Cannes: Jeff Nichols Says His Wife Would Have Divorced Him If He Didn't Make 'Loving'

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Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton

The 'Loving' team met the press at the festival on Monday.

Jeff Nichols was handed the ultimate threat when he was first given the opportunity to direct Loving.

"My wife said, 'I love you, but if you don't make this movie, I am going to divorce you," he told the media ahead of the world premiere of the awards favorite in Cannes on Monday.

The film, based on a true story, stars Joel Edgerton as Richard Loving, whose interracial marriage to Mildred (Ruth Negga) caused them to be sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958. Their case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union and eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in the end of America's miscegenation laws.

"It is a story both triumphant and very shameful," said Edgerton. "It celebrates some struggles that shouldn't have had to exist."

Already tipped as an Oscar contender — with Negga and Edgerton certain to attract awards attention for their quiet, powerful performances — Loving has also launched itself to the top of the pack in the competition for this year's Palme d'Or.

Speaking at the press conference for the film in Cannes, Nichols, Edgerton and Negga politely dodged questions about next year's Academy Awards —"I'm practicing my acceptance speech," Edgerton joked — but they did speak to the broader importance of the film in the debate on race and equality in the U.S.

"I hope this is the quiet film of the year, and I hope it puts people at the center of these issues, of these debates," said Nichols. "You can sit at your armchair at home and espouse all these issues, but they affect people."

Negga called Loving "the most important film I've ever made, and it is one of the most important films in history. I'm overwhelmed."

Edgerton praised Nichols for his decision to stay true to the facts of Richard and Mildred Loving's mostly quiet and ordinary life together, and not pump up the drama for effect.

"It is very un-Hollywood," the Australian actor said. "Many others have tried to rearrange the story, have [the Lovings] high-fiving themselves after the [Supreme Court] ruling or, and having a party or something. But there is something very simple about the truth, and that was a guideline into the story."

"I didn't want to make a courtroom drama. I wanted to make a story about two people in love," said Nichols, about the Lovings. "I truly believe this is about one of the most pure love stories in American history."

The Irish-Ethiopian Negga said she hopes the issue addressed in the film will become part of a broader discussion.

"The great thing about this film is that it humanizes us, that these aren't just broad political ideas. They are about individuals and humans. It can only lead to a broader decision about being kind to each other," she said. "A conversation is always good. I think it is how we learn, through dialogue and discourse. I think that is happening now. People are becoming less afraid to have controversial discussions."

Loving was picked up by Focus Features in Berlin and will be released Nov 4.

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