The Middle of Nowhere star talks his new movie and The Paperboy controversy.
He’s starred in five films this year, including Red Tails and the upcoming Lincoln. Now David Oyelowo continues that output of dazzling performances in Ava DuVernay’s Sundance Award-winning drama Middle of Nowhere, which Oprah Winfrey tweeted was "powerful and poetic." The Nigerian British actor chatted with BET.com about his new role, weighed in on Nicole Kidman's N-word controversy surrounding his other film currently in theaters, The Paperboy, and discussed working with Academy Award-nominated director Lee Daniels.
What attracted you to Middle of Nowhere?
To be honest, it was the writing. In my time since moving to the United States, I’ve found that there is a dearth of great writing for Black people. There are stories that depict us in a way that isn’t clichéd or niche, and that a white person, a Chinese person an Indian person can watch and relate to. Those are the stories I want to be a part of telling. Even though Middle of Nowhere’s character and story is rooted within the Black community, it’s a universal story.
Your co-star Emayatzy Corinealdi talked about you working on The Butler and promoting The Paperboy while you were shooting Middle of Nowhere. Is that your Nigerian work ethic or just actor multitasking?
[Laughs] I’m so glad you brought up the Nigerian work ethic, my dad would be very proud. I watched my parents work. My parents are very hard working people who did everything they could for their children. I have two brothers and they worked dog hard to give us an education and provide us with the most comfortable life possible. My dad provided for his family daily. So, yes, that is definitely in my DNA. Also, as an actor, you just feel so blessed to be working at all. Let alone to be earning a living from it and to be working with people you’ve only dreamt about working with.
Another film you’re currently starring in, The Paperboy, made news when it was revealed that Nicole Kidman would not say the N-word for director Lee Daniels. What’s your take on it?
I really admired that. I have a strong reaction and opinion to that word in my personal life. I think it’s a terrible thing when we use it as Black people and try to make it empowering. It’s a word that’s associated with and steeped in violence, hatred and degradation. It’s not a word to be celebrated and in films it should be used very judiciously. I think in The Paperboy it was used as a detrimental, hideous word as opposed to just being thrown out there. So I really admired Nicole’s position. I am a father, I am very aware of the things that I’m putting out in the world knowing that one day my children will watch the work that I’ve done. I want to be able to stand by it. I applaud Nicole’s decision and I think she was right.
Would it have been your character Nicole would have been directing the N word to?
Yes, it would have been to my character. It was one thing Lee asked of her that she refused to do.
You’ve collaborated with Lee Daniels frequently. Is he the Martin Scorsese to your Robert DeNiro?
That’s the dream for me. Lee and I first met when we tried to mount the film called Selma, where he cast me as Dr. Martin Luther King. A lot of the success that I’m enjoying right now, even though that film didn’t come to fruition, was on the basis of that bit of casting. That was the point where Hollywood took notice of me as an actor. It was like, “Who is this guy who was plucked out of obscurity to play Martin Luther King?” When that film didn’t happen, he rewrote my character in The Paperboy to be a Black man, because he was originally white. That was indicative of his desire to work with me.
Why do you think you two work together so well?
For me, Lee’s a director that pushes me into areas of my ability that I didn’t know were there. He knows me very well as a person, a friend and as an actor. We do have shorthand, an understanding and at the end of the day with storytelling there is a level of trust. That’s when you’re able to push the envelope further. I would love to keep collaborating with Lee, it’s a very special bond and a very special energy we have together.
Middle of Nowhere is currently playing in select cities.
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(Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)