Edgerton sees it Richard would have preferred to take the “path of least resistance,” living his life with Mildred without the public ordeal of a legal battle. “He had a more human approach,” Edgerton adds; Richard wondered who he couldn’t simply be married to Mildred if they weren’t hurting anyone, and “there’s something beautiful about that.”
Edgerton and his co-star Negga developed a lived-in rapport on screen, and Egderton attributes that to the time they spent preparing together before filming started: “[Director Jeff Nichols] took us on a tour of the places Richard and Mildred had lived, the courthouse we shot in where they had first been tried in Bowling Green, and also the jail they had been in. And we went and visited the grave site where Richard and Mildred are buried side by side.”
Exploring the important places in the Lovings’ lives gave Edgerton and Negga a mutual feeling of privilege to be the ones telling their story. Says Edgerton, “We felt like the lucky ones who got to do it.”