Playback: Daniel Kaluuya on ‘Get Out,’ ‘Black Panther’ and the Honesty of Genre-Bending

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Daniel Kaluuya’s life is about to change and he knows it. An Oscar nominee for his performance in Jordan Peele’s critical and popular success “Get Out,” he also appears in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” releasing Feb. 16. Peele’s film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival over a year ago, however, and it has been a mainstay on the awards circuit throughout the fall and winter, making it quite a long haul for Kaluuya.

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“Usually I do a job and like two weeks later it disappears and is replaced with something else, but ‘Get Out’ kept growing and growing and growing and it keeps taking me to rooms I could never get in before,” Kaluuya says. “It’s been a lot just because it’s something new. You’re trying to go, ‘Alright, cool, what does this mean? What do I do?’ And the answer’s always just be yourself. But I try and continue to make it about the work, because that’s the heart of it.”

The Oscar nomination (he was also received Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe recognition) is particularly sweet for such an internal performance. What Kaluuya is doing in “Get Out” is the kind of clenched, observational work that can be both a challenge and a delight for an actor, but Kaluuya has smartly taken his cues from the masters he’s worked with to date.

“I learned so much on ‘Sicario’ and working with that group of actors, where there was the audacity, the confidence, to do nothing,” Kaluuya says of the 2015 Denis Villeneuve film that put him on a number of radars. “Seeing them doing it on set and not understanding it, and then seeing it on screen, [I was] going, ‘Whoa.’ And then after I took a year and a half off and I had to rethink how I saw storytelling and acting, in the sense that I don’t want people to see I’m doing it. It may not be a showy role and you have to be OK with people not noticing that you’re doing what you’re doing, but are they noticing the story? That’s the priority for me. So [‘Get Out’] was me engaging with the acting ego in me. Like, ‘Let me just do what feels right and what feels real.'”

There has been a lot of talk about genre with “Get Out.” The film was nominated in comedy categories at the Golden Globes, which stirred dissent, though Peele himself has noted the impact of comedy on the project since the beginning. For Kaluuya, the fact that it’s not an easily classifiable film just makes it all the more genuine.

“I love pieces like ‘Get Out,'” Kaluuya says. “Loads of stuff that I’ve done has always had a hint of comedy. I did this show called ‘Psychoville’ that’s a horror-comedy. Because I just think that’s what life’s like. Life ain’t a drama. And life isn’t just a comedy. Life is sometimes horrifying. Life is science-fiction. There are all elements and faculties that we navigate, so I just expect a script to reflect that. As long as it’s truthful. I think genre-bending is just being honest.”

For more, including discussion of “Black Panther” and collaborating with Oscar winner Steve McQueen on “Widows,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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