‘Westworld’ Star Thandie Newton Says It’s ‘Slim Pickings’ for Non-White Actors in the U.K.
The conversation started last week about roles for Black actors in Hollywood is still ongoing. It actually started way before last week, but seems to have hit a nerve with Samuel L. Jackson’s comments about how Black people from Britain taking on American roles in film and TV is wrong. Daniel Kaluuya, London-born star of Get Out, fired back against that opinion in a subsequent interview, saying that it’s hard enough getting roles in the U.K., what with all those Downton Abbey-style period dramas, and that he was sick of having to prove his Blackness to people. Westworld star Thandie Newton, another Londoner who now resides in Los Angeles, would seem to agree.
In an interview with The Sunday Times (via Deadline), Newton also mentioned the dearth of roles U.K.-based actors of color face when they search around for their next part.
I love being [in the UK], but I can’t work, because I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call the Midwife. Well, I could, but I don’t want to play someone who’s being racially abused. I’m not interested in that, don’t want to do it.
There just seems to be a desire for stuff about the royal family, stuff from the past, which is understandable, but it just makes it slim pickings for people of color. I’m talented at what I do, but I’ve had to struggle against racism and sexism. But I’m glad of it, in a way, that I survived and overcame.
It’s not clear whether she’s responding directly to Jackson and Kaluuya’s comments, but even if she’s not, it’s a vital conversation worth having. There are tons of actors who originally worked on Britain who, probably because of the same issues Newton and Kaluuya cite, eventually migrated over to Hollywood. Idris Elba, for one, starred in the acclaimed BBC series Luther, but didn’t become a huge sensation until moving across the pond. Same with John Boyega and David Oyelowo. Does a Black actor have to strictly be American to play a role grounded in the Black American experience? For Black English actors, having to prove their ethnicity may feel like yet another obstacle leveled against their careers.