Movies

David Oyelowo reveals special friendship with Angelina Jolie: ‘We bonded over having lots of kids’


David Oyelowo had a thrilling experience working on The Midnight Sky (Picture: Getty)

Actor David Oyelowo, 44, on working on his core strength for George Clooney and bonding with Angelina Jolie

You play an astronaut in George Clooney’s new film, The Midnight Sky. How did you get your head around all that complex science-speak?

George was very good at guiding us on this. He would often talk about his experience on ER and all of that jargon they had to spout in that show, and how, basically, learning it as well as you can and saying it as fast as you can is the key. Because if you know, or seem to know, what you’re talking about, then the audience buy that you know what you’re talking about!

Is it true you had a hand in naming your character?

I think originally my character’s name was Commander Harper, as written in the book. And I was thinking about the fact that this is set some decades in the future. And I realised that I’d never seen an African astronaut in a film like this. 

I just felt very strongly, being a very proud person of African descent, that a crew tasked with saving the world should have an African in there.

And so I asked George if he was open to me changing my name and we did — we changed it to Adewole, which is a name from the tribe I’m from in Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe. It’s gonna sound very self-important but the name means ‘the king has entered the house’. And I told George this, and he said, “Well, that’s in the movie!” 

George Clooney gave David all the tips about space (Picture: Netflix)

You’re on wires to simulate zero gravity. How tough was that?

I got the message about needing to have a very strong core in order to be able to do this. So the training started about two to three months before we started shooting. And I actually talked to George about it because he’s played an astronaut before — he had done Gravity, he had done Solaris. I thought, “George is basically to space movies what De Niro is to gangster movies, I’d better listen”.  

David plays Adewole in the sci-fi drama (Picture: Netflix)

And, boy, did we need advice. You are being suspended by these wires, which are attached to parts of your body that just should not have that level of pressure and pulling on them. I’m so glad I had already had my four children by the time we did this film! It was humiliating, to begin with. I spent a lot of time looking very uncool upside down hanging from wires.

You’re also starring in and producing family film Come Away with Angelina Jolie.  How did you get her on board?

Angie and I have been friends for a long time. Oddly enough, we actually met at a birthday party several years ago and really bonded over the fact that we individually have lots of children. She has six, I have four. 

Funnily enough, about six years ago, after seeing me in a film called Nightingale, she made the mistake of saying to me, “I’m so jealous, no one ever offers me independent films”. I, of course, thought that was ridiculous and not true… so I thought, “Let me call her bluff on this”. And she read it within four days and was on. So that was definitely the best favour I called in!

With a story that twists on Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland, were you keen on making a movie your kids could see?

I know pretty quickly, with a pitch to my kids, whether it’s something that’s going to appeal to them or not. And this is one that they’re particularly interested in, which is absolutely one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. My family have movie night every Friday and there’s only so many times you can see Frozen! I would describe this film as live-action Pixar.

Angelina Jolie bonded with David over having a team of children (Picture: Getty Images)

Having produced several projects now, are you looking to direct?

I always knew I would, at some point, want to direct, especially having directed theatre. But it’s no joke, not least the amount of money that is at stake and the amount of people whose confidence you need to earn. I feel I’m about there now. I’ve worked with some truly extraordinary film-makers — I’ve treated it like on-the-job training. And so now I feel qualified. I wouldn’t want to jump into that without really having done the work to study.

You live in Los Angeles with your family. What do you miss about non-lockdown Britain?

It’s the theatre. The theatre is what I miss. I love walking down the South Bank and nipping into the National Theatre and watching a play. The culture is just so rich. I do miss that in particular about the UK.

You’re also in upcoming sci-fi Chaos Walking. Does this mean you’re a secret geek?

I don’t know that I’m a sci-fi geek but I’m definitely a fan of the genre. My goodness, my kids… those are the films I do that they get the most excited about. And anyone who has read the Patrick Ness novels [this is based on] knows you have to be pretty ballsy and brave to attack those stories.

I just love the conceit of it — the idea of what life might be like in a world where women can hear and see the thoughts of men!■

The Midnight Sky is on Netflix now. Come Away is out in April on digital and DVD. 

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