Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Paula Schwartz Photo
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Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Paula Schwartz Photo
Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Paula Schwartz Photo

Gugu Mbatha-Raw keeps her breakout star momentum going in Relativity’s “Beyond the Lights,” (read Jane’s review here), which had its New York premiere at the Regal Union Square Stadium.

The 31-year-old actress, so good earlier this year in “Belle” as a biracial woman raised in British aristocracy in slave-era England, is transformed into a hot Rihanna-like pop star in “Beyond the Lights,” written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Secret Life of Bees”). Mbatha-Raw just nabbed a Gotham nomination for best actress for the role to find herself in the company of Julianne Moore and Scarlet Johansson.


Mbatha-Raw jetted in for the New York premiere from L.A., where the film celebrated its premiere the previous night. She looked transformed again, from the sexy pop diva of the film into a 1940’s Hollywood glamour queen in a green Grecian over-the-should gown, her hair wavy over her forehead.

Co-stars Nate Parker and Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker joined her on the red carpet, along with writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood and her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood, who is also a producer on the film. (Minnie Driver, who is terrific as a manipulative “momager” and has the best scene in the film where their two characters have a blow out argument, didn’t make the New York premiere.)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Paula Schwartz Photo
Gugu Mbatha-Raw | Paula Schwartz Photo

Rivaling Mbatha-Raw for star power was Knicks star Amar’e Stoudemire, the film’s producer, who brought along a contingent of his basketball pals. The basketball star and first-time producer did heavy duty promoting of the film on the red carpet. Ryan Kavanaugh, Relativity’s CEO and Founder, said a few words before the screening and gave a Happy Birthday shout out to Stoudemire, who introduced the film along with the director. (Stoudemire’s birthday was later celebrated at the afterparty at 409; Kavanaugh gave a short speech and then sparklers were lit and a gigantic silver cake with “32” on it wheeled out.)

Celebrity guests on the red carpet also included India Arie and Justin Forsett from the Baltimore Ravens.

On the red carpet, I chatted with Mbatha-Raw, who is as warm and pleasant as she is gorgeous:

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Machine Gun Kelly | Paula Schwartz Photo
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Machine Gun Kelly | Paula Schwartz Photo

About the singing and dancing scenes where the actress shines:

“It’s been such a gift of a role. I grew up singing and dancing as a child, but more sort of musical theater style and classical dancing, so for me to be able to embrace this hip-hop style…

“You know, I had a lot of help. Gina surrounded me with some wonderful people in the industry, not just herself, who’s had a background researching a lot of the hip-hop world, but also Laurieann Gibson, the choreographer (Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry), The Dream (Kanye West, Beyonce, Jay-Z), who wrote all the original music (Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyonce) and also Machine Gun Kelly, who’s here, who really is a rapper in the industry and brings so much charisma and authenticity because he really is from that world.

“So I had a lot of things to draw upon and felt very well supported by the research, because we knew about the movie, or I knew about the movie, for almost two years before we got to shoot it.”

On how she prepared for the sexy dance scenes and whether they were daunting:

“I felt very supported by the choreography. We rehearsed it, Laurieann Gibson, as I mentioned, created that whole routine and that was something we rehearsed in the studio in front of a mirror for many hours, and adding the elements of the hair, the makeup, the wigs, the amazing hair designs by Kim Kimble (Beyonce), and the costumes, of course, so we really were building this character on so many levels.

“Then it was just doing it and singing the song and projecting that energy into the lens, which was a new experience for me, because usually as an actress, you’re pretending the camera isn’t there. But obviously, for a music video in that style, you have to look directly into the camera. And that was scary initially, but I had to get over it.”

About her upcoming projects, including “Jupiter Ascending,” the Wachowski siblings sci-fi flick, co-starring Eddie Redmayne, Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum.

“I just have a small role in that, but it’s a really exciting movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it because I haven’t seen it yet. It’s sort of an epic space adventure, and I play a character’s who’s half human, half deer.

“I also shot a movie in the summer called ‘The Whole Truth’ with another female director called Courtney Hunt. I don’t know when that’s coming out yet (Renee Zellweger and Keanu Reeves also star), and I’ve just started work on another project that’s called ‘Compassion’ with Will Smith about brain injuries in the NFL.”



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