David Oyelowo: Personality Profile
David Oyetokunbo Oyelowo OBE (born 1 April 1976) is an English–American actor and producer. His highest-profile role to date was as Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 biographical drama film Selma. He also took the lead role in The United Kingdom (2016) as well as playing the role of a chess coach in Queen of Katwe (2016). He has played supporting roles in the films Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Lincoln (2012), Jack Reacher (2012), and garnered praise for portraying Louis Gaines in The Butler (2013). On television, he played MI5 officer Danny Hunter on the British drama series Spooks (2002–2004).
Oyelowo was born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, to Nigerian parents. His father is from Oyo State, Western Nigeria while his mother is from Edo State, Southern Nigeria. He was brought up as a Baptist. He grew up in Tooting Bec, south London until he was six when his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where his father Stephen worked for the national airline and mother for a railway company. David attended a “‘military-style’ boarding school.” They returned to London when Oyelowo was fourteen, settling in Islington.
While enrolled in theatre studies at City and Islington College, his teacher suggested that he become an actor. Oyelowo enrolled for a year in an acting foundation course, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He finished his three-year training in 1998. He also spent time with the National Youth Theatre.
He began his stage career in 1999 when he was offered a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing roles in Ben Jonson’s Volpone, as the title character in Oroonoko (which he also performed in the BBC radio adaptation) and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1999) alongside Guy Henry, Frances de la Tour and Alan Bates. However, he is best known for his next stage performance as King Henry VI in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2001 productions of Shakespeare’s trilogy of plays about the king as a part of its season This England: The Histories. In a major landmark for colour-blind casting, Oyelowo was the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare, and although this casting choice was initially criticised by some in the media, Oyelowo’s performance was critically acclaimed and later won the 2001 Ian Charleson Award for best performance by an actor under 30 in a classical play.
In 2005, he appeared in a production of Prometheus Bound, which was revived in New York City in 2007. In 2006, he made his directorial debut on a production of The White Devil, produced by Inservice, his theatre company in Brighton which is co-run with fellow Brighton-based actors Priyanga Burford, Israel Aduramo, Penelope Cobbuld, and his wife, Jessica. He played the title role in Othello in 2016 at the New York Theatre Workshop with Daniel Craig as Iago, directed by Sam Gold.
Oyelowo is best known for playing MI5 officer Danny Hunter on the British drama series Spooks (known in North America as MI-5) from 2002 to 2004. He had before that appeared in Tomorrow La Scala (2002), Maisie Raine (1998) and Brothers and Sisters (1998). Soon after the end of his time on Spooks Oyelowo made a cameo appearance in the Christmas special of As Time Goes By (2005). In 2006, he appeared in the television film Born Equal alongside Nikki Amuka-Bird as a couple fleeing persecution in Nigeria – they also both appeared in Shoot the Messenger (2006), and in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (2008) as a husband and wife. Other cameos have included Mayo (guest-starring on 30 April 2006) and the television film Sweet Nothing in My Ear (2008, as defence attorney Leonard Grisham), while he has played recurring or main characters on Five Days (2007) and The Passion (2008, as Joseph of Arimathea).
In December 2009, he played the leading role of Gilbert in the BBC TV adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island. In March 2010, he played the role of Keme Tobodo in the BBC’s drama series Blood and Oil.
He starred in the HBO original film Nightingale (2014).
He appeared as Olaudah Equiano in Grace Unshackled – The Olaudah Equiano Story, a radio play adapting Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. This was first broadcast on BBC 7 on 8 April 2007, with his wife Jessica Oyelowo as Mrs. Equiano.
In 2007, Oyelowo was the reader for John le Carré’s The Mission Song. AudioFile magazine stated: “Think of David Oyelowo as a single musician playing all the instruments in a symphony. That is essentially what he manages in this inspired performance of John le Carré’s suspense novel… Can it really have been only one man in the narrator’s recording booth? This virtuoso performance makes that seem impossible.” In 2015, he was selected to portray James Bond in Trigger Mortis, written by Anthony Horowitz.
As of 2014, he provides the voice of Imperial Security Bureau agent Alexsandr Kallus on the animated series Star Wars Rebels.
