David Oyelowo’s ‘Nightingale’ Highlights Realities of Iraq War Veterans
British/ Nigerian actor David Oyelowo (pronounced “oh-yellow-oh”) is the hardest working man in Hollywood.
Why, you ask?
The 39-year-old Golden Globe nominee has taken on dynamic characters in critically acclaimed films such as Interstellar, Jack Reacher, Red Tails, The Help, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere and, most recently, Selma, for which he received his nomination. And that’s only in the last three years. His current slate includes 10 projects in development, production or post-production.
Oyelowo’s journey to “leading man” has been a bicultural undertaking. Born in England and raised in Nigeria from ages 6 to 13, he recognized his passion early on, but had a hard time convincing his traditional parents to let him pursue it. “Now there are many Nigerian actors on the scene, but when I was starting that was not the case. Growing up, the idea of becoming an actor was a distant thought. I got involved in youth theatre as a sort of hobby. It wasn’t until I got a scholarship to the London Academy of Dramatic Arts that my parents really took it seriously. I remember my father came to see me perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He told me ‘I never thought I would get to see a black man playing Henry the VI.’”
Oyelowo’s most recent film, Nightingale, showcases the classically trained actor as a cast of one. In the psychological drama, which premiered at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival, he took on the role of Peter Snowden, an Iraq war veteran obsessed with an old army friend. The film chronicles Snowden’s private thoughts and recordings in the days leading up to a reunion with his friend.
So what attracted Oyelowo to the project, originated by writer/director Elliot Lester? “I got the script from my agent and it seemed like an incredible opportunity. Eighty to 90 percent of the scripts I receive feel very pedestrian, but this was different,” says Oyelowo.
And different it is. In the hopes of regaining mental clarity, his character records his thoughts via webcam, an act that makes up the majority of the film. Oyelowo brought precision to the role that required him to be the sole character on screen. “I find it interesting how Peter is one person, but has so many layers,” he shared. “The preparation involved largely talking to a psychiatrist. I didn’t want to take on the role and have it be synthetic. Being rooted in the truth was really important to me.”