Newton talks to Metro about role as a mom who abandons her son
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It’s common to hear actors recount memories of reading a script for a film in which they decided they had to play a certain part.
English actress Thandie Newton (Crash, Mission: Impossible II) felt that sort of attraction to the character Linda after reading the script for the new film Pursuit Of Happyness, in which she co-stars with Will Smith.
In it, Smith plays struggling salesman Chris Gardner, a down-on-his-luck dad who can’t catch a break in business. When he learns of the opportunities an unpaid stock brokerage internship could offer, he jumps at the chance, but Linda has other plans. Tired of living in poverty, she decides to relocate to New York, leaving her husband and son Christopher (played by Smith’s son Jaden) in San Francisco to fend for themselves.
Gardner struggles to make ends meet and jumps from one homeless shelter to another before ultimately completing his internship and finding success in the corporate world.
For 34-year-old Newton, herself a mother of two, the idea of a mother abandoning her child was unfathomable.
"I honestly felt like I was there for all of womankind," she says. "I was the one opportunity in this story to reveal a deeper complexity. A parent doesn’t just get up and go. There are greater forces at work, deeper, darker, really sad things."
The Zambian-born actress refused to speak with the real Chris Gardner — who acted as a consultant on the film — during the intense rehearsal process, so that she could try to flesh out her character’s desperate line of reasoning with some sort of objectivity.
"I wanted to explore the sadness and pain she was going through," Newton recalls. "What would make someone self-destruct to such a degree that they would leave their child? I think that’s a slow form of suicide. I’m a mom and that’s all that that is."
Her determination to secure the role was ultimately born of her desire to reflect Linda’s struggle in some sort of compassionate light.
It would be too easy to demonize Linda, Newton thought, which is why she had to play the part with a sympathetic tone.
"I didn’t want someone else to play this role and for them to be able to justify that there’s a bitch that left her child," she explains.
"Once I read it, I knew I had a responsibility. Sure someone else could have done it, but I didn’t want to take that risk."
- Pursuit Of Happyness opens Friday.