The 36-year-old Fast Color star told Us Weekly exclusively that working on Motherless Brooklyn, a 1950s crime thriller directed by and starring Edward Norton, was a “seamless” and “intimate” experience for her and the rest of the cast — in part because of Norton’s direction and vision.
“It was amazing,” she gushed. “You know, [Norton] had so much going on in this film, wearing so many hats literally and metaphorically, in costume and also as a director, and a writer and your scene partner. For me, it was such bonus because you spend just a couple of minutes with Edward and you understand how deeply intelligent and passionate he is, and really, very articulate.”
The Black Mirror actress said that Norton’s background as “an actor first” made him the perfect director because he knows “what it’s like to be in your shoes.”
“He really does understand on an intuitive level what you would need, in terms of direction, in terms of how to achieve a scene. I think that it made the process very intimate. It felt like we were all in it together. It almost was like a company directing the scene and it just felt very seamless,” she dished.
Motherless Brooklyn is based on the 1999 novel of the same name but Norton chose to transport the story four decades earlier. Mbatha-Raw stars as Laura Rose, a black female lawyer who was created for the film. In a time when many women of color faced inequality and limitations, Rose is a “progressive” character who defies “so many stereotypes,” according to Mbatha-Raw.
“It was really liberating … to explore this woman that was born in the Harlem jazz scene, but is educated and went and got a law degree. She was also, because of the era, very much used to being underestimated,” the Belle actress explained. “People often assume she’s a secretary and, you know, not really being seen for how intelligent and multifaceted as she really was. I thought that was a really intriguing place to begin.”
Mbatha-Raw also explained that Laura is not a character audiences are used to seeing in films set during this time period.
“The sort of strength of will that it takes to live in a society where you’re constantly not seen or appreciated fully for all of your talents. … She’s an activist for her community against racial discrimination and housing, she said. “You’re so often used to seeing a 1950s housewife or femme fatale, and she was none of these things. She felt like a really cool character that had a deep, emotional journey.”
Mbatha-Raw is quite a busy woman these days. In addition to her role in Motherless Brooklyn, the British actress is also starring in the upcoming Apple TV+ series The Morning Show, alongside Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.
“I mean, it’s amazing. As luck would have it, [both projects are] coming out on the same day, which I perhaps wouldn’t have chosen,” Mbatha-Raw said with a laugh. “But in a way, it’s perfect because they’re both such strong writing, incredible casts and actually both in New York in very different periods. For me, it’s really exciting to have them both coming out. I hope people go see Motherless Brooklyn, and then go home and binge-watch The Morning Show.”
Motherless Brooklyn hits theaters on November 1.