David Oyelowo is a Critic’s Choice and NAACP Image Award-winning actor known for playing historical figures and tackling serious subjects in cinema like his acclaimed work as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma;” Robert Katende in “Queen of Katwe;” and Louis Gaines in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
With his track record, it’s no wonder that the British-bred talent would both star in and produce “A United Kingdom,” the romantic drama based on the true-life story of Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama. Seretse is the Prince of Bechuanaland (now known as Botswana) and while studying in London in 1948 fell in love with Ruth (who is played by Rosamund Pike).
The couple’s interracial relationship caused dissension in their respective families, and was not approved by the British and South African governments who encouraged them to breakup. The pair defied the obstacles presented to them—their families, apartheid and the British Empire—and ultimately their union helped progress the racial divide in two lands.
The historic interracial love story hits close to home for Oyelowo, the son of Nigerian prince, as he himself is in an interracial marriage. The 40-year-old actor is married to actress Jessica Oyelowo and the couple has four children together.
AlwaysAList.com sat down with Oyelowo at JW Marriott’s Essex House Hotel in New York City to discuss “A United Kingdom;” interracial love; the romance between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; and so much more.
Yes, it was. Well, no, no. I think I would describe myself as the engine for ultimately getting it made, but how I happened upon it was doing a film in Atlanta about seven years ago. The producer of that film had the rights to a book called “Colour Bar” that Susan Williams had written. He had always wanted to see it come to fruition as a film. When I read the book, saw the images of these two, couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about this story, didn’t know about them. I just was determined that we would get a film made. In the intervening years between then and now, anyone who’d listen to me, I sort of bludgeoned them with thoughts of getting the film made. Largely those who came on board of the film are all people I’d worked with in other films. I had managed to corral them into joining me on this quest.
You had to get in boxing shape for this film and have some shirt-off moments. Was that hard coming off of “Selma” since you had to gain weight for that role?
Yeah, well he was an athlete. He had boxed at University and you don’t want to start a movie with boxing and then look like Dr. King. As much as I love Dr. King. Yes. But that tends to be the shape I’m in. Most people sort of came to be more aware of me as playing Dr. King when I was 30-pounds heavier than I normally am. It’s wonderful, every time people see me, “Oh, you look good!” Thank you, thank you.
There’s a line in the film about how a Black person could never join the British royal family. Now we look at present times and Meghan Markle from “Suits” is dating Prince Harry and she’s a Black woman. Would you say this all speaks to the progress that Seretse and Ruth helped them make in England?
I would agree. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with that. But the interesting thing that I found with that situation is the veiled racism within how it was reported in the newspapers. In that, you know, headlines not dissimilar to what we saw 70-years ago with Ruth and Seretse. What I have found with these films, you know, I’ve done a few films that have this sort of historical element to them is that yes, things are better, but prejudice just comes around again in different packaging, unfortunately. It’s just something we are being very obstinate about getting right, it seems.
You do substance-oriented, historically-based projects exceptionally well. Are you ready for your “Hangover” type film? Are you ready to do something that’s wild and carefree in a movie?
Well, funny enough I have an action comedy coming out later this year that Nash Edgerton directed and that’s with Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton and Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley. Trust me, there is not a historical speech in sight, in that it’s me playing the fool and having a lot of fun in that film. Then, [J.J. Abrams’] “Cloverfield Movie,” you know, there’s no speeches and no Black people are struggling in that film either.
Why are films like “A United Kingdom,” “Loving” and others so important to be told on film?
Unfortunately, I think the education system is failing us, in terms of how few of those kind of stories we know. Yes, America is a great nation. Yes the United Kingdom is a great nation. I’m a Christian myself and people can sometimes make the wrong estimation that I’m only interested in life-affirming, goody two-shoes kind of movies. If you don’t see the darkness, the light is not going to be as prominent. We have to look at the dark corners of our history in order to learn from them. If the history books are always shying away from the things we got wrong, I don’t think that growth is going to be part of what we have going forward. Fortunately films have become a big way of doing that.
“A United Kingdom” is a Fox Searchlight film directed by Amma Asante and opens in theaters on February 10, 2017.