The 1967 Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia was a landmark moment in civil rights history, invalidating years of legislation prohibiting interracial marriage. The case had a major effect on U.S. history, and decades later, it was also used as precedent to argue against laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, but in reality, the couple at the center of the case were not interested in the national stage.
Married in 1958 in Washington, D.C., Richard and Mildred Loving soon moved to their home state of Virginia, where they were arrested and thrown in jail for violating the state’s ban on interracial marriage. Now, director Jeff Nichols is telling their story with Loving, which just played at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred, and together with Nichols, they sat down at the PEOPLE / EW / InStyle Portrait Studio to talk about the quiet pair at the center of this civil rights battle.
“The real challenge for me as Richard was that Richard was so shy of the cameras, so shy of any public interest in his case,” Edgerton said. “He wasn’t a poster child for the revolution, he never wanted to be. He wanted to stay in love and married to Mildred. And the risk was that that reluctance to be a public figure would translate as sort of an embarrassment or a shame, but he didn’t have the words to really fight the law or express himself in the way that he really wanted to. All he felt was that something was very wrong, but he didn’t know what to do about it.”
Richard died in 1975 and Mildred died in 2008, but Edgerton, Negga, and Nichols all emphasize how important it was to them to portray the Lovings’ story as accurately as possible.
“We actually visited the jail cell that she was held in,” Negga recalled. “It literally is tiny. It was this big. And to imagine a woman heavily pregnant, a young black woman, that was quite hard for me because I just thought, what an experience she must have had. It was very traumatic for her. I really felt for her.”
Loving arrives in theaters on Nov. 4.