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November 2016

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DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 18 POST NOVEMBER 2016 iven current racial tensions in America, Loving, the new film from acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, couldn't be more timely. Quiet, yet deeply moving, it tells the real-life story of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (portrayed in the film by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who were married in 1958, and then jailed and banished by their home state of Virginia, and forced to relocate to Washington, DC. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry. The Lovings finally returned home legally and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since. The indie auteur made his debut in 2007 with Shotgun Stories, a revenge story full of menace and foreboding, and followed that up with 2011's Take Shelter, another dark tale that danced around themes of love, madness and the apoca- lypse. In 2012 came Mud, a coming-of-age story starring Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive. The sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, is — along with this film — getting a lot of awards season buzz. Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Nichols talks about making the film (co-produced by Oscar-winner Colin Firth) and his love of post. You always write your own scripts from your own ideas, so what made you take on this outside project, a first for you? "Several reasons. I saw the documentary feature about Richard and Mildred Loving that Nancy Buirski made, which was on HBO in 2012, and that was my first expo- sure to their story. But first and foremost, I grew up in the South, and it really reso- nated with me — but I didn't know about this story, which I found really offensive. But when you start to get into it, I really identified with Mildred and her love of nature, place and family. She moves back to Virginia from DC under threat of arrest and far worse — maybe lynching ultimate- ly, all because of her innate connection to place. I could relate to that and understand it. It made sense to me, although many people might question it — 'Why the hell would you do that?' But that wasn't the point — and actually misses the point. And then in Richard I saw a lot of my grandfa- ther, a working-class man from the South, not very good at expressing himself, but a very peaceful, emotional person. And then, more generally, there was this sense of inter-dependence that everyone had in their small, rural community of Central Point. My dad had talked about that a lot, in Arkansas. When we hear about segre- gation in the South, yes, it existed, but he'd say how everyone also needed each other, and to me, that feels like a far more real- istic, complex view of race relations in the South. Everyone was intimately involved in each other's lives. So all those elements played into me doing it." Given all that, what sort of film did you set out to make? "I wanted to make an elegant movie, a film about Richard and Mildred, and although you might look at him and not think he's that elegant, he was in a quiet, personal way. They weren't this bombastic couple, and I wanted to make a film that'd reflect their nature — a very quiet, very precise film. I wanted a narrative structure that didn't depend on chyrons to express time passing, and I'd already had ideas about telling a story through seasons, so I want- ed to see winter slip into spring and so on, so you organically feel the cycle. Part of the punishment is time, and they're losing time, and I wanted audiences to effortlessly feel that all the way through. And I also wanted very specific camera movements. I used a lot of Steadicam in Mud, and Midnight Special was a sci-fi chase movie where we were constantly running, but I always wanted the camera to be rock solid in this. There's only one Steadicam shot in the whole movie. And that's all designed to heighten that feeling of being trapped in their situation. That camera's locked down, but it also moves with them, so we designed every shot and used dollies with a remote head so we could always move with them but never escape them. You're just locked in with these faces. It's a technical approach, but also a creative one." How tough was it to cast, as there's a lot of newsreel footage and photos out there of them? "Right, and I wanted the actors to look like them. [Casting agent] Francine Maisler, who's worked with me since Mud, sug- gested British actress Ruth Negga, and the moment she walked in it was obvious she'd really studied all the archival footage, and she was Mildred. I knew right away. And I was working with Joel Edgerton on Midnight Special, where he played a Texas state trooper, and I knew he could pull off the specific accent, and with a buzz cut he kind of looks like Richard Loving, and I think he nailed it too." You shot on location in Virginia, in the real places they lived. How important was that? "Very, I feel, as the landscape is part of the story. The courthouse is still in operation, and the jail where Mildred and Richard JEFF NICHOLS: LOVING A QUIET, DEEPLY- MOVING, REAL-LIFE STORY WITH AN INTERRACIAL THEME BY IAIN BLAIR G (L-R) Director Jeff Nichols and actor Joel Edgerton on set during the 40-day shoot. BEN ROTHSTEIN, FOCUS FEATURES

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