A talk with Emmy nominee David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo, most notably known for his Oscar-snubbed performance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, stars in the new film Captive.

British actor David Oyelowo, most notably known for his Oscar-snubbed performance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the otherwise critically acclaimed Selma, is a busy man. He plays Atlanta criminal Brian Nichols in his latest movie Captive, the 2005 true story, which opens nationwide today. You might remember the story of Nichols, who escaped during his trial killing a judge, court reporter, sheriff’s deputy and federal agent. Nichols surrendered after hiding out in hostage and drug addict Ashley Smith’s (played by Kate Mara) apartment, where she offered him crystal meth and read him passages from Rick Warren’s Christian bestseller A Purpose Driven Life.

Sunday, Oyelowo will be attending the Emmy’s as a nominee for his portrayal of mentally disturbed veteran Peter Snowden in the HBO movie Nightingale. He’s been in many other celebrated movies including Interstellar, A Most Violent Year and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Oyelowo recently announced to be voicing the latest James Bond Audiobook Trigger Mortis, and has several movies in production for which he both act in and produces. On top of his successful career, he is a married father of four. CL recently had the great honor of talking with the classically trained Oyelowo about Captive, Nightingale and his immediate future.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to see Captive yet but just watching the preview alone has made me cry. In fact, I feel like most of your movies have made me cry. Is that how you choose your movies, if you know what emotionally will move people?

Well, I think it’s less about what I think will emotionally move people and what emotionally moves me. I’m thankful there’s an overlap between what’s moving me and what’s moving an audience. I’m very keen on stories that are really about the human condition and illustrate the commonalities between all of us and the challenges we face. Even some of the films I do illustrate extreme situations and I do them because I as a human being and I’m able to relate to what’s going on with some of those characters and so the hope is the audience will have the same experience really.

The Christian book A Purpose Driven Life is a major inspiration for Captive. Is Captive a heavily religious movie?

No, it’s quite the opposite of that. It will be perceived as that probably because The Purpose Driven Life is featured in it and is part of the story but at the end of the day Brian Nichols and Ashley Smith were very far away from god. You’re dealing with a murderer and a meth addict who were holed up together for seven hours in Ashley Smith’s apartment. For me personally, even though I am a Christian, I’m not interested in preaching to the audience but I do gravitate towards films and characters where faith is an integrated organic part of who they are and what inspires them to function. I mean the ultimate example of that was playing Dr. King in Selma. I don’t think anyone would necessarily construct that as a faith-based movie but the element of faith is of course very integrated and integral to that story and it’s the same here because even though Ashley Smith’s life was on a very real downward spiral, she gained inspiration from that book that gave her strength in the midst of truly her darkest hour and has turned her life around as a result and that’s just the truth of the story as opposed to any kind of imposed prophetizing you could be able to accuse the film of doing.

And you got to work closely with Ashley Smith on the movie?

Yes, Ashley was with us for a lot of the shoot. I was very keen on that personally because generally speaking this is an event that people are still very much still living through the pain of what happened that day. Four people died that day and their families are still in the very trying circumstances of that loss and of course it was a very traumatic event for Ashley Smith herself.

You also produced Captive along with a couple other movies. What does that entail for you and how do you like that compared to just acting?

As you can imagine there is significant overlap in films with being an actor alongside with producing them. The reason I segued in to this for me personal I find it very challenging to have to depend on others for the nature of the story I get to tell because more often than not they don’t often chime with what I want to do or what I want to see. I gravitate towards films that are hopefully thought provoking, meaningful, that impact culture. That’s not all I want to do, I’m very happy to be in films that are purely entertainment. Films that you are passionate about that are the ones that you’re prepared to spend years and years to get made and those are the kinds of films I am now producing. Basically, films I would want to be in as an actor and want to see as an audience member

Your wife is also in Captive. How was that working with her?

Fantastic. We met working…as teenagers and we haven’t had that many opportunities to act together since. We run our production company together, Yoruba Saxon, that was one of the production companies behind Captive so it made a lot of sense to keep it in the family.