As of 2017, Oyelowo voices the spirit of Scar, the main antagonist in season 2 of The Lion Guard.
Oyelowo is set to voice the Tiger in a television adaptation of The Tiger Who Came to Tea which will air on Channel 4 for Christmas 2019.
In 2012, Oyelowo appeared in Middle of Nowhere. Writer-director Ava DuVernay had been a fan of his work and had considered asking him to take the role, however before she could, Oyelowo received the script coincidentally from a friend of a friend of DuVernay’s who happened to be sitting next to him on the plane and was considering investing in the project. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to critical raves. That same year Oyelowo appeared in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, which competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Oyelowo reunited with Daniels the following year in The Butler.
In 2014, Oyelowo formed his own independent production company, Yoruba Saxon Productions which has co-produced movies that featured him including, Nightingale, Captive, Five Nights in Maine, and most recently, A United Kingdom.
He worked with his Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay again for Selma (2014), playing civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The film, based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, had originally been set to be directed by Lee Daniels, but the project was dropped by Daniels so he could focus on The Butler.
He is slated to star with Lupita Nyong’o in a film adaptation of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel Americanah. The story follows a pair of young Nigerian immigrants who face a lifetime of struggle while their relationship endures.
In February 2019, it was announced that Oyelowo had joined the Peter Rabbit cast with James Corden, Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson reprising their roles as the title character, Bea and Thomas McGregor for its sequel due to be released on April 2020.
Awards and honours
For his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Oyelowo received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. He received his first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, while also receiving a nomination for Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor.
Also in 2014, for his performance in Nightingale, he won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Movie/Miniseries and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special and a Satellite Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film.
Oyelowo was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to drama.
He is married to actress Jessica Oyelowo, with whom he has four children. They live in Los Angeles, California.
A devout Christian, Oyelowo has stated that he believes God called him to play Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Reflecting on his portrayal of King in the film Selma, Oyelowo has asserted that “I always knew that in order to play Dr King, I had to have God flow through me because when you see Dr King giving those speeches, you see that he is moving in his anointing.”
Oyelowo and his wife became naturalized US citizens on July 20, 2016.
Oyelowo is an omoba, or prince, of the kingdom of Awe, Nigeria. He commented, “it was useful for getting dates but probably not much else”.
|Dog Eat Dog
|A Sound of Thunder
|The Best Man
|As You Like It
|Orlando De Boys
|The Last King of Scotland
|Who Do You Love?
|A Raisin in the Sun
|Rise of the Planet of the Apes
|1st Lt. Joe “Lightning” Little
|Middle of Nowhere
|Nominated – NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
|NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
|Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Movie/Miniseries
Black Reel Awards for Outstanding Actor, TV Movie or Limited Series
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Nominated – NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series, or Dramatic Special
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
|Martin Luther King Jr.
|Black Reel Award for Best Actor
African-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Kermode Award for Best Actor
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Palm Springs International Film Festival Breakthrough Performance Award
Nominated – Awards Circuit Community Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated – Village Voice Film Poll Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
|A Most Violent Year
|Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
|Five Nights in Maine
|Queen of Katwe
|Nominated—Evening Standard British Film Awards for Best Actor
Nominated—London Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor
|A United Kingdom
|The Cloverfield Paradox
|A Wrinkle in Time
|Don’t Let Go
|Detective Jack Radcliff
|Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
|Good Morning, Midnight
|Episode: “Food of Love”
|Brothers and Sisters
|As Time Goes By
|Shoot the Messenger
|The Gil Mayo Mysteries
|Eddie Barton, “Sexy” M.P.
|Episode: “Episode #1.8”
|A Raisin in the Sun
|Joseph of Arimathea
|TV miniseries (1 episode)
|The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
|Episode: “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”
|Blood and Oil
|The Good Wife
|Judge Edward Weldon
|Episode: “Two Courts”
|Glenn Martin, DDS
|Teacher / Clarence (voice)
|Star Wars Rebels
|Alexsandr Kallus (voice)
|The Lion Guard: The Rise of Scar
|The Lion Guard