Call it a case of life not imitating art.
It’s never easy to break into Hollywood, but British beauty Gugu Mbatha-Raw is on the verge of doing just that, thanks to a new film in which she plays a pop star on a meteoric rise to fame.
While “Beyond the Lights,” opening Friday, may be Mbatha-Raw’s big breakout, the actress is refreshingly free of preoccupations with the kind of fame she portrays on the big screen.
“I feel like I’ve been working as an actress for 10 years, so I sort of just approached it as another role. Fame really wasn’t part of my life for a long time,” says Mbatha-Raw, 31, who also starred in “Belle” earlier this year.
In “Beyond the Lights,” the classically trained actress plays Noni Jean, a rapidly rising pop star who has spent her entire life working toward a career in the music industry, only to find that the luxe life isn’t worth its weight in platinum records. Hounded by paparazzi, driven to the brink by her mom/manager (Minnie Driver), and saddled with paint-by-numbers songs, Noni attempts suicide, only to be saved by a handsome cop (Nate Parker).
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film may effectively skewer the trappings of modern stardom and a tabloid-fueled culture, but Mbatha-Raw initially took a throwback approach to her role.
“The research didn’t really involve reading tabloids, as much as it did studying artists,” she remembers. “Gina was great at supplying me with a lot of material, looking at artists from Judy Garland [to] Marilyn Monroe. She had me read their biographies, to look at the psychology of being a child star, as well as being a sex symbol.”