With news breaking that Gugu Mbatha-Raw is joining Tom Hiddleston in the upcoming Loki series, it feels like the perfect time to the celebrate BAFTA-nominated British actress, who was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 for services to drama. Here are some of her finest roles to date, and a few of her memorable chat show moments, too.
1. When she appeared in Doctor Who.
In one of her first TV roles, Mbatha-Raw played Tish Jones, sister of Freema Agyeman‘s Martha Jones, in four episodes of Doctor Who. The very first time she met David Tennant‘s Time Lord, Tish called him a “science geek” – respect.
2. When she starred in a different kind of costume drama.
In 2013’s Belle, Mbatha-Raw plays 18th century heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle. Though not a household name, Belle is notable for being one of the first British aristocrats of color, which meant she had to walk a fine line between privilege and prejudice. Mbatha-Raw captures her pluck and courage beautifully in an underrated period movie co-starring Matthew Goode and James Norton that’s well worth seeking out.
3. When she starred in a superhero movie.
Released in 2018, Fast Color wasn’t a box office hit, but it has potential to become a bit of a cult classic. Mbatha-Raw plays a recovering addict living in a dystopian future who has to go on the run because she can’t control her superpowers. Years later, she returns home to her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) after being tracked down by a government agent who wants to imprison her. It’s gripping genre movie featuring another scintillating performance from Mbatha-Raw.
4. When she revealed that learned to speak in an American accent by watching Friends.
“That’s how I learned my American accent – I used to imitate all the characters,” she said while promoting Motherless Brooklyn on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “And I genuinely thought that [that show] was what New York was.”
5. When she made a powerful short film with David Oyelowo.
Directed by Jessica Oyelowo, wife of David, and co-starring the couple’s young son Caleb Oyelowo, After the Storm explores how an activist family deal with a majorly life-changing event. It’s emotional stuff, and you can watch the full film below.
6. When she starred in one of the very best Black Mirror episodes.
In 2016’s “San Junipero,” a firm fan favorite, Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis play two women who meet and fall in love in a virtual reality world where the elderly are able relive their youths. Set in the ’80s with a suitably “bitchin'” pop soundtrack to match, it’s a clever and affecting episode that might just – probably will – make you well up.
7. When she showed off her Janet Jackson-style dance moves in that episode.
It’s no coincidence that Mbatha-Raw channeled Miss-Jackson-if-you’re-nasty in this iconic scene. “I don’t think they got the rights to her song ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately,’ but that’s what we originally worked with and shot,” the actress recalled in 2018, adding: “In terms of style, I definitely took inspiration from other artists like Prince and Whitney Houston. For me, it was a great chance to be goofy and expressive.”
8. When she portrayed a fictional pop singer.
In the acclaimed 2014 movie Beyond the Lights, Mbatha-Raw stars as Noni Jean, a hotly tipped singing star who falls for a young police officer (Nate Parker) – much to the disapproval of her overbearing mother (Minnie Driver) and selfish career advisors. It’s a nuanced and realistic romantic drama driven by a completely convincing performance from Mbatha-Raw as the conflicted starlet. She even gets to deliver an emotional version of Nina Simone‘s “Blackbird.”
9. When she played a key character in The Morning Show.
More than holding her own opposite Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, Mbatha-Raw appears in all 10 episodes as Hannah, a talent booker who was once taken advantage of by Steve Carell‘s predatory anchorman. To say much more would risk spoilers, but let’s just say that Mbatha-Raw provides some of the series’ most haunting and unexpected scenes.
10. And finally, when she told James Corden that she tried to navigate L.A. on a bicycle when she first moved there.
Seriously, is this one of the most British stories you’ve ever heard?
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