Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw arrive to a special screening of Fox’s “Touch” at Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on April 23, 2012 in North Hollywood
*Relativity has acquired worldwide rights to Gina Prince-Bythewood’s next film “Blackbird,” reports Deadline.com.
The film stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni Jean, a hot new artist who has just won a Grammy and is primed for stardom. But the pressures of success compel her to nearly end her life until she is saved by a young police officer. They fall hard for each other, despite the protests of their parents who want each to focus on their own career ambitions. But he might be the missing piece to unlock her artistic potential.,
Nate Parker and Danny Glover co-star.
Prince-Bythewood will direct from her script; Relativity has acquired worldwide rights and will finance the film. Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh is producing with Stephanie Allain.
Mbatha-Raw’s resume includes leading roles in NBC’s “Undercovers” opposite Boris Kodjoe, and Fox’s “Touch” opposite Kiefer Sutherland.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as social worker Clea Hopkins in the pilot for FOX's "Touch"
*Although the pilot aired in full nearly two months ago in what FOX called “a preview,” tonight marks the official series premiere of “Touch,” a supernatural drama starring “24” vet Kiefer Sutherland and “Undercovers” alum Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
As reported before the show’s initial Jan. 25 broadcast, Mbatha-Raw plays Clea Hopkins, a social worker who must evaluate the relationship between 11-year-old autistic boy Jake (David Mazouz) and his father Martin (Sutherland). Jake’s autism renders him mute; he only communicates through intricate numeric computations. His father soon discovers that Jake uses those numbers to uncover global catastrophic events that will happen in the future, and Martin feels obligated to try and stop them from happening – by any means necessary.
Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meets Jake (David Mazouz) in "Touch"
“In this day and age of Internet and social network sites, cell phones and international travel, I think we’re more connected than ever before, on one level,” the Oxford, born Mbatha-Raw tells EURweb exclusively. “But that personal human connection, which is really what is at the crux of ‘Touch’ – that relationship between Martin and his son and his inability to communicate with his own son – is crippling for him and so emotionally difficult to deal with. How do you deal with a child that doesn’t talk, and yet seems to have these special savant-like gifts for numbers?
“My character comes into the fray as the social worker brought in to assess Martin and Jake, because it appears [Martin] is not an adequate father; initially the child keeps going missing. So she comes on board to see whether the state needs to intervene for the child’s best interest.”
(L-R) David Mazouz, Kiefer Sutherland and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a scene from "Touch"
Mbatha-Raw, whose name means “our pride” in the Xhosa language of her South African father, had been acting in British television shows for six years before she landed her first American gig in 2010, NBC’s spy drama “Undercovers,” alongside Boris Kodjoe.
Below, the actress talks about her journey in show business, which includes a fortuitous flight delay at Heathrow Airport two years ago that changed her outlook on everything.
Below, the trailer for “Touch,” premiering (again) Thursday at 9 p.m. on FOX.
Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw speaks onstage during the 'Touch' panel during the FOX Broadcasting Company portion of the 2012 Winter TCA Tour at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa on Jan. 8, 2012 in Pasadena
*She hunted down bad guys as an international spy on NBC’s ill-fated “Undercovers.” On Wednesday, actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw takes it down a notch as a social worker assigned to evaluate a young boy and his father as they hunt down bad guys in Fox’s new drama “Touch.”
Mbatha-Raw’s Clea Hopkins must evaluate the domestic situation of an autistic 11-year-old boy named Jake (David Mazouz) and his father, Martin (Kiefer Sutherland). Jake, by the way, does not speak. He prefers to communicate through complex numeric computations – and as his dad finds out in the pilot, he uses those numbers to reveal specific atrocities that will happen in the future. This forces Sutherland to get his Jack Bauer on each week to stop the bad things before they happen – once he deciphers Jake’s math, of course.
(L-R) Kiefer Sutherland, David Mazouz, Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a scene from "Touch"
Mbatha-Raw, who saw plenty of action in “Undercovers,” will be a step removed from the good/evil battles this time around as Jake’s case manager.
“She has a lot to do with his case. She oversees his assessments, she has to liaise with Martin when he starts seeing these numbered connections,” Mbatha-Raw told EURweb exclusively at the Television Critics Association press tour this month. “Even though she goes along with it in the pilot, her first priority is always the child, and whether the state is going to take him away from Martin, because he’s got to prove himself as an adequate parent.”
Fox will preview the full pilot for “Touch” on Wednesday (Jan. 25) at 9 p.m. ahead of its official series premiere on March 19. [Scroll down to watch the trailer.]
In the audio below, Mbatha-Raw takes us back to “Undercovers,” and offers her own idea of what went wrong.
*The jet-setting is over for NBC’s spy drama “Undercovers” and its star Boris Kodjoe.
