Why You Should Learn to Say David Oyelowo’s Last Name
By Nathaniel Simons (@NathanielSimons), The Africa Channel
British/ Nigerian actor and star of Lee Daniel’s The Butler, David Oyelowo (pronounced “oh-yellow-oh”), could possibly be the most fearless Nigerian man in Hollywood.
Why, you ask?
Oyelowo openly confessed the Ghanaian Black Stars are a much better team than the Nigerian Super Eagles. World Cup aside, the 38-year-old actor has taken on dynamic characters in critically acclaimed films such as Red Tails, The Help, Lincoln and Middle of Nowhere, for which he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. And that’s only in the last three years. His current slate includes eleven projects in development, production or post-production.
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 ninety 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.”
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.’”
In the highly anticipated Selma, due out later this year, Oyelowo reteams with his Sundance Award-winning Middle of Nowhere director, Ava DuVernay. The film retells the story of the 1965 march on Selma that secured fair voting rights for black Americans, and Oyelowo takes on the pivotal role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Backed by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, the film also stars a “who’s who” list that includes Oprah Winfrey, Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Recognizable names aside, Oyelowo says this film is important for the industry of storytelling. “I’m so glad to be a part of a film where we would see ourselves in the driving seat of our own destiny told from our perspective. People will see the hero of MLK Jr. and honor him for the freedoms we now enjoy; I admire the man immensely.”
With an impressive list of films this year, it’s clear this actor is one to know. So start practicing saying his name. (And if you’re a fan of the Nigerian Super Eagles, don’t hold it against Oyelowo… Keep in mind, there’s always the 2018 World Cup.)