David Oyetokunbo Oyelowo is a British-Nigerian actor, director and producer. Though he is most noted for his lead role in Selma (2014), he also appeared in blockbusters like The Help (2011) and Lincoln (2012). In this biography, Oyelowo tells his story in his own words.

David Oyelowo Bio: Age, Early Life, Family, Education

Oyelowo was born on April 1, 1976 (David Oyelowo age: 45) in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. His Nigerian-born parents raised him in the South London neighborhood of Tooting Bec until he was six, at which point the family returned to Nigeria. Oyelowo attended boarding school while his father worked for an airline and his mother a railway company.

After he turned fourteen, Oyelowo’s family moved back to London, relocating this time to the Islington neighborhood. It was there that Oyelowo first began studying theatre. One of his teachers at City and Islington College suggested that he pursue acting, so Oyelowo enrolled in a foundational course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Oyelowo became involved with the National Youth Theatre before completing his three years of LAMDA training in 1998.

David Oyelowo Bio: Exclusive Interview on His Acting Debut

In August 2019, Oyelowo sat down with uInterview for an exclusive look at his path to stardom. He explained that, before “ever even thinking of becoming an actor,” he was “obsessed” with a girl who worked the projector at their church.

Oyelowo told uInterview about the day he believed she had asked him on a theater date. “I turned up to meet her with a rose in hand, and she looked at me all confusedly, and I soon realized that she was actually inviting me to a youth theater where they were low on boys.” According to Oyelowo, the girl had invited him “purely to ingratiate herself with the director,” but he credits the experience as “the first time I got involved with any kind of theater.”

Check out the full autobiographical uInterview below:

David Oyelowo Bio: Theater, TV Shows, Movies, ‘Selma’

Oyelowo began acting more seriously in the late 1990s. In 1998, shortly after his graduation from LAMDA, he appeared in an episode of the TV series Maisie Raine. He played Lester Peters on Brothers and Sisters the same year and returned to stage acting in 1999. Oyelowo joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in productions of Volpone, Oroonoko and Antony and Cleopatra. 

2001 brought Oyelowo even greater success with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He acted as King Henry VI in the famed trilogy by the same name. As the first black actor to play an English king in a major Shakespearean production, Oyelowo won the Ian Charleson Award for best performance and much critical acclaim.

Oyelowo returned to televised acting later in 2001. He played CJ in Dog Eat Dog and appeared in the short film Circles. The following year, he acted in Tomorrow La Scala! and landed his first significant television role. From 2002 to 2004, Oyelowo played Danny Hunter in the series Spooks. The show was bookended by the short film End of the Line (2004), in which Oyelowo played a minor role as a commuter.

2005 was a busy year for Oyelowo. He acted in two video shorts, As Time Goes By and It’s a Boy!, in addition to three movies. One was The Best Man, in which Oyelowo played the supporting character Graham. Another was A Sound of Thunder, a film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic 1952 short story. Oyelowo’s final film of 2005 was Derailed, whose star-studded cast included Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston.

2006 was an even more hectic year in Oyelowo’s career. He played minor roles in the films American Blend and Shoot the Messenger as well as in the TV mini-series The Gil Mayo Mysteries. Oyelowo went on to play Dr. Junju in The Last King of Scotland, based on the novel by Giles Foden, and Yemi in the TV movie Born Equal. Also in 2006, Oyelowo was credited with his first screenwriting project: the TV short Graham & Alice.

Oyelowo secured another recurring role in 2007 in the TV series Five Days. He played Matt Wellings in five standard episodes plus a revised final episode of the show. That same year, Oyelowo returned to his roots as Danny Hunter in a video game adaptation of Spooks.

In 2008, Oyelowo appeared in an even mix of TV shows and movies. He guest-starred in the mini-series The Passion as well as the show The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Oyelowo also acted in the TV movies A Raisin in the Sun and Sweet Nothing in My Ear. Finally, he played Muddy Waters alongside Alessandro Nivola in the film Who Do You Love.

Oyelowo worked on an eclectic mix of projects in 2009. He appeared in the movie Rage and one episode of the TV mini-series Small Island. He also directed and executive-produced the short Big Guy. The next year, he acted in the TV movie Blood and Oil and voiced Benjamin Mays in Change in the Wind. Between 2010 and 2011, Oyelowo also voiced a teacher in two episodes of Glenn Martin, DDS.

Oyelowo became involved in higher-profile projects in 2011. Though he started with small roles in 96 Minutes and the short film Rehab, he secured a place in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 

He guest-starred on the hit series The Good Wife. and played Preacher Green in The Help. This Oscar-winning movie starred Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer and grossed over $200 million worldwide.

Oyelowo only appeared in films in 2012. He played Joe “Lightning” Little in Red Tails and Brian in Middle of Nowhere, also acting in Jack Reacher and The Paperboy. Most significantly, Oyelowo played Corporal Ira Park in Lincoln, the smash-hit biopic of President Lincoln. This film won two Oscars and boasted an all-star cast, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Oyelowo kept his film streak throughout 2013, appearing in Complicit and the short film 206. He also played Louis Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which earned 20 film awards and 50 nominations. The following year, Oyelowo made more minor appearances in films such as Default, A Most Violent Year and Interstellar. He both executive-produced and starred in the film Nightingale as Peter Snowden. Oyelowo also returned briefly to television to voice characters in an episode of Robot Chicken.

2014, however, would soon become the pinnacle of Oyelowo’s career. He was selected to play Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights film Selma. His performance earned him nominations for Golden Globe and Film Independent Spirit Awards. He also won the NAACP Image Award for Best Actor and led the Selma cast to an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Oyelowo kept busy between 2014 and 2018, playing Agent Kallus in 29 episodes of Star Wars Rebels. He voiced his character in the 2015 video game Star Wars: Rebels – Recon Mission. Also in 2015, he appeared in the video short Black Knight Decoded and the films Captive and Five Nights in Maine. Oyelowo produced both, gaining critical acclaim for his production skills as well as his acting.

Oyelowo continued producing in 2016. He played Clifton Henderson in the movie Nina, of which he was also executive-producer. Later that year, Oyelowo acted as Seretse Khama in A United Kingdom, which he produced. The movie boasts an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and received generally positive critical reviews upon its release. But Oyelowo’s most successful 2016 production was Queen of Katwe, starring Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga. This biography of a female chess prodigy in Uganda performed well in theaters and won two awards.

Between 2017 and 2019, Oyelowo voiced Scar in 17 episodes of the children’s series The Lion Guard. He performed his first musical number on this show, singing “I Have a Plan” for the episode “Let Sleeping Crocs Lie.” In 2018, Oyelowo continued voice acting in A Wrinkle in Time, but he returned to the screen in The Cloverfield Paradox.

David Oyelowo Bio: Exclusive Interview on ‘Gringo,’ Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton

Oyelowo’s most notable 2018 role was that of Harold Soyinka in the movie Gringo. This film, starring Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried, has been nominated for multiple awards. In August 2019, Oyelowo discussed it exclusively with uInterview.

The actor first laid out the film’s basic plot. “[Soyinka] works at a pharmaceutical company in Chicago,” Oyelowo said, “and he’s been promised a promotion by his bosses in the shape of Joe Edgerton and Charlize Theron.” When Soyinka goes to Mexico on an inventory run, he discovers that the promotion bit was a lie and that is his company is about to be sold. “This leads to him making some pretty bad and desperate decisions,” Oyelowo told uInterview, “which means his bosses, a group of mercenaries and the cartel come chasing after him across Mexico.”

When asked what he would remember most about working with the Gringo cast, Oyelowo stressed the difference between the actors and the characters they portrayed. “What people will see when they watch this film is watching Joel [Edgerton] and Charlize having a lot of fun playing some pretty despicable characters,” Oyelowo said. “But what was so funny is after each take, having said terrible things to me or about Mexicans or about, you know, whoever… They just are so inappropriate, [the actors] felt the need to apologize to the crew and myself after virtually every take. Because, you know, they are playing characters that are pretty antithetical to who they are in real life.”

Check out the full uInterview on Gringo below:

Between 2018 and 2019, Oyelowo produced the Les Misérables TV mini-series, in which he played the character Javert.

David Oyelowo Bio: Exclusive Interview on ‘Don’t Let Go,’ Sci-Fi, Storm Reid

One of Oyelowo’s most successful projects of 2019 was the supernatural thriller Don’t Let Go. Oyelowo both produced the film and starred in it alongside Storm Reid. In August 2019, he discussed Don’t Let Go exclusively with uInterview.

Oyelowo described his character, Jack Radcliff, as “a detective from South-Central Los Angeles” with a “really tender relationship with his niece, Ashley.” Oyelowo explained that, just as this relationship is deepening, Ashley and her parents are slaughtered. “My family is effectively wiped out,” Oyelowo summarized, “and I’m in a period of grieving when I get a phone call from [Ashley]. She is calling from two weeks before her murder, and I have to somehow figure out how to reach through time and save her.”

Though Oyelowo revealed no more about the plot, he had plenty to say about co-star Reid. “It was a real pleasure to work with her,” he told uInterview. “She’s a phenomenal talent, as people will really get to see in this film.” He expressed that it was challenging to act so close to her character when most of their scenes were filmed separately. “[W]e knew that the film lives or dies by virtue of how much the audience is invested in the closeness of our relationship,” he told uInterview. “And so we made sure that we were always on set for each other, even when the other wasn’t onscreen, just to keep on cultivating that relationship and hopefully making it feel believable to the audience.”

David Oyelowo Bio: Recent and Forthcoming Projects

2019 has remained busy for Oyelowo. He narrated the short film Brave Girl Rising and appeared in six episodes of the series Masterpiece PBS. He is currently recording for a TV movie called The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

Oyelowo has several other projects underway. Peter Rabbit 2 is currently in its post-production stages, along with Chaos Walking and Come Away, produced by Oyelowo. He is also a cast member of Good Morning, Midnight, now in pre-production. All three movies are set to release in 2020. Afterward, Oyelowo will executive-produce the documentary Ferguson Rises and direct, produce and star in The Water Man.

David Oyelowo Bio: Wife, Children, Prince, OBE, Knighthood

When Oyelowo isn’t acting, he enjoys spending time with his family. He and his wife, Jessica, have been married since 2008 and became naturalized United States citizens in 2016. They are raising their four children to follow in their footsteps as devout Christians.

Oyelowo holds a certain amount of prestige outside of his career. He is an “omoba,” or prince, of a Nigerian kingdom called Awe. In 2016, he was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2016.

David Oyelowo Bio: Quotes

“It’s fascinating to work with a company of actors of such different ages, experience and talents. I’m one of a generation brought up on television whose acting is more naturalistic, whereas with some of the older generation it’s more heightened. But I think there’s room for both styles.”

“I think it’s vital to have something outside your acting to keep you rooted in the real world and help you fill the vacuum. If you have nothing else, it can be unhealthy. For me, being a Christian has been invaluable: it simply means acting isn’t the center of my life.”

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