10 Actors to Watch: David Oyelowo Steals Scenes From ‘Butler’

Respected stage and screen actor achieves new level of acclaim for his role in ‘The Butler.’


Classically trained British stage actor David Oyelowo (pronounced “Oh-yellow-oh”) may be making slow but steady headway in Hollywood, he commanded serious respect from his peers as far back as 2001 when he played the title role in “Henry VI,” making him the first black actor to portray an English king for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“I call it my revenge on Laurence Olivier,” jokes Oyelowo, referencing Olivier’s famous black-face “Othello.” “I never wanted my skin color to limit me.”
Since then, the 37-year-old actor has proven his versatility across a number of demanding roles, holding his own in such varied fare as Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” “Jack Reacher” opposite Tom Cruise, “Red Tails” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” (He also appeared in Daniels’ “The Paperboy.”)

His scene-stealing turn as a rebellious civil-rights activist in “The Butler” was “a bit of stretch for me,” Oyolewo admits, “as I had to age from 17 to 68, although I can play young. My character goes through so many phases of the civil-rights movement, which took a lot of research, as I did feel the burden of accurately representing what it was like.”

The busy Londoner, who moved to L.A. in 2007, has already completed several projects, including “Default” (“a Somali pirate thriller”) and “Nina,” a biopic of Nina Simone in which he plays the manager of the troubled singer.
“It’s a very intense love story, but not the fairy-tale kind,” he says.

“Even more intense” is “Nightingale,” which just wrapped: “I’m the only actor, and it’s me alone in a house for 90 minutes with my mind unraveling,” he explains.