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Meet Belle‘s Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lupita Nyong’o’s newest competition

This beautiful costume drama was inspired by a real portrait of Dido Belle that hangs in the Scone Palace in Scotland. We sat down with the lead actress to find out what it was like to play such a unique woman.

While Belle is based on a true story, most people don’t know it. We asked Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Dido Belle, about her first impression of the script.

“I thought wow, I can’t believe we don’t know about Dido already,” she said.

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Mbatha-Raw first saw a postcard of the famous painting featuring Dido Belle and her cousin Elizabeth Murray.

“To me, I thought this is so refreshing. A mixed-race girl in a painting. It was a wonderful combination of things because I had always wanted to be in a period drama. I love Jane Austen, and this story had all of that and more in a way because of the politics and the social climate at the time.”

Mbatha-Raw also said she can really relate to Dido’s identity issue.

“Myself, growing up in Oxfordshire, I had a lovely upbringing, but you know, as you enter the world everybody questions well, who am I, what’s my place, what’s my group or my clique. I sort of learned to just be me and embrace being an artist and an actress, and then you get to take on lots of different identities, but that’s a whole other thing,” said Gugu, with an adorable giggle.

Of course, we wanted to know about the gorgeous gowns and how they worked. Apparently, underneath those long skirts, the actresses wore hollow, cagelike structures to help make the skirts stand out.

“Of course, it took a little bit of getting used to. We’d all sort of lie out at lunchtime and have them loosened and breathe a little bit. But that’s really what women wore, and it was so illuminating to me how you feel as a person with that constraint every day; it must affect your mentality as well as your physicality.”

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We also asked the lovely British actress which scene she was most afraid of filming.

“The scene in the mirror, where Dido is kind of pulling at her skin. I had [the scene] hanging over me the whole time, and I knew it was important because I felt like it was the moment where we get a window into Dido’s soul, and even though she’s existing in this elegant world, we see the ugliness that is underneath. This insecurity and frustration coming out in a moment of self-harm. For me, I knew I had to commit to that. I felt that was important because that’s the starting place for her to grow into herself.”

Belle opens in theaters today.

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