An exciting talent, British born Nigerian actor David Oyelowo broke the color barrier at the Royal Shakespeare Company with his bravura performance in a production of "Henry VI" before going on to achieve big screen success in a variety of genres. Pre-fame, Oyelowo was seen regularly in British households as a cast member on the hit spy series "MI-5" (BBC, 2002-11) and he successfully segued into film with solid performances in pictures like "The Last King of Scotland" (2006) and "Who Do You Love" (2008). He also continued to act on stage and established his own theatre company. Oyelowo gained additional mass audience exposure by appearing in the hit films "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011) and "The Help" (2011), and was also featured in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012), and the Tom Cruise vehicle "Jack Reacher" (2012). With his exemplary background in live theatre, solid experience in series television, and increasing presence in feature films, Oyelowo demonstrated solid credentials and became a breakout international star with his impassioned performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights tale "Selma" (2014), a role that greatly expanded his international visibility.
David Oyelowo was born in Oxford, England on April 1, 1976, but spent seven years of his childhood in Nigeria. After completing theatre studies courses, Oyelowo trained in acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As a member of the Brave New World repertory theatre company, he appeared in productions of such plays as "Coriolanus" and "The Love of the Nightingale." At age 24, Oyelowo made history at the Royal Shakespeare Company as the first black actor to portray one of The Bard's monarchs in an RSC production of "Henry VI." His performance as the monarch was widely acclaimed and Oyelowo was presented with the 2001 Ian Charleson Award for Best Newcomer in a Classic Play. He was also cast in RSC productions of "Anthony & Cleopatra," "Volpone" and "Oroonoko."
Oyelowo made his film debut in the comedy-drama "Dog Eat Dog" (2001), but his follow-up feature, the troubled "A Sound of Thunder" (2002/05), did not show up in theatres until three years after it was shot. By that point, Oyelowo had already gained significant small screen notice as a cast member of "MI-5" (BBC, 2002-2011). The slick and popular British espionage series featured Oyelowo as junior case officer Danny Hunter and he stayed with the program through 2004, before returning to movies with a supporting turn in the Clive Owen/Jennifer Anniston thriller "Derailed" (2005). On stage, he co-starred in "Prometheus Bound" (2005) and played Orlando de Boys in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" (HBO, 2006). He also appeared in the acclaimed biographical drama "The Last King of Scotland" (2006), which told of Idi Amin's horrific reign, and made his stage directorial bow that same year with John Webster's 17th century tragedy, "The White Devil" (2006), a production undertaken by his own theatre company. Oyelowo also performed for New York theatregoers when "Prometheus Bound" had a run off-Broadway in 2007.
Oyelowo had one of his best early career outings as legendary musician Muddy Waters in "Who Do You Love" (2008), a look at the life of Chess Records' founder Leonard Chess. He also appeared in "Rage" (2009), director Sally Potter's critically panned drama about the information age, and made his film directorial debut with the comic short "Big Guy" (2009). Oyelowo's American profile was raised dramatically thanks to his roles in the highly successful thriller "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011) and the period drama and Oscar favorite, "The Help" (2011). American television audiences also received an additional chance to familiarize themselves with his work via a guest star turn on the popular drama, "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009 - ).
The year 2012 turned out to be a banner one for the rising actor, with Oyelowo joining the all-star cast of "The Paperboy" (2012), director Lee Daniels' sweaty and sleazy southern fried thriller. He also played a cavalryman in Steven Spielberg's biopic "Lincoln" (2012), and had a supporting turn in the big-budget Tom Cruise actioner "Jack Reacher" (2012). Flying under the mainstream radar was the emotionally intense drama "Middle of Nowhere" (2012), from Sundance Award-winning writer-director Ava DuVernay. Oyelowo garnered an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Male with his nuanced turn as an earnest bus driver romancing a young woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) in the process of rebuilding her fragile world while her husband remains incarcerated in a state prison. Additionally, Oyelowo returned to familiar territory in the U.K. TV movie "Complicit" (Channel 4, 2012) as an MI-5 agent tracking terrorists. Of lesser note was "Red Tails" (2012), producer George Lucas' clichéd and simplistic look at the African-American soldiers who made up the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. Oyelowo reunited with Lee Daniels in the director's drama "The Butler" (2013) and joined Zoe Saldana in the biographical drama "Nina" (2013), which chronicled jazz legend Nina Simone's relationship with agent Clifton Henderson. Oyelowo appeared briefly in Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" (2014) and co-starred in J.C. Chandor's powerful early '80s period piece "A Most Violent Year" (2014). But his mainstream breakthrough came with his commanding performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in DuVernay's "Selma" (2014), a depiction of the civil rights leader's 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Oyelowo next starred in the crime thriller "Captive" (2015) and the indie drama "Five Nights in Maine" (2015).
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Launched his stage career with the Royal Shakespeare Company
Made feature film debut in "Dog Eat Dog"
Cast in breakthrough role of Junior Case Officer Danny Hunter on BBC spy series "Spooks/MI-5"
Landed minor role in crime thriller "Derailed," starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston
Appeared in a stage production of "Prometheus Bound"
Played Dr. Junju in "The Last King of Scotland"
Featured in ABC production of "A Raisin in the Sun" alongside Sean Combs and Phylicia Rashad
Cast as James Franco's greedy boss in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Joined the cast of "The Help," starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, and Octavia Spencer
Portrayed Lt. Joe 'Lightning' Little in the historical drama "Red Tails"
Cast alongside Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, and Matthew McConaughey in Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy"
Co-starred in indie drama "Middle of Nowhere"
Cast opposite Tom Cruise in action drama "Jack Reacher"
Co-starred in Lee Daniels' "The Butler"
Had a minor role as a high school principal in Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar"
Starred as a District Attorney in period drama "A Most Violent Year"
Portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama "Selma"
Voiced Kallus on "Star Wars: Rebels"
Co-starred with Kate Mara and Mimi Rogers in crime drama "Captive"
Co-starred with Lupita Nyong'o in Uganda-set drama "Queen of Katwe"
Began voicing Scar on Disney's animated series "The Lion Guard"
Had a supporting role in the disappointing "Cloverfield" sequel "The Cloverfield Paradox"