“Selma” star David Oyelowo did not originally plan to make his feature film directing debut in 2020. But when the first director for “The Water Man” left for another project during the financing stage, Oyelowo stepped up.
His film is now set to debut at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival on Sept. 19. “The Water Man” centers around a boy named Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) who enlists the help of a girl named Jo (Amiah Miller) when his mother (Rosario Dawson) falls ill, hoping to find a local legend known as the Water Man, who has the power to cheat death.
The director told Variety that he plans to continue his acting career but is interested in directing films that he feels have substantial meaning in the story. He also discussed what makes a good director and how the two career paths feed into each other. Variety spoke to Oyelowo on the eve of the festival.
This is your first directing credit aside from a 2009 short film. What inspired your shift from acting to directing?
I knew back then that directing film was something that I was keen to do. And that was my first foray into it, just to dip my toe in the water. In the intervening 10 years, I had the amazing opportunity to work with extraordinary directors, and I decided to treat that as my film school … trying to learn from them. And then this script came along and it felt like the right one to now apply the things that I have learned.
What are some things you’ve learned from working under directors on various sets as an actor?
The common thread I’ve seen with great directors is they hire great people who they trust to do their job well, which releases the director to do their job well, which is having an overview of the total vision for the story. The less successful experiences I’ve had are when I’ve seen directors who are trying to micromanage everyone and tell them what their job is and how to do it well. I think hiring great people is the number one job of a director, and then empowering them to do their job well.
What was your initial vision going into the film?
What really drew me to the film is the fact that it has such heart. I love the themes of self-sacrifice. It has a huge adventure component to it. But it’s also a film about navigating potential loss and discovering purpose. And whenever you find a film centered around kids that can have both adventure and meaning, I think that’s a pretty potent mix.
Directing and acting are quite different roles, but are there any similarities that you’ve found between the two?
I don’t know that there are similarities. I know that directing, as an actor, one thing you have as an advantage is that more so than even some of the biggest directors in the world, you most likely have been on more film sets than them. As a director, it takes two to three years to make a film, and as an actor, you could have made six, seven maybe eight films in that time. And every time you’re on a film set, it’s another learning experience. And so you’re going in at a bit of an advantage, especially when it comes to crew etiquette and working with actors and just the dynamics of being on a film set.
Since acting has helped you with directing, has directing given you insight into your acting career?
There is so much more that goes into the making of a film, and I personally think some actors get a little self-important because we focus so much on what actors bring to a film. But the crew and the work they do, and the post-production crew — there’s just so much that goes into making a film. And that is something that I now appreciate even more than I did before now that I’ve really interacted and intersected with all of those different facets of what goes into making a movie.