David Oyelowo

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David Oyelowo
David Oyelowo 3rd Annual ICON MANN POWER 50 event - Feb 2015 (cropped).jpg
Oyelowo in February 2015
Born David Oyetokunbo Oyelowo
(1976-04-01) 1 April 1976 (age 38)
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Occupation Actor, producer, director, writer
Years active 1998–present
Spouse(s) Jessica Oyelowo (m. 1998)
Children 4

David Oyetokunbo Oyelowo (/ɵˈjɛlɵw/ ə-YEL-ə-woh; born 1 April 1976)[1] is an English actor. He has played supporting roles in the films Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Middle of Nowhere (2012), Lincoln (2012), and garnered praise for portraying Louis Gaines in The Butler (2013). On television, he played MI5 officer Danny Hunter in the British series Spooks (2002–04), and as of 2014, provides the voice of Imperial Security Bureau agent Kallus on the animated series Star Wars Rebels.[2] In 2014, Oyelowo played Martin Luther King, Jr. in the biographical drama film Selma, for which he received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor (Drama).[3]

Early life and training[edit]

Oyelowo was born in Oxford, England, to Nigerian parents of Yoruba ethnicity.[4] His mother worked for British Rail, and his father, Stephen, worked for then state-owned British Airways.[5][6]

He first attended a youth theatre after being invited by a girl on whom he had a crush.[7] He then studied theatre studies for A levels at City and Islington College, where his teacher suggested that he become an actor. After A levels Oyelowo enrolled for a year in an art foundation course, subsequently winning a place, and a scholarship at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).[6] He finished his three-year training in 1998.[8]



He began his stage career in 1999 when he was offered a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing roles in Ben Jonson's Volpone, as the title character in Oroonoko (which he also performed in the BBC radio adaptation) and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1999) alongside Guy Henry, Frances de la Tour and Alan Bates. He is however best known for his next stage performance as King Henry VI in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2001 productions of Shakespeare's trilogy of plays about the king as a part of its season This England: The Histories. In a major landmark for colour-blind casting, Oyelowo was the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare, and although this casting choice was initially criticised by some in the media, Oyelowo's performance was critically acclaimed and later won the 2001 Ian Charleson Award for best performance by an actor under 30 in a classical play.

In 2005, he appeared in a production of Prometheus Bound, which was revived in New York in 2007. In 2006, he made his directorial debut on a production of The White Devil, produced by his own theatre company in Brighton, Inservice, co-run with fellow Brighton-based actors Priyanga Burford, Israel Aduramo, Penelope Cobbuld, and his wife, Jessica.[9]


Oyelowo is best known for playing MI5 officer Danny Hunter in the British TV drama series Spooks (known in North America as MI-5) from 2002 to 2004. He had before that appeared in Tomorrow La Scala (2002), Maisie Raine (1998) and Brothers and Sisters (1998). Soon after the end of his time on Spooks Oyelowo made a cameo appearance in the 2005 Christmas special of As Time Goes By. In 2006 he appeared in the TV film Born Equal alongside Nikki Amuka-Bird as a couple fleeing persecution in Nigeria – they also both appeared in Shoot the Messenger (2006), and in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (2008) as a husband and wife. Other cameos have included Mayo (guest-starring on 30 April 2006) and the TV film Sweet Nothing in My Ear (2008, as defence attorney Leonard Grisham), while he has played recurring or main characters in Five Days (2007) and The Passion (2008, as Joseph of Arimathea).

In December 2009 he played the leading role of Gilbert in the BBC TV adaptation of Andrea Levy's novel Small Island.[10] In March 2010 he played the part of Keme Tobodo in the BBC's drama series Blood and Oil. [11]


He appeared as Olaudah Equiano in Grace Unshackled – The Olaudah Equiano Story, a radio play adapting Equiano's autobiography. This was first broadcast on BBC 7 on Easter Sunday, 8 April 2007, with Jessica Oyelowo as Mrs Equiano.[12]


In 2007, Oyelowo was the reader for John le Carré's The Mission Song. AudioFile magazine stated: "Think of David Oyelowo as a single musician playing all the instruments in a symphony. That is essentially what he manages in this inspired performance of John le Carré's suspense novel.... Can it really have been only one man in the narrator's recording booth? This virtuoso performance makes that seem impossible."[13]


Oyelowo in 2012

In 2012, Oyelowo appeared in Middle of Nowhere. Writer-director Ava DuVernay had been a fan of his work and had considered asking him to take the role, however before she could Oyelowo received the script coincidentally from a friend of DuVernay's who happened to be sitting next to him on the plane and was considering investing in the project.[14] The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to critical raves. That same year Oyelowo appeared in Lee DanielsThe Paperboy, which competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.[15]

Oyelowo reunited with Daniels the following year in The Butler.

In 2014, he reunited with his Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay for Selma, playing civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. The film, based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, had originally been set to be directed by Lee Daniels, but the project was dropped by Daniels so he could focus on The Butler.

