Ruth Negga on the dangers of ‘Passing’

“I think to a certain extent we’re all performing, aren’t we, in our daily lives. And we’re all picking up and putting down masks, whichever suits us for that particular moment,” explains actress Ruth Negga about the themes of identity and belonging throughout Netflix’s “Passing.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Nella Larsen, “Passing” tells the story of childhood friends Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Negga), who reunite in 1920s New York City and find that they are living quite different lives. Irene is married to a Black doctor in Harlem, while Clare is passing for white and married to a racist white man out in Chicago. “For Claire,” Negga says, “the performance is actually crucial to her survival.” But “how long does it take before your performance becomes your reality and you can’t actually separate the two?”

But while Clare’s assumed identity puts her in danger, “I had this feeling that there was a sort of joy in performance,” Negga imagines about Clare. “I think when people have had a troubled upbringing, sometimes there is a need to have a source of severance from that trauma and that idea that you can start anew and create a blank canvas and then paint what you want onto it.” Unfortunately for Clare, “she doesn’t find safety in passing. She finds a kind of a lifestyle, but not what she’s really looking for.” So she longs the reconnect with her Black community, yet her white persona has become “at once a mask, but also reality. We’re very complex creatures, aren’t we?”

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