David Oyelowo is a multiple Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated actor and producer who has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after talents.
Later this year he’ll be seen in the third film in the Cloverfield horror franchise, and as the lead in the as-yet untitled Nash Edgerton film, co-starring Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Thandie Newton and Amanda Seyfried.
Oyelowo gained international acclaim in 2014 starring as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s Selma. For his performance, Oyelowo earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.
Most recently, he starred opposite Lupita Nyo ng’o in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, earning a NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. And his additional film credits include Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, Captive, The Butler, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere, Jack Reacher, The Paperboy, Red Tails, The Help and The Last King of Scotland.
A classically-trained actor, Oyelowo recently appeared opposite Daniel Craig as the title character in the New York Theatre Workshop Off-Broadway production of Othello. He got his start on stage in 1999 with The Royal Shakespeare Company. He garnered national recognition for his performance as King Henry VI in the RSC’s 2001 production, when he was cast as the first Black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare. The performance won David the 2001 Ian Charleson Award, which is presented in recognition of the best classical stage performances in Britain by actors under the age of 30.
Here, he talks about his latest outing opposite Rosamund Pike as an African king who falls for a British commoner in A United Kingdom.
KW: What interested you in A United Kingdom?
DO: The fact that it was a story I felt I should know, but I didn’t know. And as I dug deeper, I appreciated the enduring love that Seretse and Ruth had for each other was a wonderful story.
KW: After I watched the film, I went home and looked up their story, as well as the history of Botswana, since I’d known nothing about either.
DO: One of the amazing things about this experience for me has been the Google trail. There’s so much to learn about them and African history.
KW: I appreciate Amma Asante making a movie like this because when I grew up, the only movies about Africa I saw were Tarzan movies. So, I grew up rooting for Tarzan and thinking all Africans were cannibals. It reminds me of how a Native American friend says he grew up identifying with the cowboys and hating Indians because of how he’d been brainwashed by Westerns.
DO: That underscores the significance of someone like Amma getting a story like this made.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: Did you speak to Ruth and Seretse descendants in preparation for the role??
DO: Yes, and we even shot on location in Botswana.
KW: Patricia observes that, unlike many other actors, you have managed to avoid being typecast. She asks: what is your secret?
DO: Becoming typecast is something that can happen very easily, if you are not paying attention. Look, the fact of the matter is that Seretse and Dr. Martin Luther King [in Selma] makes it twice in a row now that I’ve played historical, political figures. I’ve got to be mindful of that going forward, despite how much I admire both of these men. You’ve got to change it up to have a long career. So, I won’t be playing that sort of role in the near future.
KW: Since she’s French-Canadian, she’s also wondering whether the movie will be translated into other languages and if it will be showcased at Cannes?
DO: It won’t be showcased at Cannes, because it’s already been released. But, yes, it will be distributed internationally, in Canada, France, Botswana, Italy, Germany and many other countries.
KW: How was it working opposite Rosamund Pike? How do you explain the great chemistry the two of you generated on screen?
DO: I had been working on the film for a long time, and it was important to find an actress who shared my passion for the project. When I sent Rosamund pictures of Seretse and Ruth, she had such an emotional and visceral reaction to them, it really gave me a lot of confidence that we would be bringing everything we could to the work. And I think that passion for the project led to the chemistry you see onscreen.
KW: This year, the Academy nominated seven actors of color for Oscars after not nominating any the previous two years. But that must be little consolation to you, since your terrific performance in Selma as Dr. King was snubbed.
DO: Well, thank you, but films are for life. Even with what happened with Selma, everywhere I go, people have seen that film. And at the end of the day, that’s why you do it. With the passage of time, no one really remembers who was nominated or who won, it’s the film that has to stand on its own two legs. I’m very proud to say that I feel we achieved that with Selma.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
DO: [Laugh out loud] Well, I’m a lot sillier at home. I have four kids and a very rowdy house.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
DO: I always think it’s a bad idea remaking classics. I’m of the mind that it’s best to leave them alone unless you have a very, very fresh point-of-view which is almost never the case.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you at this point in your career? I see you have an untitled project with Nash Edgerton coming up.
DO: Yeah, that’s an action-comedy, which is a very different speed for me. I really loved doing that film. Speaking of avoiding being typecast, I really want to try my hand at some different genres. Action is something I love to watch, and I’ve had fun whenever it’s come my way. Rasamund and I met doing an action-thriller [Jack Reacher]. I really enjoyed that experience, and would love to do something like that again. Comedy is something else I enjoy watching, and would love to do. So, the idea is to just keep mixing it up.
KW: You also have God Particle coming up with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris O’Dowd. What’s that about?
DO: It’s a sci-fi that J.J. Abrams is producing and a wonderful, young director named Julius Onah is directing. As I’m sure you know, because it’s a J.J. Abrams project, if I reveal any more, I’ll be shot in the kneecaps. [Chuckles]
KW: When do you feel the most content?
DO: When I’m at home with my wife and kids, slumped on the couch, watching a movie or laughing together.
KW: Let’s say you’re throwing your dream dinner party — who’s invited?
DO: I’d love to have Sidney Poitier, Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington and Sean Penn over.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
DO: I would probably choose time-traveling, so I could go back and change some of the fashion choices I’ve made.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 13 year-old self?
DO: When I was younger I couldn’t wait to be older. I would say, “Slow down!”
KW: Bernadette also asks: What is your favorite charity?
DO: The GEANCO Foundation which provides scholarships for Nigerian girls who have been victims of Boko Haram.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
DO: As someone who helped people.
KW: Finally, Samuel L. Jackson asks: What’s in your wallet?
DO: [Laughs out loud] Less money than people think.
A United Kingdom is in theatres now. Go to www.foxsearchlight.com/aunitedkingdom for movie info. Check local listings for show times.
Kam Williams welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.