“A lot of people didn’t realize I was in that,” Daniel Kaluuya says of his first starring role in an American movie, Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 thriller Sicario. “I take that as a compliment to me.” The British actor, who was born and raised in London, completely camouflaged himself in the American southwest fabric of that film, and he is equally convincing as a young American photographer visiting his white girlfriend’s parents in the very white suburbs in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which satirized the insidious racism of that setting and garnered four Oscars nominations this morning, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Kaluuya. But offscreen, the actor has never been shy about speaking his own mind. Here, in a new interview with W editor at large Lynn Hirschberg, Kaluuya, who can soon be seen in the highly anticipated Black Panther, explains that people are often surprised to discover that he’s British, and the difference between racism in American and in Britain—even though “no matter how it comes out, racism is kinda f—in’ shit.”
How did Get Out come to you? Because I did Black Mirror in 2011. It didn’t really have any traction at home, and then Netflix happened. So Black Mirror hit Netflix like three or four years later, and then Jordan [Peele] saw me in Black Mirror, and he said “I’ve got this script.” We Skyped, and then during the press for Sicario, I went to L.A.. I read it, and I got the part.
What did you think when you first read it? “Are you allowed to do this?” That’s what I first thought. [Laughs.] “Are they really gonna let this black guy kill all these white people and everyone’s just gonna be cool about it? All right, cool.” I think the most fascinating art pieces is when it’s costing something from the person that’s saying it. I felt like it cost Jordan something, and so I always feel it was really exciting to be a part of something like that, you know?
And with Jordan Peele, who is known for comedy, did you notice his comic timing in terms of setting up scenes? I mean, when I read the script, it was just laugh-out-loud funny. There were some bits that were just laugh out loud, and he leans to comedy, but I feel like there’s moments in our lives that are really funny, you know, and actually it makes the poignant moments stand out or resonate even more because of the balance and because it’s out of nowhere. I think he tapped into the fact that people use comedy as a defense mechanism, is to help them cope with racism, you know? It’s like you have to kind of lighten the situation because if you actually be real and go, “I just don’t like it when you say that,” it completely destroys the mood, especially being from the outside like meeting your girlfriend’s family.
Have you seen it with an audience? Yeah, opening night I went to Atlanta in the hood and I watched it, and it was amazing. It was amazing. It was one of the most amazing experiences ’cause Jordan had said on set. He would do a scene and he’d be like, “Oh, like they’re gonna go ‘Yo, get out, man. Get out, man, get out,'” and everyone was doing that in the cinema like to the T. They was saying the stuff that he said on set that the audience would say. To see his like brain and his vision come to fruition was really exciting to see, and then seeing people enjoy it. But it’s quite weird ’cause I feel it happened in so many cinemas, so now when I walk around and I have this energy, and I’m like “I don’t know what happened in your screening.” Like, “I don’t know what you’ve seen because it’s quiet.” [Laughs.]
It was practically a riot at my screening. Yeah, they start clapping, they start cheering, and itw as like “Get the girl, get the girl.” [Laughs.] It’s crazy. It’s cool.
Did you always have an easy time with it? People must be very surprised that you’re English. Yeah, people are weirded out. They’re like, “Oh, you’re British, man?” And I’m like “Yeah I am, mate.” It’s tough because I just stay in the accent. If I haven’t got like family around or my girl around I just stay in the American accent, like going to Walmart and stay in American accent, and then when someone’s figured out, they’re flipping out. But I think it really helps ’cause I like to improvise on set. Sicario was a lot of improvisation. So it’s important to just have it like walking, because we don’t think about how we speak, you know, and your character has to not think, ’cause you can see it on the camera.
What was the first professional job you auditioned for? I think it was Shoot the Messenger. I got it. Yeah, I’m really lucky. David Oyelowo was the lead, and it was when BBC were making TV movies, and it was about this teacher who gets fired from his job because a group of kids say he hit him and stuff. The original script was called F— Black People.
Really? And it was about this black, self-hating teacher who says everything that’s bad that’s happened in his life is to do with black people, and it’s about him realizing and accepting his blackness. But it was a really big thing back home, and I got that without an agent. I was acting underneath a church off Caledonian Road. I didn’t know it was a BBC casting director that came in, ’cause they were looking for kids. It’s really hard to find London kids.
