Crash

SOUND BITES
Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before? “My husband (Ol Parker). …because it’s powerful to collaborate with someone you are so in sync with.

How do actors balance commerce vs. art? “Having my priorities grounded in my marriage and children makes all other decisions effortless. I want my children to learn through the choices I make.”

Up next: “Pursuit of Happyness,” opposite Will Smith

When it comes time to pick projects, Thandie Newton needs to digest not just her character but a pic’s entire plotline. “I don’t go into projects led by a role or just one element,” she says. “I look at the full story. I think about how it makes me feel and then I sit with it for a bit.”

When “Crash” came her way, Newton says co-scribes Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco’s words were the initial pull.

The ensemble drama, Haggis’ feature directorial debut, concerns a multiracial group of Los Angelenos — including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard and Ryan Phillippe — whose lives interconnect after a car accident.

Newton, who portrays the sexually assaulted wife of a TV director (Howard), says her biggest challenge was “to turn her brain off and exist.”

“I tried not to think, but rather feel my way through it” says the Brit thesp, who assumed an American accent for the role. “The themes are raw and hard to think about.”

But Newton says her trust in the gritty material never wavered because of Haggis’ water-tight integrity and sound political mind. “He pushes things right up to the edge, but you know you are in the hands of someone who cares about the social, mental and political health of people,” she explains. “At times I was angry. Christine is violated but ‘Crash’ is not about being politically correct.”

“Crash” might have elevated Newton’s profile, but the actress is not a newcomer. She’s been working since 16, when she nabbed a co-starring role in John Duigan’s “Flirting” (1991). Soon after, she went on to earn a B.A. in anthropology at Cambridge, taking time to co-star in Neil Jordan’s “Interview With the Vampire” (1994) and James Ivory’s “Jefferson in Paris” (1995). Her breakout role came in 2000 opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible II.”

But Newton isn’t just attracted to blockbusters, as “Crash” proves. She’s also dabbled in TV as Noah Wyle’s love interest on “ER” last season.

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