Ruth Negga thinks Lady Macbeth is misunderstood

Ruth Negga dazzles on stage. Not just because, as Lady Macbeth, she briefly wears a gold metallic dress in the otherwise fairly casual ...


Ruth Negga dazzles on stage. Not just because, as Lady Macbeth, she briefly wears a gold metallic dress in the otherwise fairly casual staging of Sam Gold’s “Macbeth” at the Longacre Theatre. But it’s more because she infuses her character and her marriage to Macbeth (Daniel Craig) with such intensity, urgency and vitality that I missed her when she came to her inevitable end.

Negga was appointed for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, which recognizes both her powerful stage presence and the gender parity that Gold’s revival sought to achieve. “Like a wildcat she can appear quicksilver and weightless or, when enraged, menacing and bristling and twice her size,” Jesse Green wrote of Negga’s performance in a review in The Times.

Although Lady Macbeth appears in far fewer scenes than her husband, her cunning wit – and Negga’s mastery of Shakespeare’s verse – leaves an indelible mark. “Her tongue is very fertile, she’s very fruitful and she’s very sensual,” Negga said last week in a video interview. “I think a lot of people also associate that with darkness. But that’s another layer that I think this character has been loaded and muddled with.

Negga, who plays the mysterious, seductive, blonde Clare in the film”Who passed“, and real-life civil rights activist Mildred Loving in”Magnetis drawn to characters who attempt to circumvent the social circumstances into which they were born. Negga sees Clare, Loving, and now Lady Macbeth as paying the price for these transgressions because they are running out of time or, in Loving’s case, ahead of his own.

Born in Ethiopia to an Ethiopian father and Irish mother, and raised in Ireland and England, Negga, 40, spoke from her place in New York on the importance of seeing “Macbeth” as a story of love, and why she finds the Lady role to be liberating. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

You were playing hamlet at St. Ann’s Warehouse just before everything closed in March 2020. How was it to get back on stage, on Broadway with another Shakespeare play?

My isolation ended with two plays by Shakespeare, which is really interesting because I hadn’t been on stage for 10 years before. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. I think those two years of being so far away from people only made that feeling of “connecting, connecting” even worse. It’s such a personal and visceral experience for the person performing on stage and the person receiving that performance. Because it’s so immediate and in the present, and it’s happening live, that kind of energetic exchange can only happen then. It’s so weird – that’s why I love it.

How did playing Hamlet prepare you for Lady Macbeth?

I was approaching my forties, playing this young man who was just beginning his exploration of his adulthood and his place in the world, and I was guided by this moment of inner discovery and total honesty. Hamlet is a truth-teller, but he’s also a truth-seeker, and for better or for worse, and I think to his chagrin sometimes, nothing but the truth will do. It’s a very difficult place to live, but it’s also where incredible transformation can happen. [The role] really tests your courage, your physical and vocal stamina, and also what you are willing to bare. And since everything is laid bare, you can’t really hide anywhere. To be honest, everything is a relief after Hamlet.

With Lady Macbeth, was it difficult to know what motivated her?

Even before I started rehearsals, I was like, “What’s all this jazz about her being evil?” She’s not evil, it’s that archetype that pursues her: the evil mortal, the evil behind the man. That’s what she became known for, and she was stripped of any idiosyncrasy or personality. But as we rail against [Macbeth] for her procrastination, I think she could have thought a little more. But the fact is that time was not on his side. That’s what happens when you just have all these ideas and they seem great and you’re really getting things done and you don’t have a lot of time. I mean she’s making a big mistake when you think about it.

Which one is?

Well, personally, I don’t think you need to kill people to get ahead! But I don’t come to a character who tries to justify them, that’s not my job. I do not care. But very few people act from a core of badness or wickedness. I loved his desire to be alive, to achieve goals, to struggle, and I was so excited to play someone who has such clear ideas of what he thinks he deserves, especially a woman. . And when you realize that your desires and ambitions are limited by the status quo, you have to think quickly. They must become quick and mercurial. That’s why she has talent. There’s a self-awareness there that I think makes it similar to Hamlet.

The chemistry between Macbeth and Lady is so palpable on stage. Was it important to you?

When I read this script, I thought, “Wow, that depends on whether you believe they like each other or not. This is the key. Their relationship is the backdrop or environment of this piece; it is from there that their action is born. But there is also a love that is very robust. You get the impression that they both derive their strength from this union in a very equal and balanced way. And that was something that was important to me not to let it be pushed aside, or wasted or watered down in any way. There’s a great awareness that it’s a marriage of equals and respect, and I loved that.

Marriage is central to some of your other characters, like Clare in “Passing” and Mildred in “Loving,” whose marriages to white men challenge the status quo.

For me, race is foreground, background, present, and it’s not something I had to chase away or ignore. It’s with me, it’s in me, it’s who I am. So stories about race and stories written by people of color, Americans of color, have always piqued my interest. How do people navigate the world as a person of color with the structures and limitations imposed by society? And how does the status quo clash with your personal desire and ambition? And how do you live the life you want the best you can within those structures that tell you “No”.

In “Macbeth”, the other characters are dressed casually, but at one point Lady is wearing a golden dress. Why?

It was really important for me and for Suttirat [Larlarb], our amazing costume designer. I think we both fell in love with Lady. My heart overflows with joy when I see women, any type of woman, embracing who they are. And for me, her femininity is important because I was familiar with this idea that she could look like this kind of asexual, austere, bloodless, desireless shell. It just doesn’t fit the Lady on the page, so I wanted her to be unashamed, to be lusty and lively, and to really appreciate her sexuality and femininity, and not don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Is there another Shakespearean character you dream of playing?

I remember in college I was doing the Queen Margaret speeches [from “Richard III”]. They’re great because they’re deadly, powerful speeches and on Powerful. It is extraordinary that Shakespeare gave them to him. What I like about him is that he doesn’t make saints of his women. It gives you complexity. It does not present a Lady Macbeth we can hate; it features a woman you find yourself in, and a woman overwhelmed with grief. She has great catharsis and great internal calculation. And I feel deeply for her.

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