IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David Oyelowo Talks 'Middle of Nowhere,' 'The Paperboy,' 'Lincoln' and 'Jack Reacher'

Thursday, 11 October 2012 23:51 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: David Oyelowo Talks 'Middle of Nowhere,' 'The Paperboy,' 'Lincoln' and 'Jack Reacher'

David Oyelowo is one busy actor! The British thespian, who is best known for his roles in acclaimed movies like The Last King of Scotland, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Help, has not one but FOUR major movies opening in theaters before the end of the year. 

Last week saw the opening of The Paperboy from director Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire), which features Oyelowo along with an all-star cast that includes Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, and Nicole Kidman. Next month audiences will be able to see the actor in Steven Spielberg’s biopic Lincoln, opposite Daniel Day Lewis as the former President. Finally, in December he’ll appear in Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise, which is a big screen adaptation of the popular novel One Shot. But first, Oyelowo can be seen in the new drama Middle of Nowhere, which opens in theaters on October 12th. 

Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the film centers on Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who dropped out of med school in order to focus on her husband Derek’s (Omari Hardwick) well being while he’s incarcerated. When Derek betrays Ruby in prison, she begins a relationship with a lonely bus driver named Brian (Oyelowo). Together they give each other newfound hope, which allows them to temporarily escape their desperate lives. In addition to Oyelowo, Hardwick (The A-Team), and newcomer Corinealdi, the cast also includes Lorraine Toussaint (Hudson Hawk), Maya Gilbert (Pirates of Ghost Island), and Sharon Lawrence (TV’s NYPD Blue). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with David Oyelowo about his work on Middle of Nowhere, as well as The Paperboy, Lincoln, and Jack Reacher. The talented actor discussed his new film, his initial reaction to first reading the script, which role he was attracted to most, Brian and Ruby’s unusual relationship, his on screen chemistry with Corinealdi, The Paperboy, collaborating with Steven Spielberg on Lincoln, how acting opposite Daniel Day-Lewis forced him to bring his A-game, why fans of the book will be pleased with Jack Reacher, and what he learned from working with Tom Cruise.


Here is what the busy actor had to say: 

IAR: To begin with, you have a lot of different film projects coming out before the end of the year so I imagine that you read a lot of scripts. When you read a screenplay as strong as Middle of Nowhere, do you realize it right away and what was your initial reaction when you first read it?

David Oyelowo: With Middle of Nowhere it was just one of those incredibly serendipitous situations. I sat next to a guy on a plane who found out was an actor and said, “Do you think it's a good idea to invest in film? This friend of mine has asked me to invest in his movie.” I asked him what it was about and he sent me the script. The script just blew my head off and not only did I say, gosh, you should invest in this film, I also said, I would love to be in it. It was like you say purely to do with the writing. I just loved the poetic side of it, I loved the fact that these were African American characters, and they had the universal appeal to them. I felt like anyone in any part of the world would somehow be able to connect to one or all of the characters, which I have to say as a British actor whose come to Hollywood to try and do movies, that's not always the case with these kind of stories. They can sometimes be typical caricatures or somehow feel niche, whereas this had a universal appeal for me certainly. So it clicked several boxes for me. 

Did you know right away that you wanted to play Brian or did you consider playing Derek at some point?

Oyelowo: That's a good question. I really gravitated towards Brian because so often the depiction of African American men on film is one that tends to be rated in a kind of bravado. You almost are always seeing a guy who is plucked from a music video. What I liked about this was that this was a vulnerable man, a sensitive man, and a man who himself was genuinely looking for love, and not to just fall into bed with yet another woman. That's something in my life that I admire and aspire to. So I really felt like it was a great opportunity to see that guy who you know I don't feel like we get to see as often as we should on film. 

Can you talk about Brian’s initial attraction to Ruby and the relationship that they end up having?

Oyelowo: One of the great things about that relationship is that they are sort of a mirror image of each other. They've both been in long term relationships that for whatever reason have gone through a tough time. They are no longer physically with the people they are married to, or were married to, but emotionally there are still strings attaching them to their former relationships. They are lonely, they are emotionally bruised, and they are kind of a perfect pair, but at the wrong time. Drama is all about the layers. It's all about the difficulty as opposed to the ease. In terms of their relationship it starts in a very sweet boy meets girl kind of way and it becomes very complicated, very quickly. That was something I relished the opportunity of playing. 


