Just before he filmed his widely acclaimed “Selma” performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., David Oyelowo tackled another giant challenge.
The British actor holds the screen alone for nearly 90 minutes in “Nightingale,” a drama that — like “Selma” — counts Brad Pitt among its executive producers. Shown at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, the story of a war veteran’s psychological descent gets its biggest exposure thus far when HBO presents it Friday (May 29). The script by debuting writer Frederick Mensch was found on The Black List, a website for unproduced screenplays
“People will start to think I’m a pretty intense dude,” the pleasant Oyelowo tells Zap2it of his recent work, “but I’m actually very silly in real life. Maybe this is where I get all my serious stuff out, in the roles I take.”
“Nightingale’s” clearly troubled Peter Snowden became one of those roles for Oyelowo almost immediately after his agent sent him the script. “I just couldn’t quite believe what I was reading,” he recalls, “the audacity of it, the bravery of it, the singular nature of it. I’d had the privilege of doing not necessarily one-man shows, but shows where I was the primary character, so I’d had that kind of experience on stage but never on film.”
That made it a key intrigue for Oyelowo, also an executive producer of “Nightingale,” to team with director Elliott Lester and test holding “the audience’s attention for that long, and to see if it actually would work cinematically. It was kind of a dare to myself to just jump in … plus it was a complex, interesting and intricate character to play. At the end of the day, as an actor, that’s what you’re looking for. All of those elements made this a no-brainer for me, really.”
The Oscar-winning, Ava DuVernay-directed “Selma” has been available on home video since the beginning of the month. ” ‘Nightingale’ was the first time I had immersed myself in a character that way,” Oyelowo reflects, “and I knew that to play someone of Dr. King’s magnitude, I would have to go that route again.
“I’ve always been one to look for roles that speak about the human spirit, and I have to tell you that playing those two back-to-back put a dent in my actorly energy, but I’m so glad for the opportunity. You could go through a prolonged and rich career and not get to play one character of that magnitude, let alone two — let alone back-to-back. That was a great period for me.”