There's no knowing what Gugu Mbatha-Raw's going to do next. Quite literally. The actress can barely talk about her upcoming Disney Plus series, Marvel's Loki, and definitely can't discuss what's coming after that. "Beyond Loki? I really can't talk about," she says matter-of-factly before letting out a nervous laugh and apologising for the lack of intel.
Luckily, Mbatha-Raw can talk in detail about her latest project, Misbehaviour. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, the movie centres around the real-world 1970 Miss World competition, which was disrupted by a group of anarchists. Mbatha-Raw plays Grenadian beauty queen Jennifer Hosten, while Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley portray real-world activists. GamesRadar+ sat down Mbatha-Raw to discuss Misbehaviour, along with her previous projects Black Mirror and Cloverfield Paradox. We also tried to discuss Loki, which the actress touched on.
GR+: Misbehavior feels like a film destined to start a conversation. Is that how you felt reading the script?
Mbatha-Raw: When I read it, I just thought it was so joyful and witty and sparkly. There was something about the script that just pinged off the page. I loved the point of view. I love the fact that it was firmly rooted in the female gaze and that, even though it was about this much less P.C. time, I could see so many contemporary resonances in terms of the women's movement in terms of representation. And I just thought it was really fun, but also really relevant.
Were you aware of Jennifer Hosten’s story beforehand?
No, I never heard of it. The script was my first introduction to the story. And then I spoke with the director, Philippa Lowthorpe, who's amazing. She directed me to The Reunion, which is this Radio 4 show, where they got together Jennifer and Sally [Alexander, played by Keira Knightley] and Joe [Robinson, played by Jessie Buckley]. It's a really interesting listen because it's them reflecting on what pivotal year it was. So that was great. And then, to go back and watch the original archival footage of the show was fascinating – and weird. This is the first time I'd ever watched Miss World ever. It was shocking in some respects, in terms of how intense the objectification was, especially when the women have to turn and show their bottoms to the audience, and Bob Hope's misogynistic language, and the fact that the women are introduced alongside their measurements in the same breath. But, at the same time, it was a great resource for me to observe Jennifer and her walk and how she presented herself on stage at that time.
It boggles my mind that this uncomfortable event happened in living memory.
I hope it’s motivating for women. Because, for me, we look back and we go, “Oh, yes, that's the past. That happened already.” But there are so many issues that we're still dealing with today in terms of equal pay, in terms of the #MeToo movement, and abuse of power. Maybe then it was more about liberation. Now, we're dealing more with power dynamics. But I love the fact that Misbehaviour really introduces the concept of intersectional feminism, especially in that scene with myself and Keira Knightley – when Jennifer highlights that, if she had the same choices as Sally Alexander, maybe her life would have been different. I love the fact that it acknowledges and doesn't judge the beauty queens, because I think that easily done. It's also worth remembering that for Jennifer Housten, she was an ambassador for her country, and she broke boundaries becoming the first woman of colour to win the competition and that’s powerful for the next generation of little girls that see themselves in that world or see their potential in her. There's a lot to chew on.
It’s interesting that you go from these more serious dramas to fantastical science fiction movies, such as Cloverfield. Which do you prefer doing?
I love whatever I'm doing when I'm doing it, because that's the thing absorbing my attention. It's just about keeping myself interested, which is why I like to do a variety of different things. For this, I got to go to Grenada and meet Jennifer. We worked with a posture coach who came from a modeling agency, and there were so many things to draw upon. With sci fi, all the things I've done that you could loop under that umbrella are very, very different. I'm always looking for a nuanced character, or looking at a genre that we've seen before but maybe the story’s from a different perspective. It's hard for me to generalize.
From an outsider's perspective, one of the moments that feels pivotal in your career is the Black Mirror episode. Would you agree with that? And how do you reflect on that moment?
That was really a wonderful experience, but I feel like I've had many pivotal moments. There was when I did a play, Hamlet, that transferred to Broadway. That was me going to America for the first time. Doing Bell was a pivotal moment, because that was my first lead in a movie. And “San Junipero”, that was the first thing I did for Netflix. It was such a perfect piece of writing. I mean, Charlie Brooker is so gifted. When I read that script, it was so vibrant and the character, the twist, the music, the period – everything about it was just so original. I was really excited by the reaction that it had and I didn't realize at the time that it offers a different kind of representation for the LGBT community, that it was really showing a positive love story that wasn't making their sexuality a problem. That was illuminating to me. I was really proud of it, to be a part of something that has become so beloved.
After that, you also worked on The Cloverfield Paradox, which was a surprise release on Netflix. That movie seemed primed to have sequels as well.
It was an interesting journey, because, when I signed up for that film, it was nothing to do with Cloverfield. That was done in the post-production. It was called The God Particle and it was a standalone film until the producers decided to make it part of that Cloverfield universe. There were never any plans to do any more after that. For me, it was interesting because I had never done anything set in space. I've never done anything set in the future. And so, it was another different world to inhabit.
Speaking of the future, I need to ask about the Loki series. That's filming at the moment, I believe. Is there anything you can tease about your character on the show?
I'm sworn to secrecy. I'm NDAd up. I really can't tell you much more than you have probably read on the internet.
Have you read the script?
Is the script exciting?
I'm really excited about it, and it's a joy for me to be working with Tom Hiddleston because we were at drama school together many moons ago. RADA. So it's always special when you see your generation coming into their own and taking over the establishment. So yeah, it's a really fun treat for me.
On something like Misbehaviour, you’re doing something based on real life, and there’s no spoiler aversion. But on Loki, it’s another world! What’s that contrast like?
It's just a different process. That's the great thing about being an artist, that you get to play in all these different sandboxes. It's refreshing to be able to move from different genres and I like to stretch myself, I like to do things that I haven't tried before. I've never done anything in the Marvel Universe before. So you approach it for its own challenges.
And what's next? After Loki?
Beyond Loki? I really can't talk about. But yeah, Loki is my next thing.
Are you saying there’s going to be more Marvel after Loki?
You’re trying to get me! Sorry!
Whatever comes after, I’m sure it will be very exciting. Thanks for talking with me.
Misbehaviour reaches cinemas March 13.