How David Oyelowo Transformed Into A Teenager For Lee Daniels' The Butler

By Katey Rich 2013-08-15 12:40:45discussion comments
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The Ď60s have been this pretty big looming myth for American filmmakers and artists of all kind. Thereís been this baby boomer nostalgia forever, and Iím curious about how that translates to you, not having been born here. Do you get that romanticism of it or is that something you sort of have to tune into to get into?
Well, you know, one of the things I benefited from, whether it was doing Redt Tails, which was set in the Ď40s or Lincoln in the 1800s or this film, is that I donít really have a frame of reference. I didnít grow up with it. So, I donít have a romanticized view of what life might have been like or life is esteemed to have been like here in America. I literally have to go and start from scratch and learn and talk to people, either who lived through the era or be very fastidious, especially when it comes to like the 1800s in terms of all the material thatís out there and sort of build a history for my character on the basis of what I deem to be the realism of the day, and I think thats kind of stood me in good stead, because I come at it very much with a blank canvas and approach it like I do any role, which is to try to be as truthful as I can.

Back to Lincoln for a second, do you audition for a role thatís one scene like that. Do you have to go in against a hundred other people or does Steven Spielberg hunt you down somehow?
Well, it was a combination of the two. I believe what happened, or so Iím told, is that George Lucas was showing Steven Spielberg an early cut of Red Tails and apparently Spielberg turned to George and said I want that guy in my next film, which is a nice thing to have those two guys having by way of a conversation. As is the case with these films, you know, youíre not given a script, because itís all very hush, hush. I just had this exact thing with Chris Nolanís movie.

Yeah, have you read Interstellar yet?
No, no.

I didnít think so.
No, I havenít. Itís all so top secret, but it was the same with Lincoln. All I had for that was the Gettysburg address. I had to go in and do the Gettysburg address and then a scene that had nothing to do with the film, and then, yeah, thankfully, Steven thought Iím his guy.

And when did you find out that was you in the trailer? Because we didnít know what he sounded like as Lincoln and itís your voice, but everyone was like, wait is that Daniel Day Lewis? When did you first see that?
The whole Lincoln experience was me getting a lot out of a little. I mean, literally, my scene in Lincoln took a day to shoot. I was actually at the airport and a producer friend of mine from Paramount called me up and said, ďDude, the trailer is awesome,Ē and I was like, ďWhat trailer?Ē He said for Lincoln. I literally was like, ďFor Lincoln? What do you mean Iím great in the trailer?Ē You know, so I quickly went to my phone and then the thing starts with my voice and goes to my favorite actor of all time is there being genius and then it ends with me and him at the end and I was that is crazy. If I had cut that trailer myself I couldnít have done it better.

Last year, you were all over the place and you had this amazing variety of stuff, like every single part you were in seemed to be doing something different. Has there been a big difference in what you're offered since February of last year when Red Tails was released?
If anything, the change is that in having, and this was absolutely premeditated I mean, I turn a lot of stuff down, especially if it feels like I just did that already.

A lot of people donít say that, that they donít have that premeditation in choosing roles that might feel familiar.
Yeah, itís a combination of good fortune and decision making. I mean, yes, I couldnít have planned that Middle of Nowhere would come my way or The Paperboy would come my way. Those projects existed and thankfully the directors wanted me to do them. But I donít want to do what I just did in Jack Reacher again, you know. I donít want to play this sort of cop of FBI guy because before you know it, thatís what people are going to continue to come to you for.

That will keep you employed for the rest of your life.
And it has done, several great actors who I respect, who for whatever reason they sort of put a sell-by date down on their careers by doing that. I would rather be less rich and more fulfilled artistically than, like I said, put a sell-by date on my career, and I think that what playing that variety of characters has done for me is that filmmakers who otherwise wouldnít necessarily have me on their radar, now do, because I think they see thereís a malleability with me, as opposed to, ďOh, ok, weíll get the guy from Jack Reacher to do that because heís good...Ē Iím having meetings with directors where theyíre offering me or talking to me about roles that I know for a fact this time last year I would not be in the conversation. So, thatís, like I said, premeditated and Iím thankful that itís paying off.
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