Actor David Oyelowo has emerged as a stunning chameleon in each project he’s appeared in. Notable starring roles in the TV remake of A Raisin in the Sun and in the films The Last King of Scotland, The Help and Red Tails have helped the British-Nigerian Oyelowo become the heart and soul of all his films. He provides that again in his latest movie, 96 Minutes, starring Evan Ross, a morality tale chronicling the chaos surrounding a carjacking involving four teens. Oyelowo, 36, portrays Duane, an unlikely father figure to some Atlanta lost boys.
Oyelowo chatted with BET.com about his new film, his upcoming role in Lee Daniels's controversial epic The Butler starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey and his unique approach to his career.
What attracted you to your role in 96 Minutes?
I love the fact that both the film and the character that I play both defy expectations. Duane is someone that if you see him or hear him talk you can make a very quick judgment about who he is. The film plays with that perception and I also love that when you go beyond what Duane looks like, he ends up being a much needed parental figure to the kids in the movie. A theme in the film is the [the kids have a] lack of guidance and the lack of an older generation. He’s helping these young people along their way. I like the fact that an unlikely guy represented that.
You’ve been in the business for well over a decade, but to some you may appear to be an overnight sensation. Career-wise, what's the journey felt like for you?
It feels like a marathon to me but I’ve chosen that path. I turned down a lot of easier opportunities in order to go for the things that I really and ultimately wanted to do. And what’s really nice is that it’s starting to work. I’ve been an actor for coming up on 14 years now and the level of activity that’s taking place now is a culmination of a slow cooker approach to [a career] as opposed to a microwave.
You’re collaborating with director Lee Daniels on two projects, The Paperboy, which will screen at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and the more controversial film, The Butler. When does that begin production and what is it about?
We start [shooting] The Butler in June and that’s incredibly exciting for me because I get to work with the amazing Forest Whitaker again. It’s a phenomenal script and a great, great role — I play his son. Oprah Winfrey is his wife and my mother. My character is a radical, civil rights activist. I rebel against the profession his father has chosen — a butler who works in the White House from [President Dwight] Eisenhower to [Ronald] Reagan. I become a civil rights leader who’s involved in marches with [Martin Luther] King, moves onto Malcolm X and I become a Black Panther.
That sounds like an amazing premise and a far cry from what I envisioned it to be. With the controversy over The Help and the upcoming slavery-themed feature films set to be released soon, I think some Black audiences might be concerned about what's headed to theaters.
I’m so glad you mentioned that because I am aware that in light of The Help a filmed called The Butler might be received with a certain kind of thing. Well, firstly, the story is not told from a white perspective and it is not just about him being the domestic help within the White House. It’s more of an epic Forest Gump-like incredible sweeping story that explores what happens politically, socio-economically to Black people in this country in the 20th century since slavery. You’ll see how much civil rights impacted presidential decisions through historical events. It’s much more about that than the brow beaten Black man in the White House.
It seems you don’t run from projects that could be viewed as controversial.
We can’t afford to deny our past in a bid to be empowered. But what we can do is contextualize the past. The problem with us and the stories we’re trying to tell is that we get so few opportunities to tell them that the danger comes when we try to cram everything in. The Help sheds light on a certain truth in America, but the tragedy is if we don’t get a chance to contrast it with other points of views. The Butler does that, Red Tails does that and that’s what 96 Minutes does.
96 Minutes arrives in theaters April 27.
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(Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
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