How old were you? Sixteen. And then I got Skins from an open audition.
All of the people on Skins have stories about doing Skins. Yeah, Skins is fun, man. We had a good time. There was this bit when I was a rapper, and I wasn’t getting any girls those times, and they were like you can pick any girl to kiss on stage, and I was like “Are you serious?” [Laughter.] I was like, “Can I have two?” [Laughter.]
Oscar Nominations 2018: See Photos of Mary J. Blige, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, and More Actors
Frances McDormand, Best Actress, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress, The Shape of Water
Gary Oldman, Best Actor, Darkest Hour
Christopher Plummer, Best Supporting Actor, All the Money in the World
Denzel Washington, Best Actor, Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Meryl Streep, Best Actress, The Post
Richard Jenkins, Best Supporting Actor, The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins, Best Actress, The Shape of Water
Mary J. Blige, Best Supporting Actress, Mudbound
Margot Robbie, Best Actress, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Best Actress, Lady Bird
Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Actor, Phantom Thread
Timothée Chalamet, Best Actor, Call Me By Your Name
Willem Dafoe, Best Supporting Actor, The Florida Project
Jordan Peele, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, Get Out
Allison Janney, Best Supporting Actress, I, Tonya
Daniel Kaluuya, Best Actor, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Lady Bird
Do you think racism is different or presented differently in London as opposed to in America? I feel like racism’s more pronounced in America.
You think it is? The disease is still there. It’s the same disease, but it just manifests in a different way, and British culture’s way more reserved, so it’s more systematic. I think in America you have the systematic and then you have the overt, but also the history of America is the deal of race relations, whilst a lot of the people within London have come from—like, my family’s from Uganda. They come from Africa, come from Caribbean. So they’re coming from this culture, and they usually come from the Commonwealth, and have been colonized by the West. So we’re navigating that, but youth… it’s why a lot of black British artists are in America, because it’s not seen in England, but it’s felt, and it’s oppressive, and it stops you from becoming your best you at times.
So you would say the overt is bad, but the hidden is maybe— Nah, I think racism just sucks, isn’t it, across the board. [Laughter.] Like no matter how it comes out, it’s kinda f—in’ shit.
Was your character in Sicario written for a person of color? Yeah. Yeah, it was.
Because it felt like it could have gone either way. Yeah, I think there was a lot of stuff that leaned towards, mention of the race element of it, but it was just really important for me when I do stuff to go like, “Black people don’t even talk about blackness that much.” I mean, it’s just a person. It’s presenting a person that is black. Do you know what I mean? It’s like it’s clear that that person is black, and how they are and how they move and how they think, that can be felt as opposed to overtly said, you know what I mean? So then the audience gets to know that person as a black person as opposed to just a black person.
I think that’s what you’ve done. So do some more fun questions: What was your favorite birthday? Favorite thing I’ve done on my birthday… I don’t know how old I was, but we just played indoor football all day, and then we went to McDonald’s after, and when you went to McDonald’s, you had little bags and stuff and little play things. I remember that. That was really fun. I’ve had a couple surprise parties, which really touched me. I had a 21st and then 25th—
And you liked being surprised? No, I walked away. [Laughter.] No, I don’t. In hindsight, I just go, “I can’t deal with this.” I don’t like doing stuff on my birthday, so I think people know that. So I would just say “I’m born in February.” If people ask me, “When’s your birthday?” I say “Oh, February 31st.” And they’re like “Oh, okay, cool” and then… [Laughs] then March comes and they’re like “Wait, hold on.”
And what do you think about New Year’s? Yeah, mostly I try and stay alive, ’cause it’s just a tendency to drink a lot and lose yourself. But I try not to do it in London now. We try and go away. Like a big group of us went to, um, Brighton, and we just had a house, and we just walked on the pier, and it was like bagpipes and stuff, and then we just followed people with bagpipes and started dancing on the street on New Year’s. And then I spent one New Year’s in Denmark. That was fun.
Who is your celebrity crush? Angela Bassett’s pretty. She’s in Black Panther. She’s one of those women that you just kinda stare at, and then she looks over, and you’re like “Oh, shit.” But my first crush was Ashley Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Really? Yeah, she’s cute, you know? [Laughter.] I loved that show. It’s an amazing show. It’s so hard to make a credible family show.
