Daniel Kaluuya On Almost Quitting Acting And Not Being Guarded

Daniel Kaluuya and Jordan Peele have once again reunited — not just for the upcoming horror film Nope, but in conversation for the July digital cover of ESSENCE.

Peele interviewed Kaluuya, our latest cover star, on the heels of the release of their new movie, in theaters July 22, and the British actor revealed aspects of his professional journey he’s never shared before, not even with Peele, whom he collaborated with in his breakout role in Get Out.

“I’ve never told you this, but when you reached out to me and we had that Skype, I was really disillusioned with acting. I had stopped acting for like a year and a half,” Kaluuya shared. I checked out, because I was just like, this isn’t working. I wasn’t getting roles, because racism and all this kind of stuff—so you reaching out was like, Okay, I’m not crazy. It’s proper. It’s going to be all right.”

Affirming Kaluuya’s experience, Peele spoke to a revelation he had while casting for his directorial debut. “It’s wild because even while making a movie in 2016, we were looking for a lead Black actor and realized there’s not a lot who have been given opportunities to be the lead of a film,” he said. “I was just so thrilled to realize what the rest of the world considers a very small pool. I had at least one of the best actors I’d ever seen in my movie, and from the very beginning I was like, this is how—when you have a script that’s good, and you get an actor like this, who has done work but has untapped potential and an untapped trust put into him—you get something special.”

Getting roles became far less of an issue for Kaluuya after Get Out for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (he would later win this award for his role as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah). But as his star power rose, the Academy Award winner noticed a difference in how fame and talent are viewed in the United States versus the United Kingdom.

“In England it’s about what you do. In America they have to buy into who you are, in order for people to really get behind you and watch your stuff,” he explained.

It’s something I learned on the press run for Judas and the Black Messiah. A lot of times people think I’m guarded, but I’m just new. I’m in a new country. Then, when I was being more open, people were talking to me about the interviews—and I’m like, Why are you talking about the interviews? They weren’t talking about the film. In England you don’t root for people the same way. In America it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s my guy. He’s got my perspective. Or she’s got my perspective. Cool, I’m rolling with them.’ In England it’s about talent, and I think in America it’s about the character of a person.”

Sharing that he’s followed Kaluuya’s career since first working together in 2016, Peele spoke to his wisdom in choosing to play certain characters, including OJ Haywood in the forthcoming Nope. “It seems like after that project, you came with a real intention about how you wanted to shape your career,” Peele stated to which Kaluuya responded in the affirmative.

“I was just like, If it’s not a ‘Fuck yeah,’ it’s a no. That kind of cleaned house,” he said. “A ‘Fuck yeah’ to me is when you’re doing plays, you’re doing it for 400 pound a week. That’s pre-agent, pre-tax, pre-everything. So I was like, Would I do this for 400 pound a week? And if the answer was yes, then all right, cool, I’ll do it.”

Speaking further to how he chooses roles, Kaluuya added, “I want to go into places that I don’t know I can. I want three-dimensional characters. I want to tell the story, no matter how big or how small. In Widows, I’m not in the film that much, but my character had an arc—he had a story and an evolution. As long as that’s there, then I can engage with it.”

Read Daniel Kaluuya’s full cover story here.

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