Lime interview - Screen
British star David Oyelowo is certainly making a big splash in Hollywood at the moment.
Fresh from the success of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' last summer he is set to work with Tom Cruise, Daniel Day-Lewis and someone called Steven Spielberg. It's been a meteoric rise for the softly spoken Brit from Oxford, and we caught up with him to talk about his career and his latest film 'Red Tails'.
“To my shame this was something I didn't know anything about, but at least I have the excuse of being British” says the actor about the Tuskegee airmen on whom the film is based.
“What I went on to find out a lot out is that a lot of Americans, both African-Americans and White alike, didn't know anything about these guys and that's partly why George was so passionate about telling this story. It became very important to me to have this story told.”
The George in question is the producer of the film, George Lucas.
“It's exactly the film George aspired to do. When he was a young boy and watched these sorts of war movies they led him to newsreels of dogfights that led to those scenes in 'Star War'.
George was quite hands-on, and that's understandable given that it took 23 years from the original idea to seeing it made. He hired a young director [Anthony Hemingway] who did a brilliant job, but no one is going to know CGI like George. When it came to the framing and tone of the film, George was very keen not to make it preachy about being black. He said 'I want to make a film about heroes not victims.'”
The question arises as to whether Lucas himself faced a backlash for making a story about Black fighter pilots. David is quick to point out the reaction in the US.
“If anything, George has been lauded by the Black film making establishment. At the end of the day, he didn't have to make this story and he chose a black director to make it for those reasons. There are a lot of rich black people in America and they could have put up the money, but they didn't. What's great is that the film has made a lot of money and that doesn't normally happen with these sorts of films... that's why it's now getting an international release.”
“When you're telling a black story the temptation is to make the characters all upstanding, worthy men because we don't get to tell these kind of stories. But when I talked to them I realised that they were just young kids who were brilliant but that they also had egos. They had a swagger and a glint in the eye, and that's what I borrowed for my character.”
Oyelowo still finds his accent as something of a surprise to unsuspecting producers and casting agents in America.
“I'm never apprehensive [about being a British actor playing an American]. I live in Los Angeles now, and that's a choice I made to try and work in the industry there. They are still confounded by a black man who talks like the Queen!”
David has been living in America for 5 years now, and he explained that initially made him decide to head for the Hollywood hills.
“I'm someone who likes to think that I will never rest on my laurels. I had a very nice career here, but it became apparent that there was glass ceiling on which my head was beginning to bob. The film industry here is so small, and I aspire to do movies so I had to take my plant and put it in more fertile ground. [Black actors] can't really do period dramas that have cross-over appeal that we are known to export. I don't think I would have got to play a fighter pilot if I stayed here.”
Info: Red Tails is released in the UK on 6 June.
It's Tracee Ellis Ross