So I’m going to ask you some “firsts” questions: What was your first job? [Laughs.] Runner at a TV shopping channel.
Oh, really? Yeah. I went in there and I don’t know, I turned up in a suit. I turned up in a suit at the shopping channel, and they were like ,”What are you doing? Get me some coffee.” [Laughter.] So then I was getting people coffee in this real kind of Marks and Spencer suit.
First date. Um, good question. Went to a school play, probably. Went to a school play. It was fun, I think.
First album that you bought or first album that you received. It’s a funny story. So I got Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. I used to listen to music while I was playing PlayStation, and then I went, “Ah, Eminem’s amazing, yeah?” And then I was listening to it, and “Kim” came on. Must have been like 11. You remember the song “Kim”?
Yes, very well. I was like, “I don’t know about this, man.” [Laughs.] “It’s kinda scary, man,” like, “What was he doing to her? I don’t know about this.” So I took it back and got Robbie Williams’s Sing When You’re Winning, and I was very much at ease. I just wanted to have good times. I just didn’t need the darkness whilst I was playing FIFA ’98. [Laughter.]
A little too much information at 11. I wasn’t ready for it.
Gal Gadot, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
“This year on Halloween, my daughter and I went trick-or-treating, and I had on this huge mask so I could see everyone but they couldn’t see me. Whenever I saw a Wonder Woman costume on a girl or a boy, it was so exciting. My daughter, who was dressed as a unicorn zombie, would run up to me and say, “Did you see that Wonder Woman?” They were everywhere!”
Gal Gadot wears Moschino Couture dress; Fabergé ring; Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo shoes.
“[Jennifer Lawrence] came to see Cabaret and both of my contacts popped out of my eyes at the same time and my prescription is -900, which, if you know what that means, is like…I cannot see. So, they had to drag me off the stage in the dark and she came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘I couldn’t see anything! It was garbage! It was a disaster!’ And she was like, ‘Enough, enough. I’m your dance mom. You need to calm down.’”
Emma Stone wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Cartier earrings.
“I am Vietnamese, and we don’t celebrate birthdays. My parents don’t actually know their birth dates—they just go by their signs. When somebody asks you how old you are, you say, ‘I’m born this month in the Year of the…’ I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Sheep don’t like to be the center of attention, and they don’t like being told what to do. That pretty much sums me up.”
Hong Chau wears an Etro dress; Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring.
“I’ve had a flirtation with Winston Churchill for years; there’s been a book of famous Churchill quotes on my bookshelf since childhood. To me, he was the man who won the war. And yet, when I was first asked to play the part, I thought, Don’t be ridiculous, and turned it down. But they came back, and it felt right. My wife said, ‘Look, you get to stand in Parliament and say these great words. What have you got to lose?’”
Gary Oldman wears a Canali suit; Boss shirt and tie.
“I always joke that Jason Dixon, the character I play in Three Billboards, is Barney Fife meets Travis Bickle. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect his southern Missouri accent. I did ride-alongs with a cop down there—he had a great twang. Accents should be practiced as if you’re drunk. Actors get a little tense when they have to do an accent. Drunkenness relaxes everything.”
Sam Rockwell wears a Marni trench; Editions M.R shirt; Simon Miller T-shirt; Huntsman pants; Rolex watch; Church’s shoes.
“My character in The Meyerowitz Stories is a sweet family girl, but when she sends films she makes in school to her family, you see her wild side. I’m naked in most of those films. I sat next to my dad at the premiere, and that was probably the most uncomfortable thing in my life. To see myself 75 feet tall and naked was not easy. I sank into my chair and heard my dad kind of laugh nervously. We pretended those scenes never happened.”
Grace Van Patten wears an Alberta Ferretti dress; her own jewelry.
“Being an actress, for me, is about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive in my life and also for the lives of others who face similar challenges. Life is scary, but art is not scary.”
Daniela Vega wears a Max Mara dress; David Webb earrings; Piaget necklace; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring (right hand); Tiffany & Co. bracelet and ring (left hand); Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“My husband is an artist, but he still has a hard time watching me sometimes. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Cannes Film Festival, he was both hypnotized and shattered. When he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul, it’s almost like it goes straight into him. His brain and heart don’t discern between acting and real life.”