I did recently watch Nightingale. Congrats on the Emmy nomination; it’s such a great movie and intense role. How do you go from roles like Peter Snowden and Brian Nichols to letting that all go, going home and being a regular husband, a regular dad? How do you go home and sort of let those roles out of your head?

It’s a very good question because it is tricky. Nightingale I actually moved out of my home. I live in Los Angeles and we shot the film in Los Angeles and I just felt the shear intensity of that shoot and that character and because I’m the only one in the movie so there’s no respite really and you’ve got a guy that has all these voices bouncing around in his head and I stayed in character the whole time we were shooting that film so I felt it was imperative to spare my wife and children from Snowden so I stayed away while shooting that. We shot Captive in Charlotte, N.C., and Mexico so I was away from my kids for that. My wife had to endure some of the weirdness of being around Brian Nichols, as played by me. You know, with playing those characters, it was the same with Dr. King really, you have to shelve yourself, in my opinion, to really get to the truth of who theses characters are and it’s a delicate balance but I’m pretty good at once I’m done being able to turn my back on the characters and just get back to life.

And like in Nightingale, it was just you and in Captive it’s pretty much just you and Kate (Mara). How do like working alone vs. with an ensemble? What do you feel is more difficult?

It’s more about the intensity really. I like the intensity. I like the pressure cooker of a film like Nightingale or Captive. Its very much hops back to my days in the theatre when I did shows that were very, very intense, that were smaller casts. The level of connection you have with the audience but also the levels of depth you are able to plummet in terms of the character are so much more poetic in a sense. I enjoy those. They are exhausting and the are very exposing and they are very challenging but you know I enjoy the challenge because I really, really love what I get to do for a living

Speaking of intensity, to you ever see yourself doing a comedy, just a lighthearted rom com down the road?

I hope to. My philosophy is to keep the audience guessing and I think I’m about ripe to get a little less intense so yeah, I have nothing on my plate as a producer so hopefully anyone out there who is reading this interview can present me with that. I would happily dial down the intensity.

Will you be attending the Emmys? Does the award part of the entertainment industry mean a lot to you?

I will be at the Emmys. Not least because I’m very, very proud of Nightingale and it’s kind of miraculous that we got that kind of attention for what was a really small film really. We never imagined it would end up on HBO, let alone the millions of people who have now seen it. It’s wonderful to go to someplace like the Emmys and celebrate the success of the film.

Cause you’re a favorite to win, I don’t know if you know that, or if you pay attention.

I try not to pay attention to all of that but that’s nice to know. We’ll see. I’m nominated along side of my favorite actors. Mark Rylance who I’ve seen play Hamlet in the UK as (I was) a drama student and was completely blown away by him. Richard Jenkins, another favorite of mine. He’s nominated also so that is extraordinary company to be in for me.

Do you know about the EGOT? (An EGOT is someone who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, held by an elite few.) Because I feel like your career could go down that path, I see you winning each of those awards. And you could be in company with Mel Brooks and Audrey Hepburn.

I will take it.

Because especially with the announcement of you doing the audiobook for James Bond, there’s your Grammy next year.

HAHAHAHA, You’ve gone in depth. My goodness. Okay, well, I hope you just called it. I really, really, enjoyed doing the audiobook so hopefully it will have a great reaction also.

And you’re doing multiple characters for the audiobook?

Yes, I play every character in it. I play of course Bond, Pussy Galore, there’s a new Bond girl called Jeopardy Lane…I had to do South Korean, German, Austrian, English, American accents in it so its all over the place.

Well there’s the Grammy right there.


About The Author

Stephanie Powers

Freelance contributor Stephanie Powers started her media career as an Editorial Assistant long ago when the Tampa Bay Times was still called the St. Petersburg Times. After stints in Chicago and Los Angeles, where she studied improvisation at Second City Hollywood, she came back to Tampa and stayed put.She soon...
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