Was the on screen chemistry instant between you and Emayatzy Corinealdi when you first met?

Oyelowo: Well yeah, I mean the thing is she's an incredibly beautiful human being and I just don't mean physically. I mean just as a person, very open, and brilliantly talented as well. Those are all the ingredients you're looking for as an actor when it comes to playing this kind of dynamic. So it felt very natural very quickly and for me one of the biggest pleasures of doing this movie was, like the audiences is about to do when they watch this movie, was discovering this great, great actress. So some of the chemistry you see between us on screen is to do with that and me literally going, wow, this girl is so great! As actors we really enjoyed the opportunity to play off each other. 

The Paperboy is another film that you appear in, which opened last week. What was it like working with director Lee Daniels on that project?

Oyelowo: It was great, and a very, very different experience in doing Middle of Nowhere. But that's great, that's what you're looking for as an actor really. The thing with Lee is I had the opportunity of working with him twice now both with The Paperboy and we literally just wrapped The Butler a week ago in New Orleans. The Paperboy, which opened last week, and The Butler will be released sometime next year. Both projects I had a similar experience with Lee, which is that he pushes me into areas that no other director has. He reveals parts of myself that I didn't know were in there because he now knows me well enough as an actor to be able to push me out of my comfort zone and I trust him enough to go there with him. I really love getting to work with him because it always feels like going back to drama school in some way. He teaches me a lot about acting for the camera in terms of being natural, in terms of being truthful and in terms of being brave. You see that with The Paperboy. Every single actor in that film is doing something that you haven't quite seen them do before and that's because of what Lee tends to do with his actors and the trust they have in him. 


Speaking of great directors, what was it like working with Steven Spielberg on Lincoln?

Oyelowo: That was a bucket list moment right there. Not only with Spielberg, but getting to act with my favorite actor of all time Daniel Day-Lewis, who was just an absolute dream scenario. It was incredible. Everything about being on that project was a master class for me. Just watching and receiving Spielberg's direction and watching an actor completely disappear into a role the way Daniel Day-Lewis did. For me as an actor relativity speaking just starting out, it was just an incredible example and inspiration as to what it takes to operate at the level that he does. 

When you're working with an actor the caliber of Daniel Day-Lewis, does it really force you to bring you’re A-game? Does it help to you raise your own acting to another level?

Oyelowo: Absolutely it does because you cannot be but infected by it. You're talking about an actor who remains in the character the whole time and someone who has that level of commitment. That means that both for the crew and the other actors you're talking about a level of performance that is undeniable. You would have to give up if you didn't, like you say, raise your game and you could see it with every actor on that set, just being around him. Being around him was like jumping in a time machine. He exuded 1865. He exuded Abraham Lincoln. He exuded a presidential quality that meant that you had to be deferential around him. That's really hard to do. 


Finally, you also have Jack Reacher opening in theaters before the end of the year. Were you familiar with the books and the character before you shot the film?

Oyelowo: No, I wasn't you know. I read One Shot, which Jack Reacher our film is based on. It's an incredible read, just one of those novels you can breeze through in a matter of hours. What I'm really proud of with the actual film is that we've been very faithful to the tone and the feel of the book, which in and of itself is a very cinematic book. It's just begging to be made into a film. I wasn't familiar beforehand. I know they're incredibly popular books. Lee Child, the writer, was with us for quite a bit of the shooting. What was so gratifying was just seeing him be so happy with the direction that Christopher McQuarrie, the writer/director, was going in with his book.


Speaking of great actors, what was it like working with Tom Cruise? Was it similar to your experience with Daniel Day-Lewis?

Oyelowo: Yes, a hundred percent. I did both Jack Reacher and Lincoln at the same time. We were shooting Jack Reacher in Pittsburgh and then I had to go off to Richmond, Virginia for a week to shoot Lincoln. To be getting to work with the actor's actor and the movie star’s movie star at the same time was amazing for me because basically the common denominator between those two incredible actors is their work ethic. The fact that even though they've been doing it for a long time, they don't take any opportunity for granted. They work harder on this project than they did the last one. They push the envelope with every role, with every opportunity, and with every project. As I say, as a younger actor that's a huge inspiration and example to me.

Middle of Nowhere opens in theaters on October 12th.


The Paperboy is currently playing in theaters.


Lincoln opens in theaters on November 9th.


Jack Reacher opens in theaters on December 21st. 


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