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In the new DIRECTV series Rogue, Thandie Newton plays Grace Travis, an undercover cop and heartbroken mother. After her son dies in a drive-by, the only way Grace can cope is to find the truth and bring his killers to justice. The best way to do that is dive back into her undercover life as Jackie to see if the mob she had infiltrated has any connections to his killers. Netwon talks about what it’s like to play two characters, which one she relates to more and what she did to get in shape for this physical role. Ira Parker, our Rogue insider, sat down with Newton to find out.
Ira Parker: How would you describe your character?
Thandie Newton: One of the things that I love about this character is that she is an every woman. She is un-remarkable, she is decent, she works hard, she is satisfied with her life. And so for me a lot of the really interesting drama came from the fact that she was then placed in remarkable circumstances where she had to champion the right moral choices. She had to really become a kind of super hero, like a street super hero in that she had to create resources within herself, which no person should ever have to. So I really liked the drama of finding someone who you can relate to, who you could just walk past on the street, who ends up having to become a sensational human being in order to achieve her goal.
IP: You are essentially playing two different characters in this show, Grace and Jackie. What was that experience like for you? How did you prepare?
TN: The preparation for that was much more to do with costume and make-up. Everything that I did in order to fulfill the two different personalities had to be subtle in order for it to be realistic because, lets face it, an undercover cop can’t stand out.
IP: Not for long anyway.
TN: Ha ha. Right. They need to obviously be authentic in whatever situation they are in but also to play down anything that’s going to make them memorable.
IP: And what about as Grace?
TN: Well, similarly in her normal life as a mother, she also wanted to be fairly invisible and again, not memorable so that she could really do all her work under the radar. So it’s interesting that you’ve got this essential character who is trying to fly under the radar, trying to be un-seen, and yet she is absolutely at the front of our drama. And I love how the very person who is trying to slide into the shadows is bang smack under the spotlight. I just thought that was a really cool bit of irony there.
Playing two characters is much more about what their different challenges are. So it was less about the visual than it was about the life that they are leading. You’ve got Grace who is at war with her conscience, at war with her partner, her husband, and her daughter and you’ve got Jackie who is literally at war with an enormous, mafia style network and who is also at war with the police department.
IP: Did you find it more difficult to play one over the other?
TN: Oddly enough when I was working as Grace or as Jackie, I didn’t feel that one was more difficult or powerful than the other. The challenges at home, the terrible moral choices, the emotional wranglings were just as powerful in the family situation as the with the undercover cop Jackie where she literally is fighting for her life. I thought that was really interestingly written.
IP: Who would you say you relate to better, Grace or Jackie?
TN: Oh Grace. Sure. Ha ha. I relate better to Grace because I’m a mother. But I do on some level appreciate that I couldn’t be more different from her because of the environment she’s in. At the same time, having to lead separate lives, one in which your children are very much a part of it and the other where you are a professional person, I could relate to that. Although counter to what obviously Grace does, I try and involve my family as much as possible in everything I do. But that’s just because I’m an actress and not an undercover cop.
IP: You get pretty roughed up this season, a car crash, a couple fight sequences. How did you prepare physically?
TN: Well part of that physicality was having good discussions with the stunt coordinator.
IP: I bet.
TN:And befriending the stuntwoman who played me, who was completely terrific. And then it was really important not just for the stunt scenes or for the more physical scenes, but just to get through ten episodes where I am number one and number one A on the call sheet. Ha ha, you know. I had to be at the peak of my physical fitness and the way I did that was I practiced yoga daily while I was shooting, which I do a lot in my life anyway but I tried it daily. So I had my yoga mat in my trailer, I had my yoga mat at the apartment, I was really very committed and it helped enormously cause it was keeping me fit and strong but also calm and keeping stress very much at bay.
IP: Did you do any fight training for your role?
TN: I trained in Krav Maga, which is close-combat street fighting, with a fantastic trainer in London first and then I picked it up when I was in Vancouver with a wonderful team out there. I am so full of gratitude for how they allowed me not just to become proficient with the moves but also they really helped engage me in the mindset of self-defense. The thing about Krav Maga is that you’re also fighting with the mind. You are trying to out anticipate what your opponent is doing. It’s not just about how to learn the punches and beat the shit out of someone. It’s about trying to limit the aggression and disarm your opponent. It was kind of effectively creating peace rather than creating an aggressive situation and I really loved that attitude.
One of the things I do like about Rogue and certainly from my characters’ point of view in the storyline is that you really do feel the cost of the loss of life. It’s heavy and the consequences are tragic and bitter and ugly. I think that’s very important.
IP: You play a very strong female character in Rogue. What has that experience been like for you?
TN: I think one of the things that’s very, very cool not just about Rogue but a lot of drama’s that we’re seeing nowadays is you’ve got these essential female characters that are incredibly inspirational and powerful, they are everything that women are. They are not unusual women, they are just women. I love the fact that there is all that potential ahead for not just for my character but for the other women in the show, whether it be Sarah who is just a fantastic talent or Leah (Cathy) who I think gave a really interesting kind of Lady Macbeth performance. So yeah. Girl power.
IP: What’s the best/worst part about being on set?
TN: Well, the worst part about being on set was that I felt like I was never off set.
There was nothing bad. I loved the crew so much, I miss them so much. I loved the camaraderie, I loved everyone, they were excellent in what they were doing. Making it look so authentic and giving us this fantastic stage to play on every day. The lighting was just immaculate and really rich. And then getting to work with all these actors who were just brilliant and made me better. You know, I felt like I was a marathon runner but I was given so much support and love and nourishment from these people that would run alongside, it felt like we were all in that journey together. What I got from them really allowed me to push through what I feel is probably the greatest achievement in my career in terms of stamina and creativity. I can’t tell you what a gift it is to be able to work on a piece like this.
And to be essential to the storyline. At the beginning I felt quite a lot of pressure and I felt quite insecure if it was going to possible, if I could really fill those shoes. But by the end I was just like, gimme, gimme, I want more, I want more. I grew to fit the position. And what an incredible privilege to be given something that makes you literally grow in your skills as an artist. Rogue gave me that. I’m so lucky. I loved every day on set.