From the sunken soul of Get Out, to the Judas and the Black Messiah‘s explosive revolutionary, Daniel Kaluuya wants to star in a romantic comedy.
In one film, the Brit forged one of the genre’s most indelible modern images: Chris Washington sitting paralysed, mouth agape, his body rendered immobile bar a single tear. At 32, it’s already a hell of a legacy – but he’s just getting started.
With a Golden Globe under his belt for playing Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton, with Oscar glory surely on the horizon, we earlier spoke to Kaluuya about the stakes of taking on the role, how he feels about awards and searching for his own Nora Ephron story.
Obviously, LaKeith Stanfield is the ‘Judas’ of the film, but how does it feel to be the beating heart – in my opinion –- of the movie, given the subject matter?
Daniel: It’s just trying to serve the piece. What does the piece need, what does this narrative need from me – and you just give that. That’s kind of the position I stayed in; the outside perception leaves the room during the creative process.
I’m still kind of in it, this is still part of the creative process – you’re trying to inform people in order to contextualise before they watch the film.
Was there an added weight to playing Fred Hampton compared to your earlier roles?
Daniel: Yeah, I mean playing a real person there’s an added pressure, added weight, added cultural weight, going to Chicago and meeting their family. You get the cultural weight but also the emotional weight, like this is their legacy, this is their family, you know?
Chairman Fred Jr. was on set the majority of the days, so you had a constant reminder of what you were doing this for, what the stakes were. So yeah, playing a real-life person is a smaller target to hit. You’ve inherited the boundaries as opposed to creating the boundaries. When I started moving out of those boundaries – and they’re not boundaries, they’re guides – it helped me grow in the creative process.
What was the strain on your voice like? The speeches are very, very powerful, but I imagine they were rather physically taxing.
Daniel: Yeah yeah, I mean the ‘I am a revolutionary speech’, I lost my voice halfway through that day. I still went there, especially when the scene was on the crowd. For me, how the people reacted was so important – that was part of the scene, they were the scene partner. If I’m giving less, they’re not gonna… you know what I mean? So I still give it.
I asked them to not do two speeches a week, and they didn’t listen. So two days later, I had the scene on the steps and my voice is gone. But that’s because two days before I did the ‘I am a revolutionary speech’.
So it was really taxing, I really had to take care. Especially on those days when I did those big speeches, I just had to not talk to anyone that day – for spiritual reasons, but also vocal chord reasons, to also preserve my voice. It was a lot of work, a lot of steaming of my face.
Did you feel yourself getting swept up in the scene you were performing, as the speech scenes are really rousing for anyone, anywhere?
Daniel: You could get wrapped up. If I got wrapped up, that’s about my ego, I’m not being present, I’m not being focused on what I’m here for. Also, I had a lot to manage – there were certain takes, they would give me new lines.
It’s very mentally taxing to learn something in a certain way, and having to change it without rehearsal in front of 450 people. It’s a lot to navigate. I had to keep being focused and keep being in the zone.
Not to reduce a great performance to an Oscar – especially since that’s the highest award! – but you’ve been earning massive acclaim for this role. What’s your attitude to the Academy Awards coming out of it?
Daniel: My attitude towards awards in general is it’s nice to be recognised by your peers; like in any profession, it’s just a really nice thing. It’s nice to be acknowledged and recognised. I just don’t do it for that.
I don’t think it’d help my spiritual and mental health to be dong it for external validations, you know what I’m saying? Whatever happens happens, it’s literally out of my control, I can’t do anything about it. So, if it happens… great. If it doesn’t, great.
Do you look back on Judas and the Black Messiah as one of your more satisfying experiences?
Daniel: I wouldn’t call it satisfying in me, I think it was probably the experience where I had to be my tallest. It stretched me. Playing a real person on screen, I just hadn’t done that before. There was that, sort of like… oh wow, I have to grow in me, as me, in order to step up to serve Chairman Fred.
In terms of the future, is there a certain area you’d like to explore?
Daniel: I wanna do a rom-com. Get my romance on mate, know what I’m saying?
If you had to choose an on-screen partner for a rom-com, who would it be?
Daniel: Nia Long [laughs]. That’d be a bit weird though innit, age-wise. It is what it is though, the game’s game [laughs]. She’s cool people though, I don’t wanna mess up her home and that. I think she’s brilliant talent.
There’s loads of incredible actresses I’d love to [work with]. I think Natasha Rothwell is talented, she’s one of the funniest people in Insecure, I love her in that. We’ll see what happens, whatever the story wants for it.
I know you probably can’t tell me anything, or even confirm this… but there’s reports you’re going to reunite with Jordan Peele for his next movie. If you could confirm that, then great! If not, would you like to work with him again?
Daniel: [Long pause] I don’t talk about rumours. But… that’s not even a but, I don’t talk about rumours. Jordan is a brilliant mind – every person in this industry wants to work with him. I had an incredible experience with him, we built something that’s really special for us. If he feels that he wants to talk to me about working together, then that’d be something I’d wanna talk about.
You can rent the movie premiere of Judas and The Black Messiah at home from today, March 11.
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