David Oyelowo felt obligated to keep up his American accent in between takes on Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, because he feared locals in the civil rights icon’s native Atlanta, Georgia would not accept him in the lead role if they knew he was British.
The Lee Daniels’ The Butler star, who packed on the pounds for the role, reveals he was keen to try the method acting technique on the set of Selma after watching fellow Brit Daniel Day-Lewis in action in their movie Lincoln, but he soon realized it was necessary for him to keep up the American twang to avoid disappointing the hundreds of extras who had no idea he was from overseas.
He explains, “I felt I had to stay in character the whole time, partly because I did this film Lincoln and I had a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis, my favourite actor of all time, and he would stay in character the whole time and I felt that’s the blueprint of how to get this right… But he’s a genius; I’m a pragmatist.
“We were shooting in Atlanta; Dr. King is from Atlanta, revered in Atlanta… you go and say (in his British accent), ‘Hello everybody, I’m going to be playing Dr. King’, it’s not (going to be) so good when (you have) 500 extras waiting for you to give a speech, so I felt I needed to stay in (the American accent)…”
However, there was one person who couldn’t handle hearing Oyelowo speaking with an American accent – his wife Jessica.
He says, “It was weird for my wife because we were moving house at the time and she called me once (while he was on set) about the curtains: ‘Should we go for the brown or should we go for (another color)?’. (In his American accent, he replied), ‘Well I think we should, er, go for the…’ She went, ‘Stop! Stop! We’ll do this after you wrap! I cannot talk to you when you are talking like Dr. King, I already feel like I’m having an affair!’.”