David Oyelowo

April 6, 2008

David Oyelowo, star of Spooks, was photographed for Underexposed, an exhibition that celebrates black actors by Franklyn Rogers, now showing at the National Portrait Gallery and in London Underground stations. It is curated by Fraser James.

Were you concerned about being part of a project that defined you by your skin colour?

I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to come away from the term ‘black actor’, but at the same time, black actors in the UK are at a crossroads; a point beyond which things could genuinely get better or could digress again. If it takes something like this to generate attention and interest, then I’m very happy to put my name to it.

Is the situation bad in Britain?

Yes, it definitely is, and for all sorts of reasons. I have had a lot of opportunities in the UK, but in order to keep that going I’ve had to move to the States. In America there is an audience who have been educated about seeing black people in things, so producers don’t balk at the idea of putting black actors into productions. In the UK there seems to be this weird perception that there isn’t an audience for black leads or high-profile black projects.

Who were your role models?

All my role models were American actors – not black British actors. I looked up to people like Adrian Lester, Lennie James and David Harewood, but they were people I saw as a kind of bridge to becoming Denzel Washington, which is sad, but it was just the fact of the matter at the time.

This interview first appeared in Observer Review

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