In director Julian Higgins’ neo-Western thriller “God’s Country,” Thandiwe Newton plays a grieving college professor who confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property, and she’s drawn into an escalating battle of wills with catastrophic consequences.
Newton saw the similarities between herself and the character — including how she handled the situation presented in the film. “It’s a fantastic story,” Newton told Brain Welk at TheWrap’s Sundance Studio this week ahead of the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. “I mean, really, it’s unexpected but utterly real and I recognize this as a real woman, and when I say a real woman I mean it didn’t surprise me that this woman was capable of challenging this situation the way she does and I felt that I had experienced those same frustrations daily.”
Newton added: “And I loved her dignity and I felt that it was exactly the way I would want to talk about issues in America and in wider issues in the world. This was this was the way to tell this story. This was the way to talk about those issues.”
Newton drew on her own experience to play a character who encounters racism sexism, and toxic masculinity wherever she goes. “It was about being present,” Newton said. “That’s why people get so scared when they’re starting a project because they think about everything, when in fact you’re just going to be doing one at a time. And that’s what it was and I had all these people there.”
The actress also credited her on-set conversations with screenwriter Shaye Ogbonna. “We would talk and I would get relaxed,” Newton said. “I stayed quite calm because I’ve decided that energy is excitement, it’s not fear, which feels the same.”
Newton also gave a shout-out to her co-stars, including Jeremy Bobb, who plays one of the hunters in the film. “I remember when we first worked with Jeremy Bobb — what an actor, holy s—. Beautiful scene, beautiful work. So I just did what he was doing. He gave me I gave him, and we just did it,” she said.
The biggest challenge may have the chilly Montana climate. “We were there f—ing freezing,” she said. “The first morning was dreadful. There’s no f—ing way I would move to Montana.”
“God’s Country” is making its world premiere at Sundance as part of the premieres section.
TheWrap’s Sundance Studio is presented by NFP and National Geographic Documentary Films.