NBC announced today that it will not pick up additional episodes from the freshman series beyond the original 13-episode order, according to Deadline.com. The Warner Bros TV-produced show is currently filming Episode 12.
The news follows Wednesday night’s episode hitting another series low when it slipped to a 1.3 rating in the 18-49 demo.
The slickly produced light drama, whose pilot was directed by creator J.J. Abrams, broke primetime ground by featuring two black actors as the leads. But it got off to a disappointing start in the Wednesday 8 p.m. slot and never found traction with viewers.
The series will stay on for the next 2 weeks and will air its last original (for now) on December 1, reports Deadline. It was already set for preemption on Nov. 24 when NBC is airing a DreamWorks Animation holiday special. The fate of the remaining original “Undercovers” episodes is unclear.
This is the second new NBC series to get cancelled, along with legal drama “Outlaw.” The rest of NBC’s freshman class all received back-nine orders two weeks ago. At the time, “Undercovers” got a pickup for four additional scripts.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Samantha Bloom, Boris Kodjoe as Steven Bloom in NBC's "Undercovers"
*NBC got some good news and bad news for two of its new dramas this week.
The network’s latest “Law & Order” franchise entry “Los Angeles” earned solid ratings in its Wednesday premiere, but numbers for the second week of spy series “Undercovers” slipped dangerously low, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“Law & Order: Los Angeles” (10.6 million viewers) grew from its “Law & Order: SVU” (9.9 million) lead-in and clearly won 10 p.m., reports Nielsen. At 8 p.m., though, “Undercovers,” starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, dropped 17% to 7.2 million.
“Undercovers” is prime time’s first drama to star two black actors in the lead roles. Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw play married CIA operatives who take on sticky cases around the world while operating a catering business.
Most shows dropped off in viewers this week, and ABC’s “The Whole Truth” (4.6 million, down 5%) is firmly an at-risk show.
CBS won Wednesday with “Survivor” (12.2 million, down a bit), “Criminal Minds” (14.6 million, up a bit) and Week 2 of “The Defenders” (10.4 million, down 15%).
Fox’s two-hour “Hell’s Kitchen” averaged 6.1 million viewers, also down 15%.
ABC’s “Modern Family” (11.9 million) was down 6% from last week’s high-flying premiere, even with the heavily hyped “kiss episode.” The rest of its comedy block also fell: “The Middle” (8.4 million, down 5%), freshman comedy “Better With You” (7 million, down 11%), and “Cougar Town” (7 million, down 16%).
*Nearly two years after America elected its first black president, NBC will present network television’s first prime time drama featuring two black actors in the lead.
Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make history as married spies in the J.J. Abrams series “Undercovers,” billed as a “sexy, fun, action-packed spy drama” in the vein of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s “Mr & Mrs. Smith.”
The premise: Steven and Samantha Bloom own a catering business, but are secretly CIA operatives whose undercover work takes them to exotic places around the world. [See full-length trailer below.]
The network does not appear to be milking the casting to promote the show, and producers actually downplayed the race of its leads during a panel at a TV critics meeting last month. Co-creator Josh Reims told reporters that he and Abrams weren’t necessarily looking to make history.
“When we finished the script and went into the casting process, we started out by saying, ‘Let’s just see every possible incarnation of a person. We don’t want to see the same people we’ve seen on TV 10 million times because it will look like many other shows that are on TV, which are perfectly good, but we want it to look different,’” said Reims.
"Undercovers" Co-Creator and Executive Producer Josh Reims
Reims said they auditioned “a bunch of people” before Boris and Gugu came in late in the game and just killed it.
“We didn’t go out of our way to say we’re hiring two black people to be the leads of the show, but we certainly did not ignore the fact that it would be great if we could do that and if we found actors who were great enough,” he added.
Kodjoe, an actor of German and Ghanaian heritage, is certainly aware of the show’s pioneering casting and is not afraid to point it out.
“I don’t know if you want to call it revolutionary, but it’s not the norm,” he says of the show’s two black leads, “although it should be the norm because that’s what the world looks like. The world is diverse, and we come in all kinds of different shapes, sizes, and shades.
“It is important that we get a chance to be trailblazers or door openers or whatever you want to call it. On the other hand, let’s keep in mind or let’s inspire people to regard it as normal so that more and more people don’t consider it taking a chance, but just being creative.”
Reims admits that the writer’s room at “Undercovers” is not as groundbreaking as the series itself when it comes to people of color; only two black scribes are on staff.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice that they were black when I was hiring them,” said Reims. “I certainly went out of my way to interview people who are black and people who are not. And we felt, just as we felt when we were casting, that it’s not something we can ignore, that we have two black leads. Obviously, I’m not black. J.J. is even less black than I am.”