Nicole Kidman wears a Prada top and skirt; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring; Jimmy Choo pumps.
Where was your first kiss? This is going to sound like a murder story, but it was in the woods, outside of a baseball park. I had lost my turtle. Curtis, the guy I kissed, found it.
Was that your first pet? No, it was a schnauzer named Ozzie. He hated us so much. He never wanted to be in the same room with us.
So what’s your porno name—first pet plus first street name? Ozzie Ormond.
What was your favorite Halloween costume? A picnic table. My mom wouldn’t let me be a witch or a ghost or anything demonic, so I cut a hole in a plastic cloth and went as a picnic table. The problem was I had a crush on this guy named John, and I was so pumped for Halloween because it was our chance to interact. And then I put my face in the tablecloth and was like, “Hi, John. Are you my boyfriend?”
Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior dress; Dior Fine Jewelry earrings and ring.
“When I first read the script for Get Out, I thought, Are you allowed to do this? Are they really going to let this black guy kill all these white people? I think the most fascinating art pieces come at a price to the person making them. And this movie took a risk. On opening night, I went to see it in a theater in the hood in Atlanta. The crowd clapped, they cheered, they yelled, ‘Get out, man! Yo—get out!’ It was all the stuff that we hoped the audience would say.”
Daniel Kaluuya wears a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Football sweatshirt and sweatpants; ’47 hat; Gucci socks; Kaluuya’s own sneakers.
“I booked The Florida Project when I was 6. I’m 7 now. It was really fun because during shooting I got to eat ice cream! I want to start my own YouTube channel, and the name of it will be I Am Crazy for Ice Cream because I am crazy for ice cream. I’m also so into fashion. I wear shorts in the movie, and they were so short. It was a struggle getting them on. Now, I’m like, ‘Mom! Where are my skirts? No more shorts!’”
Brooklynn Prince wears a Baby Dior dress; La Coqueta shoes.
“I’m naked quite a lot in Beach Rats, and it’s a little strange to act when you’re naked. When the boom operator is standing over you, and you’re not wearing anything, it’s awkward. But, in the end, I didn’t find it difficult. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. Not in an ‘I’m happy to flaunt it for £5’ kind of way, but it does go deep into the psychology of someone trying to figure out their own sexuality, and their identity.”
Harris Dickinson wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, pants, and boots.
“As an actor, people put you in categories. It’s ‘Oh, she has an accent,’ or ‘She doesn’t have an accent,’ or ‘She can do this accent,’ or ‘No, she can’t.’ They’ll say, ‘She’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.’ So I know that for Fatih Akin to pick me was a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who casts unknowns or people he discovers who are not actors at all. In the beginning, he got a lot of backlash for it. And, in truth, I don’t think I could have played this character five years ago. Now I’m ready to shed any beauty look. I want to be stripped of any pretense, of any glamour.”
Diane Kruger wears a Rosamosario romper; Christian Louboutin shoes.
“When I was 14, I auditioned for an Off Broadway play. The scene was about a bris, the Jewish tradition of a child having the tip of his penis snipped off. Being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was, and I decided to pronounce it brie. Bris as brie. So I did the monologue, and, at the end, the director said, ‘Thank you very much, and it’s pronounced bris.’ I did not get the part.”
Ben Stiller wears a Gucci coat; Olatz pajamas.
“When I was 6, my favorite film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s got a lot of adult jokes, and it was really inappropriate for a child to see. In school, they asked us, ‘If you were to make a potion, what would you put in it?’ Even then, I could recall lines of movies, and I said, ‘The testicles of a newt!’ I got called up to the front of the class and was asked why I put testicles in my potion. I had no idea what testicles were—I just loved the film.”
Margot Robbie wears a Dolce & Gabbana top, shorts, and shoes.
“I was late to the game on The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst movie of all time. For years, I would see this billboard in L.A. that Tommy Wiseau, the actor and star of the movie, had paid to have up on Highland Avenue. It was a picture of him, sort of glaring down at you, with the words THE ROOM and a phone number. I was like, ‘What is this? Do you call the number and this crazy, weird, vampirelike guy can be in your movie?’ But then I started reading The Disaster Artist, which was written by one of the other actors in the movie, and before I was halfway through, I just knew it was such an incredible, bizarre story, unlike any other in Hollywood, about outsider artists trying to achieve their dreams. I was instantly drawn to Tommy. It’s almost like we were made for each other.”
