Interview with MI2's Thandie Newton

With the number one movie at the box office for two weeks running, Thandie Newton is sitting back and watching her career take off thanks to her role as Nyah Hall in Mission: Impossible 2. Playing Tom Cruise's love interest in an action film which gives as much attention to the romance as it does to the death-defying stunts is getting the 27-year-old actress noticed in Hollywood. As MI2's equivalent of a Bond Girl, Newton's character is smart, sexy, and brave.

Born in Zambia, Newton was raised in England where she lives with her husband Ol Parker, a writer. Before the John Woo blockbuster, audiences probably knew her best from Oprah Winfrey's 1998 drama Beloved. Critics supported the film, and Buena Vista gave it a strong marketing push, but the picture was a box office disappointment grossing just $22.8M.

Asked about the slavery-themed picture's commercial performance, Newton explains "It's really sad on the one hand, but Beloved was a majestic film - just extraordinary. Yeah, OK, it didn't go mad at the box office, but it was basically an arthouse movie about a subject which know ... it's amazing that that many people went to go see it at all."

Shooting MI2 in Sydney, Australia proved to be a giant undertaking for the actress who did not move Down Under for the entire duration of the filming, but instead took occasional trips back home to England. Aside from having the biggest budget of any film she had worked on previously, MI2 gave Newton the chance to be the lead actress and to show off her sultry side - a far cry from the non-glamorous role in Beloved.

She loved working for John Woo and learned much about his unique style of filmmaking. "John Woo very much keeps to himself. Very quiet," she said. "He suggests as opposed to dictates. And he doesn't really tell you what he wants you to do. He leaves it up to you, which is lovely.

"Tom and I, for example, we'd organize a scene that felt right, we'd block it, and we'd think that was great. And then John Woo walks over and says 'why don't you try walking around each other like this' and it felt very unnatural. But then we'd watch it back and that's why he's so phenomenal - it's in the way he orchestrates the scene."

The MI2 gang has managed to orchestrate a colossal Memorial Day weekend opening taking in $92M in the first six days of release with a final domestic gross of $200M or more likely. Newton tries to shrug off the success saying "It's just numbers. I can't imagine that number, that quantity of people." She adds "It won't hit home until I walk around and people notice me."

With what will surely become a global megablockbuster playing in theaters, Thandie Newton's agent should cancel his summer plans and devote all his time to juggling all the offers that Hollywood will throw their way. Every once in a while, a hit movie comes along that introduces the world to a rising young actress ready to light the screen on fire. Speed did the job for Sandra Bullock in 1994 while The Mask of Zorro two years ago made everyone learn the name Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But for Newton, her next project is a more personal one. She's six months pregnant with her first child which is due in September. "This is wonderful," Newton explains with a joyous smile, "being in the film (MI2) is great, but nothing compares to what is happening now."

After tackling motherhood, look for Thandie Newton to steal the spotlight again next year now that she's won Hollywood's heart.

Written by Gitesh Pandya

June 5, 2000