Gugu Mbatha-Raw: 'Motherless Brooklyn' has 'contemporary resonance' about abuse of power (exclusive)

Tom Beasley
Contributor

Motherless Brooklyn star Gugu Mbatha-Raw believes the 1950s-set noir’s themes around “abuse of power and gentrification” are incredibly relevant today.

The British actor’s character in the detective thriller is a campaigner against the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods in New York City.

She becomes a part of the investigation being carried out by gumshoe Lionel Essrog — portrayed by Edward Norton, who also writes and directs — into the mysterious death of his mentor (Bruce Willis).

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The actor told Yahoo Movies UK that the film has plenty of nods to the politics and society of today.

“There are many contemporary resonances in this film to do with abuse of power and gentrification and how cities are run, which is really very resonant today,” said Mbatha-Raw.

“So for me, I think, sometimes when we have that distance — not that we're shoving any messages down anyone's throat, it's a very escapist journey — but I think there are some themes there to be had if you look at them.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in 'Motherless Brooklyn'. (Credit: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros)

The 36-year-old said it is often “easier to have conversations about the present through the lens of the past”, which keeps drawing her back to taking on historical roles.

Mbatha-Raw played an 18th century heiress in Belle and also starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in American Civil War drama Free State of Jones, as well as taking on a role in this year’s Farming — a tale of racism in 1980s Britain.

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“Obviously we're not doing a documentary but I think, for me, it's fun to be able to feel like you're time travelling,” Mbatha-Raw said.

“Looking at this film, this is definitely like a sort of Chinatown for New York. It's the kind of film that doesn't get made very much any more.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton in 'Motherless Brooklyn'. (Credit: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros)

Mbatha-Raw said she was never a “particular fan” of film noir as a genre, but loved Curtis Hanson’s 1997 thriller L.A. Confidential.

She said: “[Motherless Brooklyn] is so specifically New York. It really does feel like a love letter to the city.

“For me, having something that is so textured and grounded in that genre — and it's New York, which is so iconic — is really special.”

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Motherless Brooklyn also stars Willem Dafoe and Bobby Cannavale, with Alec Baldwin portraying villainous city official Moses Randolph.

Randolph is loosely based on controversial 20th century figure Robert Moses, who was known as the “master builder” of New York City.

Motherless Brooklyn arrives in UK cinemas today.