That reality, says Reims, underscored the importance of having a black perspective on the writing staff. Reims says he and J.J. are not expecting their two writers of color to literally speak for the whole race – as is often the case in writers’ rooms with just one or two black people in the mix.
“I was on a show a long time ago called ‘Chicago Hope,’ and we had a couple of doctors on the show who were black,” says Reims. “And we had a writer who was black, and it used to be, he would get annoyed because we would be like, ‘OK, so you are the black writer. So what would they say?’ which was ridiculous. And so, that’s obviously not why we have these writers. I have the writers because they are both really good writers, but if they can inform anything that I can’t inform, then that’s great.”
The jury is still out on whether any of these writers can keep viewers tuning in beyond the Sept. 22, 8 p.m. season premiere. Reims says despite the fate of “Undercovers” in terms of Nielsen ratings, the casting may have already left its mark for seasons to come.
“Yes, we all wish it wasn’t such a big deal at this point in time that there are two black characters who are the leads on a major TV show on a major network, but unfortunately that’s the way it is right now,” says Reims. “And even since the casting of this show was announced, we’ve seen other shows have cast black leads that maybe, who knows, wouldn’t have happened.”
'Undercovers' stars Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
*If you ladies have been going through withdrawals to get an opportunity to see the big and tall guy of Hollywood, wait no longer, he’s back and in full force!
Boris Kodjoe is joined by lesser known counterpart, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as his chef wife. But, why’d I mention her anyway, you ladies won’t have time to pay her any attention. But the fellas will be pleased. Their new show on NBC this Fall, Uncercovers, will have something for everyone. (more…)
*The Hollywood Reporter’s Nellie Andreeva has written a piece detailing an unprecedented boost in diversity among drama pilots targeted for the fall.
“Halfway through the castings of broadcast drama pilots this season, the top-billed actors on four pilots are non-Caucasian,” Andreeva writes. “What’s more, the four projects are among the highest-profile drama pilots this year.
The spy couple at the center of J.J. Abrams’ “Undercovers” for NBC is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe. Forest Whitaker is the lead on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff; Laz Alonso tops the Fox action-drama “Breakout Kings,” directed and exec produced by Gavin Hood; and Freddy Rodriguez headlines CBS’ CIA drama “Chaos,” directed and executive produced by Brett Ratner.
Last year’s crop of broadcast pilots included only one fronted by a minority actor, the LL Cool J starrer “NCIS: Los Angeles.” The season before that, there were no pilots led by minorities.
But whether it’s the Obama effect or any other reason, the tide seems to have turned during the past year.
“NCIS: LA” has been a runaway success, becoming the first major hit drama series toplined by a black actor, and CBS replaced iconic “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” star William Petersen with Laurence Fishburne.
And in cable, where there hadn’t been a drama toplined by a black actor since the departure of HBO’s “The Wire,” Jada Pinkett Smith was tapped as the lead of TNT’s medical drama “Hawthorne,” which has been renewed for a second season.
By setting black actors as leads in its three biggest crime franchises — “CSI” (Fishburne), “NCIS” (LL Cool J) and “Criminal Minds” (Whitaker) — as well as shepherding the Dennis Haysbert-starring war drama “The Unit” for four seasons, CBS has been at the forefront of the trend of putting minority actors in charge of drama series.
Laz Alonso stars in Fox's "Breakout Kings"
The network is also behind two of the four drama pilots that already have tapped minority leads: the “Criminal Minds” spinoff and “Chaos.”
“Diversity is top of mind for us every pilot season,” CBS head of casting Peter Golden said. “It’s still very early in the development process, but we’re excited about diverse roles we have on the page and the performers cast for the screen.”
Black comedians have a strong tradition on TV, and viewers have had no problem embracing comedy series with black leads. But dramas offer a different dynamic and require a larger degree of relatability, which makes it harder for white audiences to accept an ethnic show, TV historian Tim Brooks said.
Continue reading the Hollywood Reporter article here.
*Much is being made of NBC breaking racial barriers on television with the casting of two biracial leads in a prime time network drama.
As previously reported, “Soul Food” star Boris Kodjoe and British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw will play the married couple at the heart of the NBC pilot “Undercovers,” a project described as a mix between “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “The Bourne Identity.” Their characters are re-activated as CIA agents after years of retirement.
Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw, both biracial, “are bold choices for leading roles on a network drama as broadcasters have stuck predominantly with Caucasian leads,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Germany-raised Kodjoe is probably best known for his starring role on the urban drama “Soul Food.” He will next be seen in “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”
Mbatha-Raw, who has not appeared on American television, broke through during the summer when she was cast as Ophelia opposite Jude Law in the Donmar Warehouse production of “Hamlet,” which had successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway.