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Interview

David Oyelowo on 'Jack Reacher,' Crashing Cars, and Landing Jobs on a Plane

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David Oyelowo on 'Jack Reacher,' Crashing Cars, and Landing Jobs on a Plane
Photo Source: Brian Bowen Smith/Paramount Pictures 2012

David Oyelowo appears in five movies this year, including “Red Tails,” “The Paperboy,” “Middle of Nowhere,” “Lincoln” and the upcoming “Jack Reacher,” which opens on Friday. At one point Oyelowo was shooting with Daniel Day Lewis by day, then hopping on a jet to shoot a night-time car chase with Tom Cruise. The in-demand actor just finished shooting two more films: “Nina,” about singer Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana, and Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.” And he has no intention of slowing down.

How did you get the part in “Jack Reacher”?
David Oyelowo:
I had the privilege of sitting down with Chris [McQuarrie] initially just to talk with him. I found out after the event that an actor like me was very much not what he had in mind. He had written the part very specifically for a white actor that he had in mind and it was Mindy Marin who floated my name his way as a potential different way to go in the event that the other situation didn't work out. So I met with Chris. We really hit it off, and then I put myself on tape with Mindy for both Chris and Tom Cruise for them to take a look. Then, thankfully, they were convinced I was their guy.

Had you read any of the Jack Reacher books before you heard about the project?
Oyelowo:
No. My first interaction with Jack Reacher the character or any of the books was the script, actually, and having read the script I then read "One Shot," which "Jack Reacher" our film is based on … but it was kind of a good thing that I didn't know about the books and I didn't know how popular they were, 'cause I think the pressure would have been severely higher had I known.

What did you bring to the character of Detective Emerson?
Oyelowo:
What they had always wanted was someone who was a convincing counterpoint to Tom Cruise as "Jack Reacher.” Because my character Detective Emerson is kind of cut from the same cloth as Jack Reacher really. They're very intense, hard-to-read investigators…I'm Danny Glover to his Mel Gibson, but the movie gets in the way, and so you want that relationship to be one that you want to see play out and what happens very quickly [is] our relationship becomes antagonistic. So that was one of the main things I both relished and tried to bring to the character. But I also had the privilege of shadowing a detective in Pittsburgh who does exactly what my character does in the movie does by way of a job. [I] just followed him around, asked him a bunch of questions, taped him for the Pittsburgh accent and he was kind of my voice... to make this character feel real.

Do you have a standard method that you use to prepare for a role?
Oyelowo:
[For] every single one of the characters I play, what I always do is try to do as much reading as I can. As much talking to people as I can. I always find someone, they tend not to know that I'm doing this with them, but I find someone to model the character on. A personality or an individual I've met or I find in order to try and root it in a reality that isn't just me conjuring up a different side of myself, because humanity is so multi-faceted that I always try to find someone that's not me to base the character on.

Do you have a favorite moment from the film?
Oyelowo:
I would say the most fun we had and a very memorable scene from the film regardless is the car chase. The car chase is about 8 minutes long in the film...we trained very hard to do it and the thing with Tom, because he insists on doing all of his own stunts, it means both myself and Jai [Courtney] who are also in that car chase have to do all of our own driving as well and it got pretty dangerous. I mean we had nine Chevelles, the car that Tom drives, and he totaled all nine of them. He crashed into me twice, he crashed into Jai once and that was largely because they decided - having done all this training on dry roads - they decided to wet down the roads. So the margin for error became very, very small, but that's the kind of stuff you dream of doing as a little boy anyway, so it was really fun to do it and get paid as well.

And how did you get involved in “Middle of Nowhere”?
Oyelowo:
It was a fairly miraculous way that came my way. I'd done this film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," and I was on a plane to Vancouver to do some reshoots for it and I sat down with a guy who was watching a show that I used to do in the UK on his iPad. He paused the show, looked at me, asked me if that was me he was watching, I said yes after he showed me his iPad and he said "Oh good, you're an actor, my friend is trying to persuade me to invest in his film. Is it a good idea to put money in film?" which is a fairly loaded question, so I asked him, "Well, what's the film?" and he told me what it was and I said, "Well, send me the script and I'll give you my opinion." It was "Middle of Nowhere." And I said to him, "Not only do I think you should invest in this, I have got to be in this film. It's one of the best written scripts I've read, I think ever." So I got off the plane phoned Ava DuVernay and said, "Look I've just read your script. Please can I be involved?" and then she said "You were actually on my short list of actors to approach." So that's how that one came about.

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