Playback: David Oyelowo on ‘Gringo,’ ‘Cloverfield’ and the Impact of #OscarsSoWhite

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

Actor David Oyelowo (“Selma”) found a new gear with his latest film, “Gringo”: He got to be funny! It’s not a side he’s been able to showcase on the screen much at all so far. But when Nash Edgerton’s screenplay came along, with a biting sense of humor and a number of other high-profile stars similarly looking to play a different shade, he jumped at the opportunity. Inspired by films like “Midnight Run,” “Fargo” and “Sideways,” Oyelowo says he’s drawn to situational comedy, which “Gringo” trades in with aplomb.

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“It’s nice at this stage in my career to bring something that, for other people, feels fresh,” Oyelowo says. “To my friends, my wife, my kids, they know the goofy side of me, and that was certainly something I wanted to show more of. It’s just the way it happened in my career that I’ve done more dramatic stuff. I’ve actually done more comedy on stage, so of course less people see it, but I also wanted it to be the right circumstances. Not all films or scripts that say they’re a comedy are, in my opinion, funny. I prefer comedy that is situational rather than self-consciously comedic, and scripts like ‘Gringo’ don’t come along every day.”

Meanwhile Oyelowo also stars in Netflix’s “The Cloverfield Paradox,” which he knew as “God Particle” when he was making it. Like the rest of the world, Oyelowo found out on the day of the Super Bowl that Netflix had acquired the film and had set a plan in motion to drop it on the streaming service immediately after the game.

“It was completely out of the blue,” Oyelowo says. “The release date was going to be April 20, but we knew there was supposed to be a conference call with J.J. [Abrams] and all the actors on the day of the Super Bowl. And it was on that phone call that I found out three things: The title of the film, the fact that there were going to be two trailers on the Super Bowl and the fact that it was going to be dropping on Netflix that night. On the one hand it was completely surreal, but on the other hand it was genius. The truth of the matter is right now everyone is trying to figure out how to get people to watch your movie, and I truly believe there are more people who saw that film in the way that it was dropped than maybe otherwise would in a theater.”

We’re speaking just after the 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony, and Oyelowo’s connection to the current wave of activism within that organization and the industry at large is not inconsiderable: The surprising lack of love showered on “Selma” was a big initial driver of the #OscarsSoWhite movement.

“I think it’s amazing the difference three years makes,” he says. “I remember only three years ago, in protest of the Eric Garner situation, we wore ‘I can’t breathe’ T-shirts, and we got really reprimanded by Academy members, by other people. The literal phrase was ‘why are they stirring shit,’ and here we are three years on and you barely have a lapel big enough to pin all the badges of quite rightful protests, whether it’s DACA or #MeToo or the gun situation. So I’m just kind of taken aback by the fact that society, culture, certainly this industry, can shift so much.”

For more, including thoughts on Oyelowo’s upcoming collaboration with Doug Liman, “Chaos Walking,” and an update on his efforts to help educate girls via his scholarship program in Nigeria, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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David Oyelowo photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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