“Everyone you can imagine had been attached to Crash at one time or another!” laughs Thandie Newton as Total Film grills the beautiful British star on Paul Haggis’ thrilling race-related drama. It’s clear Newton respects writer/director Paul Haggis, who had spent an arduous time touting the script around Hollywood before anyone bit. “It took Don Cheadle coming on board to get the ball rolling,” says Newton. “Don first and then me and as soon as Sandra Bullock was interested so many people wanted to be a part of it.” Newton admits she was surprised that the original version of Haggis’s script made it to the screen intact. “It was too controversial. I couldn’t put it down but I also thought it would never get made.”
The story follows the lives of several residents of the City Of Angels, whose lives all overlap during a 24-hour period. Each character’s life changes through interaction with other races and classes, perfectly displaying how prejudice can rear its head in so many different forms.
“America needed something to help them strip away the political correctness and Crash has given them that,” Newton says of the film’s Stateside success. “They love the movie over there because it isn’t ashamed to show that people of all races feel these prejudices and if we ignore it, then the fear and hatred just grows. Crash has honestly become that catalyst and it’s great, it’s a thrill.”
Shot on a budget of $6 million, some of the cast bought their own plane tickets to fly to the shoot and Haggis actually used his own house in the film. “Yeah, Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser’s house is really Paul Haggis’ house. I’m not sure if he shot there just because he had a heart attack half way through filming.” Total Film splutters a little coffee in Newton’s direction. Heart attack you say? “Oh yes. It was on Sandra’s first day and she was sure she caused it! He was told to rest, so he put his feet up for about two days and then would come down from bed and shoot a scene.”
Haggis’ commitment to his script was so impassioned that the scene where Matt Dillon’s racist cop sexually assaults Newton’s character caused a misunderstanding between the director and his star. “I remember reading it in the script but somehow it just didn’t translate. I wasn’t aware of the fact that Paul wanted to demonstrate it rather than suggest it.” On the day of shooting, Newton admits that her reactions didn’t require a great deal of acting. “Paul asked if I had spoken to wardrobe about getting some protective underwear. I couldn’t think why but then it became obvious – I was playing the part of someone who gets sexually violated and it needed to be real. I was furious and I felt so vulnerable. I remember thinking, ‘Does he know what he’s suggesting? This wasn’t in the script!’”
Newton’s ill feelings about the scene stayed with her, even after Crash had wrapped. “I would say in interviews that I thought Paul Haggis had gone too far but eventually I remembered the scene where I say the line about the ‘cop finger-fucking my wife’.” That’s when the 33-year-old actress realised she had misinterpreted the crucial scene. “I had misread the script. I guess I didn’t want to face it.”
“That’s what happens when you deal with truth,” Newton continues. “It’s painful but you have to accept it. Paul goes to the edge of what we’re willing to accept and that’s why the film is so powerful.”
So what’s next on Newton’s schedule? “I was just so glad to be aligned with something so sophisticated in Crash but I am pleased to say I’ve just finished filming with Will Smith.” A cosy rom-com, perhaps? No chance. “It’s a gripping drama called Pursuit Of Happyness and I can safely say I am more excited than I was about Crash.”
Crash is out to buy on DVD from 5 December.