This weekend the feature adaptation of the stage play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf will open in theaters nationwide. The film is directed by Tyler Perry, who also adapted and wrote the screenplay based on this heartbreaking material. The cast of For Colored Girls is a who’s who of stage, film, and television legends including Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, and Thandie Newton.
We had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Newton about her role in the film and the dark subject matter that For Colored Girls addresses. Her character’s name is Tangie, an oversexed, overly aggressive woman who isolates herself from the world. She’s angry, hurt, and acts out against everyone because its the only way she knows how to survive. We had an interesting conversation that addressed the root of Tangie’s behavior and it was an eye opening experience to say the least.
Check out the interview…
The character Tangie is violent, loud, and sexually promiscuous. As an actress how did you feel playing someone who has so little respect for herself and those around her?
Thandie Newton: Tangie is the result of the trauma that she experienced. It’s really about the symptoms of abuse. What happens to a person if they are too ashamed and unable to speak their truth. The sort of toxic energy that comes off her, the way she disrespects men, and the way she alienates herself from women. This kind of toxic soup is the result of unspoken childhood abuse. I know many people who have experienced abuse in childhood. I’m appalled by it. I’m saddened by it. I’m confused by it. I’ve spent a large degree of my adult life trying to give a voice to both sides. You can’t demonized people who have inflicted these crimes we have to understand the root of it if we’re ever going to figure it out.
And you feel that she’s hurting others because she’s hurt herself?
TN: As soon as you treat people badly it’s a reflection of how you’re treating yourself. I found it really hard to play her and feel sympathetic. She’s someone I’d like to sit down, and say you need to sort yourself out! And I couldn’t do that. I had to play her denial. Ultimately, I realized what she is, she’s suffering.
How did you come to that conclusion? Did Tyler give you a lot of background and direction on where to take the character?
TN: He had no expectation of who this person was. This was going to be played by another actress 3 days before, and she would have done a completely different job than me, and someone else would have done too. Another thing about Tangie that informed me about her is that she’s not educated. This is what can happen when a person doesn’t have the tools to understand themselves in their experience and I think education is a liberator. For me it’s like, pursue and education. Try and figure out what potential you have. It teaches you how extraordinary you can be. An education isn’t about getting a degree it’s about learning how your brain can operate and what the capacity of your mind is.
So she feels trapped in a way? She begins to dwell in her own negative space.
TN: It’s about life experience and if you’re abused you cut yourself off from life experience. You create a world that feels very secure. She has men in, and she kicks them out. This is her little space. It’s her little world. If you cut yourself off from life experience, which people who are traumatized and abused tend to do, you don’t learn anything. Everything that she introduces into her world is to confirm that she needs to kick people out. People are not to be trusted. People are there to let her down.
The play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is written in choreopoem, so how did the source material get incorporated into the screenplay?
TN: In the play all of the characters are just colors. Tyler has taken some poetry from the lady in Yellow, the lady in Red and put them together. Not one woman is necessarily the woman in the play. What’s beautiful is that in the play all the voices they’re separate, but they kind of have one voice which is Ntozage, and what she’s trying to say is we’re all shades of the same humanity.
Tangie isn’t in the play, and Nyla [her sister] isn’t in the play. Impressions of us are. Bits of poetry are, so we really had to create our own characters based on the outline of what he’d drawn in the drama. And then we had this beautiful poetry that we speak. It was just like crying. That’s what it felt like. Speaking the poetry was like that feeling when you weep and it all comes out. There’s the crying where you really weep, and then there’s the crying where you just let it go, and that’s the crying that her poetry felt like.
Tangie and her sister Nyla’s relationship is very strained. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. It almost seems as if Tangie hates Nyla for being and doing what she couldn’t.
TN: She’s so horrible to this little girl! Horrible! It’s because Tangie desperately wants Nyla to ‘come join me.’ ‘Come be with me. You’re like me I know you are.’ Because then it will make her feel validated. But of course you watch it and you’re like, ‘Ugh, you’re exploiting this young thing. This tender and innocent girl, you’re polluting her.’ But the reason she wants to pollute her is so they can be the same. So that Tangie won’t be lonely in this.
You have some pretty abrasive and violent scenes with several of the actresses in the film one of them being Phylicia Rashad. How did it feel to have to say all of those nasty things to such a sweet and classy woman?
TN: In the beginning I felt ashamed in the same way that on some level Tangie must feel ashamed but represses it. To treat Phylicia, a woman who clearly has the wisdom and dignity and the grace, to treat her with so little respect is only a reflection on that lack of respect Tangie has for herself. But after a few days into the shoot it was enjoyable and fun. Some of the stuff, it was so audacious, the stuff coming out of Tangie’s mouth, that we would just weep with laughter.
It sounds like everyone brought their A-game and were very professional. How was it working with all of these talented women on one film?
TN: There was no ego on this movie. This number of women together and there were no catfights. It’s so bizarre even to entertain the idea but I guess if you think about it, I guess you would anticipate something like that. It was so — I guess sophisticated, professional. If you give actresses this kind of material to engage in, that elevates you out of any kind of shallow, ego, nonsense.
For Colored Girls opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, November 5th.