Englishman David Oyelowo attributes at least part of his film success to a seemingly unlikely source: the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.
At a White House screening of Selma, “I thanked him for my career, because I can absolutely track some of the best films I’ve done to his presidency: The Help, Red Tails, Lincoln, (Lee Daniels’) The Butler, Selma,” says Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. “America had to open its eyes to the context that brought this seminal moment of having a black president, (which) meant that people with green-light ability in Hollywood were more open to these stories.”
Oyelowo, 39, stars in Nightingale (airing on HBO Friday, 9 p.m. ET/PT), as a secluded, troubled military veteran who connects to others almost completely by video and social media.
The humanity of a man in a one-character film who commits a horrible act, while appealing to Oyelowo, spelled trouble in terms of wider distribution or acceptance at independent film festivals. The character, Peter Snowden, wasn’t defined by race, but Oyelowo believes that was a factor in its difficulties.
His own lack of celebrity may have played a part, he says, but “if you have a black actor in this role and it has nothing to do with sports, music, race, civil rights, has nothing to do with all those touch-button subjects, I feel like some of these festivals just didn’t know what to do with it.”
However, Nightingale, filmed before Selma turned Oyelowo into more of a household name (though still tricky to pronounce), ultimately benefited from the actor’s rising star power and his affiliation with Selma producer and Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt, who became a producer on the project and brought it to HBO.
“What a happy coincidence that we caught David just as his star ascends,” screenwriter Frederick Mensch says.
Oyelowo plays another American, real-life Georgia killer Brian Nichols, in Captive, due in September, but his film choices reflect a global sensibility. In A United Kingdom, the actor, born in England to Nigerian parents, will play a prince from Botswana whose marriage to a white Englishwoman stirs controversy in the 1940s. He is currently shooting Queen of Katwe, in which he portrays a man who teaches a young African chess champion (Lupita Nyong’o).
“I love shooting in Africa. It’s the next frontier in terms of mining the world for great stories,” he says. “When films have been made in Africa, especially from a Western point of view, it’s always about genocide or dictators, the dark side of that continent. There is so much joy, so much amazing triumph in Africa and I want to have those stories out in the world.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Bill Keveney