In “Loving,” Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play Richard and Mildred Loving. The names might not be instantly familiar, but they should be: They were the mixed-race couple who fought anti-miscegenation laws all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in the 1967 decision that deemed laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional. Just last year the ruling was cited as precedent in the decision that lifted national restrictions on same-sex marriage.
Thing is, the Lovings were just ordinary folks from Virginia who were in love, got married and quietly fought for their rights until ACLU lawyers took it next level. They didn’t even attend the big trial, and Mildred, later in life, said she refused to be called a “hero.” The movie, by Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter,” “Mud”), respects this. It depicts Richard and Mildred as people just trying to live their lives. It refrains from big speeches, blunt sentimentality and, in the actors’ cases, outsized theatrics. It’s intimate, quiet and, not coincidentally, all the more emotional for it.
With “Loving,” Edgerton, the Australian actor and filmmaker — who did both in last year’s sleeper hit “The Gift” — reunites with Nichols after this year’s “Midnight Special.” He talks to us not feeling the burden of playing a widely known icon and how there’s more than one kind of revolutionary.
Since you’re Australian, I don’t want to assume you knew this story beforehand, especially because I think it’s still a relatively obscure case for Americans.
I was surprised I didn’t know the story. But I was more surprised that more Americans didn’t know the story, unless you studied law or have a similar situation in your own family. A lot of people have come up to us and said, “This is my grandparents’ story” or “This is my mom and dad’s story.” Not many people really knew about Richard and Mildred. In many ways, I felt like that evened the playing field. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t able to take on this privileged challenge and responsibility.