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  • - The harder the character,

  • the further away it is from me as an actor,

  • the more it feels like I'm doing my job.

  • I have no interest in playing anything akin to myself.

  • Hi, I'm David Oyelowo

  • and this is the timeline of my career.

  • [soft jazz music]

  • How exactly can we do that?

  • - Because we understand each other

  • we always have!

  • - Not anymore.

  • "Spooks" came along at a time where

  • I had just done three years

  • at the Royal Shakespeare company.

  • I'd had one season where I'd been

  • in "Antony and Cleopatra", "Orinoco",

  • and a play called "Volpone".

  • And then I have this huge moment in my career

  • which was getting to play "Henry VI"

  • at the Royal Shakespeare company.

  • But I hadn't really done anything on screen.

  • And this show called "Spooks" came along,

  • which was about MI-5 spies.

  • What I loved about it is that

  • it had exactly the thing I had vowed

  • to myself would be something I would

  • always pursue in my career,

  • which was to play roles that were not race specific.

  • I had managed that with, obviously,

  • getting to play the King of England in "Henry VI",

  • but when "Spooks" came along to effectively

  • be Bond for the TV as we liked to call it,

  • was just a huge opportunity.

  • Myself, Matthew Macfadyen, and Keeley Hawes

  • who played the leads in "Spooks",

  • we were all in our early 20s

  • and at that point in British television

  • that just wasn't happening.

  • Young people were not heading up these kinds of shows.

  • It was stars who were more in their 40s

  • who were very reliable, constantly on TV.

  • I think that's part of what was the success

  • of the show because we literally treated every episode

  • as if we were going to get fired.

  • So, we just went in and had as much fun

  • as we could possibly have until everyone

  • realized what they had done

  • and summarily let us go.

  • This is your operation, Tom!

  • Why are you wrecking it?!

  • - After everything we've been through together, please!

  • - [Danny] You owe this to us.

  • - No, no, we couldn't do that here, not a Mulago.

  • - Why not?

  • - It's the president's hospital.

  • He's bound to find out.

  • - We can do this discreetly--

  • - No!

  • Because I did three seasons of "Spooks",

  • and to be perfectly honest,

  • I wanted to go on to be the lead.

  • I wanted to be front and center of that show,

  • and for whatever reason, they didn't see it the same way.

  • And so I said, either put me front and center

  • or give me the most epic death possible,

  • and the latter is what happened.

  • They gave me the epic death.

  • And partly my thinking around that

  • was the show, "Spooks", had been such a big hit,

  • I kept on having these great directors

  • reach out to me and saying,

  • "We would love to work with you,

  • but you're always busy making Spooks."

  • So, the choice for me was either

  • I should be more prominent in that show

  • or I wanted to go and call these directors' bluff

  • and see if they would still stick around

  • when I was no longer on the show.

  • And when I left the show, thankfully,

  • that they were indeed there.

  • And so, "The Last King of Scotland" was one

  • of the first films I did after shooting "Spooks"

  • with James McAvoy and the incredible Forest Whitaker.

  • I'm of African descent myself,

  • but it was the first film at that stage

  • that I actually shot in Africa.

  • And I think it was only the second film ever shot in Uganda.

  • They will believe you.

  • You are the white man.

  • Dad, you heard what mom said.

  • - That mess right there happened down South.

  • - [Louis] This could have been me.

  • - It happened down South.

  • I got out of there so we could have us a better life.

  • Right now, I'm working for the white man,

  • make things better for us.

  • - After "The Last King of Scotland",

  • I did a couple of other films.

  • Like also "Spooks" did really well here in America,

  • and so it became a good excuse to come out here

  • and see if there were going to be opportunities.

  • And my wife and I decided coming just speculatively

  • to see what might be out here,

  • and we ended up moving in 2007,

  • and about two, three months after moving,

  • this script, "Selma" hit my doormat.

  • That led to a whole journey that eventually led

  • to Lee Daniels, who came on board to direct that film.

  • I first read "Selma" in 2007.

  • Lee Daniels came on board with "Selma" in 2010.

  • And then, for a myriad of reasons,

  • we couldn't get "Selma" off the ground

  • but we formed this really quite incredible bond.

  • And that's what led to him

  • casting me in "The Butler".

  • When I had played Henry VI

  • it was "Henry VI parts one, two, and three",

  • and I had experienced what it is

  • to go from being a teenager in those plays

  • to also being an older man.

  • And so when "The Butler" came along

  • and presented the same kind of opportunity

  • and challenge but on film,

  • it was one that felt very natural to me to jump into

  • because I knew that playing age is not just about makeup.

  • It's about a state of mind.

  • That was something I had learnt playing Henry VI.

  • And so it was a no-brainer that

  • I was going to play this guy

  • from the age of 18 through to 65 or whatever it was.

