Gugu Mbatha-Raw (‘Motherless Brooklyn’) on playing a film noir heroine who ‘resists all those stereotypes’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“I just loved the character,” Gugu Mbatha-Raw explains about what drew her to the role of Laura Rose in the 1950s-set mystery “Motherless Brooklyn.” She plays Laura Rose, a lawyer and activist whose paths cross with private eye Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) as he investigates the corrupt world of New York City politics. “I just thought she was so refreshing. Usually when you see women in ’50s movies they’re either the femme fatale … or a 50s housewife.” But Laura “resists all those stereotypes.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Mbatha-Raw above.

The actress also appreciated that Laura and Lionel are both “somewhat outsiders in their own worlds.” Lionel is a detective who often feels alienated because of his Tourette syndrome, while Laura “straddles these two different worlds.” She’s “working against racial discrimination in housing,” but “she’s also a woman that grew up in Harlem in the jazz scene.”

The style of the film was also part of its appeal. It’s a hard-boiled detective drama very much inspired by classic film noir. That genre is “just so cool,” says Mbatha-Raw. Like other films of its kind, “Motherless Brooklyn” “peels back the layer of what is a shiny American narrative to actually see the darker side underneath the way society is structured.”

Further distinguishing the film for Mbatha-Raw was the fact that her primary co-star, Norton, was also her director. He was the screenwriter too. And a producer. “It was really awe-inspiring” for her to watch Norton juggle his many creative contributions. And at the same time it was a comfort to be directed by a fellow actor who has “been in your shoes, really has the vocabulary as an actor, and you know intuitively he understands what you’re going through and what you need. It really did feel like we were all in it together.”

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