By Charlotte Birch.
If you say the name David Oyelowo, you’ll most likely be greeted with an excitable chatter, perhaps even a squeal. This is a man who’s creating waves in the industry, and not just right now – there’s been a buzz following him around for years.
Born in 1976 to parents working in the transport industry, it wasn’t immediately evident Oyelowo was going to follow the path to stardom. After joining a youth theatre, he was ‘bitten by the bug’ as it were and went on to receive the ‘scholarship of excellence’ at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Although his career began on the stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he’s shown an immense talent, both in front and behind the camera, across the platforms of stage, television, film, radio and even audiobooks. It was evident from his early days in theatre that he there was something about David Oyelowo.
One of his first theatre productions was playing King Palasgus in The Suppliants to rave reviews but little did he know his defining role as a King would come along a little later. He went on to feature in Ben Johnson’s Volpone, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Richard Bean’s God Botherers and ancient Greek tragedy Promethus Bound before he took on what could be considered as one of his most ground breaking roles – the title role in Henry VI. Remarkably he was the first Black actor to play an English King, and his performance earned him not only the prestigious Ian Charleston Award, but also the support of his parents.
Oyelowo then crossed the borders to the small screen with cameo’s in Maisie Raine, Tomorrow La Scala and the critically loved adaptation of Alexander McCall Smiths No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency before he landed perhaps his best known television role – as Danny Hunter in Spooks (he later even lent his vocal talent to the video game). This is a role that earnt him recognition, not only for his broad array of skills, but he became instantaneously recognisable to the public, pointing out ‘it’s the guy from Spooks’. It was inevitable that a talent like Oyelowo was going to tread the water to the silver screen but not before he went back to the theatre and moved behind the stage in his first directorial debut The White Devil. He then moved things to the US, making his television debut in BBC produced HBO series Five Days. His decision for looking for work in the US, was that he felt British TV was ignoring black actors. More recently he’s questioned why there are not more black actors in period dramas.
And boy did he choose his roles wisely. His film career reads like an awards circuit programme. He played Brian the indie film The Middle of Nowhere – a film (and performance) that was lauded at Sundance and Toronto film festival, he starred with Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy (where it received a 16 minute standing ovation at Cannes AND the palm d’or award) and then he hit the Oscars circuit. First came his role as Corporal Ira Clark in Lincoln followed by his mesmerising and heartfelt performance in The Butler. That’s not to say his roles are all about awards, he’s also had roles in fan favourites Jack Reacher and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Oyelowo’s also moved his talents away from the cameras and stages altogether, lending his voice to John Le Carre’s The Mission Song: Audiofile and also starring in BBC Radio 7 play Grace Unshackled: The Olaudah Equiano Story as the title character. Is there nothing this man cannot do?
No is the answer. His latest release – Selma looks to propel him even further into stardom. Nominated for a golden globe (criminally overlooked for an Oscar) the Martin Luther King biopic looks set to be one of the finest performances of his career. There is no doubt Oyelowo one to watch, (look out his upcoming performance in Nina) but if can’t get enough of him, there’s always this month’s issue of Vanity Fair…
Selma, starring David Oyelowo as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, is in UK cinemas from Friday 6th February, 2015.