James Franco wears a Balenciaga shirt; his own pants.
“To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.’ And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.”
Jessica Chastain wears an Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.
“Until I read the script for Lady Bird, I had never encountered a female heroine who very much sees herself as a female heroine. In films, you rarely see young girls who love themselves. Lady Bird takes the self-confidence thing to a new level. She knows she’s going to be someone. And she has something to say, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.”
Saoirse Ronan wears a Chanel dress.
Did you have an audition outfit back when you were starting out? I had multiple outfits. Much like a costume box. I would change between auditions. I remember changing in the car on the freeway. I’m still a fast changer. And discreet. I have a talent for taking my clothes off quickly.
What was your first favorite film? The Sound of Music. It was very influential. And I got to meet Captain von Trapp while filming All the Money in the World [Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after Spacey was pulled from the project]. We were about to be in this movie together, and I thought, How soon is too soon to ask Christopher Plummer to sing “Edelweiss” into my phone for my daughter?
Michelle Williams wears a Louis Vuitton dress.
“I play real people a lot. And it is a huge responsibility. Anytime you are playing somebody who was alive, for good or for bad, that performance becomes a version of an official record of what happened: what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and how they got through their particular struggle. There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself as long as you’re not turning good guys into bad guys, or knowledge into ignorance. Having said that, it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer living. Because then you don’t have to meet them.”
Tom Hanks wears a Tom Ford suit, vest, and shoes; Boss shirt; Rolex watch.
“I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.’”
Salma Hayek wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Cartier earrings.
“I was loosely attached to Call Me by Your Name for four years. It never seemed like it was coming together, and then it did. Now I’ve spent nearly two years promoting it. So, in many ways, it will be the project of my youth. When I’m older, I’ll look at this film and remember what it was like to not be jaded, old, and washed up. I’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, when I was young…’”
Timothée Chalamet wears a Sandro jacket and pants; Schiesser tank top; Sermoneta Gloves gloves; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
“My first kiss was at a party, when I was 12 or 13, during my first term at a coed school, so, you know, hormones were raging. A girl named Dora had this party when her parents were out of town, and it was literally a bacchanalia for 13-year-olds. No one was having sex, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we all get to kiss each other.’ And there were around 200 people there. It was about five hours of everyone going, ‘Have we made out yet? No? Let’s go!’ To this day, my friends and I will be in a pub or at dinner and say, ‘Remember Dora’s party?’ and sigh. It was an awakening.”
Andrew Garfield wears a Shrimps coat; Michael Kors sweater; Sunspel sweatpants.
Your first favorite film growing up. Sister Act 2.
Why do you think it’s better than the first Sister Act? Because it’s got the kids in it. It’s got the kids and they start singing and it’s a competition. Lauryn Hill’s in it, and it’s just these amazing songs that made me really happy.
Where was your first kiss? Where was my first—oh, god. Southgate. Southgate is like a bit outside of London, and it was this girl who was friends with my boy; he was dating this girl, and then like the friend was there, and we was talking to her, and then… [Laughs.]
You kissed your friend’s girlfriend. No. I kissed—
The girlfriend’s friend. Yes.
I see. Yeah, and it was in Southgate, behind KFC or something ’cause I’m romantic. And then I was really ill for like a week. I got the flu. She gave me something.
Did you see her again? Never. [Laugher.]
This one is hard to answer: First “I’ve made it” moment. Wow. I think when Sicario came out, and like we had a premiere at MoMA. And then we went to L.A., and then I came back on a bus, and the bus was changing drivers. It was really annoying ’cause I was late, then I got off the bus and there was a poster of Sicario was on the bus. [Laughs.] I was like, “That’s really weird.” [Laughs.] Um, yeah, it’s probably loads of moments: Nas posted an Instagram about Get Out, and when we was young, that’s who we debated about. Like, “Nas is the guy, man.” Ah, Jay-Z mentioned Get Out in some interview. I was watching the interview, it was like an hour long interview, and he mentioned that 40 minutes in, and I just went to bed. I was like, “I can’t. I can’t. The day’s done.” I literally went to sleep. It was just so surreal.