David Oyelowo is starring in his very own mini film festival at a multiplex near you. The British actor, whose career is in high gear, is currently appearing in two new releases: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, last weekend’s top box office draw with grosses of $54 million, and The Help, which opened yesterday.
The 35-year-old, Oxford-born actor, whose parents are from Nigeria, came to prominence in England in 2001 when he was the first black actor cast by the Royal Shakespeare Company as one of the Bard’s monarchs. His portrayal of Henry VI in the RSC’s mountings of Shakespeare’s trio of dramas about the king won Oyelowo an Ian Charleson Award for best performance by a young actor in a classical role.
Next, Oyelowo (his last name is pronounced with “an O on both sides of yellow,” he has said in interviews) appeared for two seasons (2002-04) as Danny Hunter in the BBC’s MI-5. He also had starring roles in several British TV mini-series, including Five Days (2007) and Small Island (2009).
Hoping to raise his profile in Hollywood, Oyelowo moved his family – he and his wife, actress Jessica Oyelowo, have three sons – from Brighton to Los Angeles in 2007. Roles in independent films (Who Do You Love) and guest spots on TV series (The Good Wife) followed.
His biggest role so far in a major Hollywood film is in Apes. He plays Steven Jacobs, an ambitious businessman who gives the order to go ahead with a scientific experiment that disastrously leads to a group of apes turning against humans. In The Help, Oyelowo’s role is smaller; he plays Preacher Green, a minister whose flock includes several of the black maids who figure prominently in the drama based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel.
What’s up next for Oyelowo? He has three movies that have already been shot, including Red Tails, a George Lucas-scripted drama about the Tuskegee Airman, the first black pilots to fly combat missions in World War II. The historical drama co-stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. and opens in January. And he’s currently shooting The Paperboy for director Lee Daniels (Precious). The mystery thriller is based on a novel by Pete Dexter, and Oyelowo’s co-stars include Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack.
What’s your favorite David Oyelowo role?