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Daniel Oyelowo


FRESH AIR: If actor David Oyelowo projects a regal air, it’s one he comes by naturally. Born in England to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo’s father had always told him that theirs was a royal family, a claim the actor initially discounted. “I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ ” Oyelowo tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. But then the family moved back to Nigeria where they lived on a street named after his family and the actor realized that his father had not been joking. Oyelowo says that his family’s royal heritage did not come with financial or “positional” benefits, but it did convey a “sense of self that has enabled me, as I’ve gone into my life in the West, to carry myself in a way that flies in the face of the world in which I live.” At the age of 24, Oyelowo brought his regal bearing to the stage, where he became the first black actor to portray a king in a Royal Shakespeare Company production. More recently, he has made a name for himself by taking on American film roles. He played Martin Luther King Jr. in the film Selma, a civil rights activist in The Butler and a member of the Tuskeegee Airmen in Red Tails. His most recent film, HBO’s Nightingale, is a single-character drama in which Oyelowo portrays an American veteran who is having a mental breakdown. Oyelowo is open to playing many different types of characters, but he says there are a few roles he will not consider: “Don’t send me your script if you want me to play the black best friend. I just won’t do that. You can feel when it’s literally an afterthought; you can feel when it’s like, ‘Oh quick, let’s get some color in here.’ That I won’t do because it’s disrespectful and, for me, I’m either part of the solution or I’m part of the problem.” MORE