  • But that is less often the case on film

  • as can be the case in theater,

  • and so unknown to me, Lee Daniels had actually

  • cast someone to play the younger version

  • of Louis Gaines, the character I play in "The Butler".

  • And I had no idea.

  • I turned up, we were doing the camera test

  • as is often the case before you go onto shoot the film,

  • and I just did what I assumed I would do

  • which is to play my 18-year-old self,

  • and then we put makeup on and we also saw

  • that I could play my 60-something-year-old self.

  • And it wasn't until after the camera test,

  • I found out that an actor who had been hired

  • was then let go because I didn't realize

  • I had effectively been auditioning again

  • to play the younger version of myself

  • when we did the camera test.

  • So, that was a relief.

  • Not so much for that poor actor who had to be let go

  • but I was very keen to play the full arc of the character,

  • and I'm thankful that I got to do that.

  • We must in this country for our rights.

  • - [Crowd] Yes!

  • - Today, we march to free the people of South Africa.

  • A law that says you have to get up every morning

  • and seven o'clock put on your clothes, and your makeup,

  • and your costume jewelry.

  • Up until this point in my career

  • I had had the opportunity to work

  • with Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland".

  • I'd also seen an actor like Daniel Day Lewis in "Lincoln".

  • I saw these two magnificent titans of acting

  • immersing themselves so deeply in their characters

  • that it was impossible to discern who

  • they actually were as people themselves on set

  • and "Nightingale" was the first time that

  • I made the choice to stay in character the whole time.

  • Partly, because when I did "The Last King of Scotland",

  • to be perfectly frank,

  • being around Forest was tough

  • because he was playing a Ugandan dictator,

  • and so making small talk with him on that set

  • was not something that was going to be happening.

  • And even though it was fantastic for the film

  • it was difficult for the crew and the rest of the cast.

  • And so if I was gonna do that

  • it felt like "Nightingale" was the perfect

  • opportunity to try it out.

  • I didn't have to be mean to other members of the cast

  • because they weren't there,

  • and it gave me an opportunity to see

  • if this is something that works for me.

  • And the thing I couldn't have anticipated is

  • that playing that character, staying in character,

  • for the three weeks, four weeks of the shoot,

  • and the thing that it gave me is it meant

  • I never second guessed any choices I made on screen.

  • And that's an incredibly releasing thing

  • to not be in your own head as to whether

  • you're making the right choices for the character.

  • And so, it gave me the blueprint

  • for playing other intense characters that

  • I went on to play beyond doing "Nightingale".

  • You want to ruin everything?

  • Fine!

  • This isn't over yet.

  • I know all your hiding places.

  • And on the rare occasions that they face trial

  • they are freed by all-white juries.

  • All-white because you can't serve

  • on a jury unless you are registered to vote.

  • One of the challenges for "Selma",

  • during these seven years before it got made,

  • was that we were still in a time where

  • there was this narrative,

  • this really insidious narrative in Hollywood

  • that black doesn't travel.

  • So, it was a film that wouldn't do well internationally.

  • It was a film that exhibited Black pain,

  • so Black people wouldn't want to see it.

  • And it was a film that maybe made white people feel guilty.

  • So, white people wouldn't want to see it.

  • So that was a narrative.

  • We kept on being told that the film

  • should be made for about 25% less of the budget

  • than it actually needed to get made.

  • So, Lee just couldn't find a way to get this film made.

  • That's why I went on to do the films, "The Paper Boy"

  • and "The Butler" with him instead.

  • But in the meantime, I had done a film called

  • "Middle of Nowhere" with Ava DuVernay.

  • That came about because I was on my way

  • to do re-shoots for a film called

  • "Rise of the Planet of the Apes",

  • and I sat down next to a guy who happened

  • to be watching "Spooks" on his iPad.

  • And he looked at me, looked at his iPad,

  • looked at me again, paused his iPad

  • and said, "Is this you I'm watching on my iPad?"

  • I said, "Oh yeah, that's me."

  • He said, "Oh, okay, you're an actor.

  • Give me some advice.

  • I've been asked to put some money

  • into a film called "Middle of Nowhere",

  • do you think that's a good idea?"

  • I said, "Well, send me the script.

  • I'll tell you if it's a good idea."

  • He sent me the script.

  • I loved it so much

  • that I flipped to the front of the script,

  • and it said Ava DuVernay and her cell number was on it.

  • I called her when I got off the plane

  • having done my re-shoots,

  • and I said, "I've just read your script.

  • It's incredible.

  • Can I be in it?"

  • And Ava told me that I was actually

  • on her list of people she wanted for this

  • but she thought I would never do it

  • because I do these bigger movies.

  • Anyway, we went on to do this film.

  • We made it