There are some actors who need to immerse themselves in a role to deliver their best works, while others can walk in front of the camera, do what’s required of them, and then turn it off once they leave the set. And for David Oyelowo, he had previously experienced working with completely method actors, acting opposite Forest Whitaker in “The Last King Of Scotland” and Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” but as he tells NPR, he wasn’t initially comfortable with that kind of approach himself. “The results are undeniable. But personally, I would always feel a bit pretentious about going around saying, ‘Oh, by the way, everyone’s gotta call me Idi Amin, or President Lincoln.’ But that’s just my own thing,” he said.
However, for “Nightingale” and “Selma,” to embody an unhinged military man and the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Oyelowo pushed himself and dove deep into both roles. “I stayed in character for the three weeks we shot ‘Nightingale’ and for the three months we shot ‘Selma.’ [Selma Director] Ava [DuVernay] would call me out of the blue at times just to check—I think she was shocked that I was going to go through with this,” Oyelowo shared. “This is how bad it got: I remember, my wife, we were moving house[s] at the time and my wife called me and said, ‘So what do you think? Should we go for the gray curtains or the brown?’ And I literally went, [in the voice of King] ‘Well, I think we should …’ and she went, ‘Stop! Stop! I cannot talk curtains with Dr. King, we’re going to pick this up afterwards. What on earth are you doing?’ So that was the moment I thought, ‘OK, I’m all the way in, here.’ But yes, I just felt, for me, personally, I just felt you can’t half-do Dr. King.”
“We were shooting in Atlanta, I can’t go around talking [with a British accent]. It’s not just about doing a good job, it’s about eliciting confidence in people around me that I can take this great man and do him justice,” Oyelowo added.
And really, it’s hard to argue with what his dedication delivered. It’s a fascinating talk, and the actor discusses even more including his dislike for horror movies, and how he’s never taken a paycheck gig. Listen to the entire 44-minute talk below.