Oyelowo is also slated to star with Lupita Nyong'o in Americanah, a film to be adapted from the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel. The story follows a pair of young Nigerian immigrants who face a lifetime of struggle while their relationship endures.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Oyelowo and wife Jessica Oyelowo at the Satellite Awards in December 2007

He is married to actress Jessica Oyelowo,[4] with whom he has four children.[17] They live in Los Angeles.[17]

A devout Christian, Oyelowo has stated that he believes God called him to play Rev. Martin Luther King. Reflecting on his portrayal of King in the film Selma, Oyelowo has asserted that “I always knew that in order to play Dr. King, I had to have God flow through me because when you see Dr. King giving those speeches, you see that he is moving in his anointing."[18]


Year Title Role Notes
1998 Maisie Raine Sonny McDonald "Food of Love"
1998 Brothers and Sisters Lester Peters
2002–2004 Spooks Danny Hunter
2005 As Time Goes By Patrick 2 episodes
2006 Shoot the Messenger Joseph Pascale TV Movie
2006 The Gil Mayo Mysteries Eddie Barton, 'Sexy' M.P. "Episode #1.8"
2007 Five Days Matt Wellings 4 episodes
2008 A Raisin in the Sun Joseph Asagai TV Movie
2008 The Passion Joseph of Arimathea TV Miniseries (1 episode)
2008 The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Kremlin Busang "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency"
2009 Small Island Gilbert TV Movie
2010 Blood and Oil Keme Tobodo TV Movie
2011 The Good Wife Judge Edward Weldon "Two Courts"
2010–2011 Glenn Martin, DDS Teacher/Clarence 2 episodes
2013 Complicit Edward Ekubo TV Movie
2014-present Star Wars Rebels Agent Kallus [2][19]
Year Title Role Notes
2001 Dog Eat Dog CJ
2005 A Sound of Thunder Payne
2005 The Best Man Graham
2005 Derailed Patrol Officer
2006 As You Like It Orlando De Boys
2006 The Last King of Scotland Dr. Junju
2008 Who Do You Love? Muddy Waters
2008 A Raisin in the Sun Joseph Asagai
2009 Rage Homer
2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes Steven Jacobs
2011 The Help Preacher Green
2011 96 Minutes Duane
2012 Red Tails Lt. Joe "Lightning" Little
2012 The Paperboy Yardley Acheman
2012 Middle of Nowhere Brian Nominated – NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
2012 Lincoln Ira Clark
2012 Jack Reacher Emerson
2013 The Butler Louis Gaines NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Nominated – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2014 Interstellar School Principal
2014 Default Atlas
2014 Selma Martin Luther King, Jr. African-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Palm Springs International Film Festival Breakthrough Performance Award
Nominated – Awards Circuit Community Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated – Village Voice Film Poll Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actor
Pending – Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead
Pending – Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture
Pending – Black Reel Award for Best Actor
Pending – Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
2014 A Most Violent Year Lawrence Pending – Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actor
2015 Hot Pursuit Post-production
2015 Captive Brian Nichols Post-production


  1. ^ The International Who's Who 2004. Europa Publications / Routledge. 2003. p. 1,271. ISBN 978-1857432176. 
  2. ^ a b Macaskil, Grace (27 September 2014). "Star Wars Rebels actor David Oyelowo had 'no idea' what he was auditioning for". Daily Mirror. Archived from the original on 2 February 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Golden Globe: ‘Birdman,’ ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Imitation Game’ Top Nominations". Variety. 11 December 2014. Archived from the original on 6 January 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "David Oyelowo: An actor's life – Features – Theatre & Dance". The Independent. UK. 18 January 2007. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Naomi West, "As he likes it", The Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2007.
  6. ^ a b Gilbert, Gerard. "Upwardly mobile: David Oyelowo on going from Tooting Bec to Tom Cruise's jet". The Independent (UK date= 9 February 2013). Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Oyelowo, David; Awogbamiye, Toyo (13 September 2003). "My First Boss". The Guardian (UK). Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Notices". London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Spring 2011. Archived from the original on 25 May 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  9. ^ John, Emma (1 August 2005). "'In my head this is massive'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "Small Island: David Oyelowo plays Gilbert". BBC. 14 October 2009. Retrieved December 2013. 
  11. ^ Andrew Anthony (4 April 2010). "Blood and Oil; Canoe Man; Ashes to Ashes". The Guardian. Retrieved February 2014. 
  12. ^ BBC – Press Office – Network Radio Programme Information Week 15 Easter Sunday 15 April 2007[dead link]
  13. ^ "The Mission Song By John le Carré, Read by David Oyelowo". AudioFile. August 2007. Archived from the original on 9 October 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  14. ^ Philbrick, Jami (11 October 2012). "IAR Exclusive Interview: David Oyelowo Talks 'Middle of Nowhere,' 'The Paperboy,' 'Lincoln' and 'Jack Reacher'". Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  15. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". Time Out. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  16. ^ http://popafrica.com/david-oyelowo-star-lupita-nyongo-americanah/
  17. ^ a b "From Spooks to Lincoln, Complicit star David Oyelowo is about to make it big in Hollywood". Metro UK. 15 February 2013. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "'Selma's David Oyelowo on Playing MLK and What It Means to Be a Christian". Sojourners. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Oyelowo for Star Wars: Rebels?". Belfast Telegraph. 24 September 2013. 

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