BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC
Their name is ironic — Richard and Mildred Loving — a couple whose marriage was negated by the courts because Richard was white and Mildred black, grounds for nullification in 1950s Virginia.
The movie “Loving,” which opens Friday at Tara Cinemas and Atlantic Station and expands on Nov. 18, is a beautifully filmed depiction of their fight for justice that unravels quietly and gracefully; their story eventually leads to the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton transforms into Richard Loving, a buzz-cut bricklayer who internalizes his anger, but never his affection for his wife.
Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving created Oscar buzz the moment the film started making festival rounds earlier this year (it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or) with her dignified portrayal of the family backbone.
Director Jeff Nichols was able to share the script and the film with the only surviving member of the Loving family, daughter Peggy, who still lives in Central Point, Va., down the road from the home built by her father.
“That’s the closest I’ll ever get to affirmation of how Mildred might have felt,” Nichols said. “Peggy really loves the film.”
As well, the 2011 Nancy Buirski documentary, “The Loving Story,” provided invaluable insight to Nichols and his stars into the Lovings’ steel-spine relationship.
Last month, the gregarious Edgerton, soft-spoken Nichols and quietly luminous Negga chatted from a series of suites in the Buckhead Ritz-Carlton to discuss the movie, which was filmed over an eight-week period last fall.
On filming the movie throughout Virginia:
Edgerton: “We were in the actual courthouse where Richard and Mildred were told they had to leave the state; there were a number of places we filmed in the original places. Even getting the charge of the whole vibe, in some ways that was very important because I saw Ruth and her connection to Mildred and it brought a new level of importance to the story by being there.”
Nichols: “I visited all those places (including Richmond, Caroline County and Bowling Green) before I started writing so when I was writing, the geography of Richard being escorted from the jail was real, it existed. And it would have been a real pain to re-create that in a place I knew didn’t represent what happened.”
Negga: “I think it was kind of key to film (there). Caroline County and the surrounding areas are so beautiful. … It sort of lent the expulsion from that homeland an extra sort of energy when we were filming it. Location was Mildred’s heart, and the earth is almost an extension of her core and most definitely her soul.”
On telling the story in an understated manner:
Edgerton: “It’s so interesting that Jeff chose to tell the true story and do it truthfully. The untruthful version would be to give them big speeches to make about their feelings, and he just chose to use the building blocks as he knew them from his research.”
Nichols: “Richard and Mildred demand that type of story. If I had been making a court procedural, it would have been a different type of movie. But since the Lovings didn’t attend the court process and I made a decision to make a film not about the court process but about these two people, then I had to make a movie that represented their nature, which was very quiet.”
Negga: “I often think words get in the way, and the words, the few sentences that Jeff does give them, are so right and correct and don’t need to be any more or any less. In someone else’s hands, it could have been a really pedestrian courtroom (film) and that bores me to tears.”
On the theme of injustice still applying today:
Nichols: “We don’t honor this part of our history the way we should. So many people you hear say — and it’s an unfortunate statement, — ‘Look, we’re over that, can’t we just move on?’ No, you don’t say that about the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. You guys have plaques every 5 feet for a Civil War battle, so let’s find some other plaques that represent the rest of what happened in this country.”
Opens Friday at Tara Cinemas 4 and Atlantic Station 18. Expands Nov. 18. Rated PG-13.