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Playback: Oscar Nominee Ruth Negga on ‘Loving’ and Diversity in Hollywood

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On today’s show, Jenelle Riley and I react to this week’s Oscar nominations. Surprises included Amy Adams missing the cut for “Arrival” and, of course, “La La Land” tying the all-time record with 14 nominations. But where do we go from here? Will Damien Chazelle’s musical sweep on through and tie (or even break) another record, for wins? Also, what to expect from the Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Awards this weekend?

Later (26:00) I’m talking to Ruth Negga, the star of “Loving” and a bit of an unexpected Oscar nominee herself. After seemingly fading down the stretch in the heat of a very contentious best actress race, she roared back with a surprise mention.

Director Jeff Nichols didn’t take the standard approach to “Loving.” It’s not a movie full of histrionics and acting fireworks. It’s a quiet study, and for Negga, that was exactly what it needed to be.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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“The thing about Jeff is he wants everything to be truthful and authentic,” the actress says. “The priority was maintaining the integrity of this couple, and I don’t think he wanted to debase that to meet a sort of cliched standard of filmmaking. Jeff and his work are devoid of cliche. And I think he has created this brilliant tension, because you’re expecting something to explode, almost, and that tension becomes almost uncomfortable in many ways. But what that does is it is reflective of the tension that must have existed for this couple and many like them. That kind of energy is very much present in this film and I think that’s much more interesting than the run-of-the-mill, expected thing. Jeff doesn’t do anything expected.”

There were ideas Nichols brought to the fore that really helped Negga get into Mildred Loving’s head space, like the way she was connected to nature, and the sense of home that was vital for her and for her husband.

“There’s a luminosity to this woman,” Negga says. “She radiates charisma and goodness and truthfulness and a lack of cynicism and an innocence without naivete. I really worked hard — I think we all did — to capture this glow around the couple.”

Negga has worked through an extremely varied slate in 2016. In addition to the more modest strokes of “Loving,” she appeared in the large-scale blockbuster “Warcraft,” and was quite the firecracker on the small screen in TV’s “Preacher.” That variety, she says, is important to her.

“It’s very fulfilling,” she says. “That’s the bottom line. You get to explore different parts of one’s self and others. It’s very exciting to be able to do that and get paid for it, and, in regards to Tulip, not be sent to jail!”

Hear about all of that and more via the streaming link above, including Negga’s big break thanks to director Neil Jordan and her thoughts on the ongoing diversity debate in Hollywood.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

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