David Oyelowo feels united
"The last film of prominence exhibiting an interracial marriage is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year."
A United Kingdom tells the story of Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and his wife Ruth Williams Kham (Rosamund Pike) who’s romance is not approved by their families. With him being the Prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) they must battle apartheid and the British Empire.
Oyelowo rose to fame with the movie Selma, where he was nominated for many awards playing Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also seen in The Butler, Queen of Kotwe, and A Most Violent Year.
He sat down at the Peninsula to talk about his latest movie after a screening in Chicago.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) I saw you at the United Kingdom screening last night. How do you feel it went?
DO: (David Oyelowo) The great thing about this film is there is a lot to talk about. The film has become more timely than we could have envisioned. Most people seem shocked because they didn’t know this history. It is resonating in a way we had hoped.
JN: With you being the producer, what made you want to do the project?
DO: It started out of necessity when I first happened upon the story in book form in 2010. A producer friend of mine presented me with this book. I couldn't believe I didn’t know the story. There is something about it that just feels like more people should. The film does a pretty good job about showing how high profile it was. At the time they were one of the most famous couples in the world. I feel very strongly that we need to know this kind of history, and hopefully don’t make the mistakes we have made in the past again.
JN: Have you seen the movie Loving?
JN: Interracial relationships seem to be a current topic now.
DO: I think it is coincidental that both movies have come out at the same time, but it is wonderful that they have. The last film of prominence exhibiting an interracial marriage is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Considering how pervasive interracial marriage is, certainly in American society, it is rare we get to see it depicted on film.
JN: The film resonated with me also having a Mexican boyfriend in the past. You said that last night in the Q&A that the film is for everyone.
DO: Absolutely. I have been in films before where people have been in a rush to label them as a Black film or even as a history lesson. These are ways to make the film feel niche and not for everyone.
For me this story, at the end of the day, everyone knows what it is to be loved and to aspire to love someone, to want to be loved, the loss of love, or having their love be opposed, whether it is family, friends or politically. There are elements to this story that speak to everyone’s experience. That is why I find them so inspirational. The fact that they were able to stick to their guns and it went on to have the most beautiful results.
JN: Did you have a dialect coach to tackle the accent?
DO: Yeah. When I am playing a role far away from me with an accent that is not mine I always employ a dialect coach. I am almost always playing someone that has an accent that is not mine. I found a wonderful person from Botswana. His is a very specific accent as well because it was a combination of the Botswana accent and his education in the UK.
JN: What about learning the dances of the time period?
DO: That was a lot of fun. It actually really helped with Rosamund and I. When you are telling this kind of story of two people falling in love to convey that onscreen it helps to have something like dancing with each other, both in terms of rehearsing it and showing it. I do think how two people dance with each other is indicative of how they feel about each other. It can tell a lot more than a verbal scene.
JN: Do you enjoy playing real life characters on screen?
DO: I basically enjoy doing films that are about something, that have complex roles that I can sink my teeth into. Basically, I gravitate to things that scare me. They might be things that I don’t think I know how to play. I like trying to find within me where this character may exist. Whether is it is a fictional character or not I am not motivated by that. It is more about how challenging it is. It is just so happens that the more high profile things I have done have been historical characters.
JN: Why was Ruth Williams Kharma work with people with AIDS not shown in the film until the credits?
DO: That came later in life for her, once Seretse had become democratically elected leader of Botswana. She really embraced that country as her own. Again, that is such a beautiful thing. This woman from South London adopted an African country as her home. it was hot there. It couldn’t have been more different than her own.
It just shows that people have compact to go beyond our own culture and upbringing to a degree that I think we don’t acknowledge enough really.
JN: You just missed the Oscar nominations and they love a true story. Maybe for next year?
DO: Who knows? The challenge with award season is that all of these films come out at the same time. The audience is shortchanged because you have four or five films like United Kingdom coming out within one weekend. Inevitably there are not enough eyeballs to see it!
We made that choose to give the film the opportunity to breathe. Hopefully they discover it.
JN: What is coming up for you?
DO: I have a sci-fi movie called God Particle a Call that JJ Abrams produced. It is a big ol’ space odyssey movie. I did one called American Express, Nash Edgerton directed that and is with Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, and Thandie Newton. Those are on the way this year as well.
JN: Is there a superhero you want to play?
DO: [laughs] I think Dr. King is a superhero in my book! I’m not in a rush to put on spandex…
A United Kingdom is currently in theaters.