Although he’s been acting since his teens, 2017 was definitely Daniel Kaluuya’s breakout year — thanks to his critically-acclaimed performance in the little horror movie that could, Get Out.
The UK native’s soulful, teary-eyed performance in the Jordan Peele-directed thriller earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor on Tuesday, and he’s already banked a role in a Marvel movie. Here are five things you need to know about this rising star.
He does a great American accent, for a Brit
If Get Out was your first exposure to Kaluuya, 28, you might be surprised to learn that he’s a Brit. The actor told the New York Times he grew up with his mother and an older sister in a housing project, in North London. He got into acting after a suggestion from a primary school teacher who thought he could put his “very busy” energy into the arts. “So, I wrote a play,” he told the Times. “The teacher said I was difficult, and I thought, ‘I’ll show you.’”
He caught the acting bug early
After writing his play and winning an award for it, at age 9, Kaluuya fully caught the acting bug via drop-in improv classes at a neighborhood theater.
“Being young, working class and black, everything you do is policed,” Kaluuya told the Times. “If someone hits you and you hit back, you are aggressive. If you cry, you are weak. You are kind of always pretending to be something. But in those improv classes, there was no pressure to be anything except honest, and that made me happy.”
He landed his first TV role at age 16
Although he didn’t attend a formal acting school, Kaluuya has said he considers every new role an opportunity to study. His first TV role was in the BBC drama Shoot the Messenger, with David Oyelowo. After that he landed a part on the UK’s long-running teen drama Skins, on which he served as an actor and a writer. His work on Skins led him to theater work and a critically-acclaimed play called “Sucker Punch” by Roy Williams, and then an acclaimed episode of Black Mirror called “Fifteen Million Merits.” One important fan of Kaluuya’s performance in “Fifteen Million Merits” was Get Out director Jordan Peele.
Getting into Get Out
Kaluuya got an email from his agent with the script for Get Out — a thriller about a young black man (Kaluuya) who goes to visit his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) white family for the first time and things do not go according to any normal sort of plan. First, Kaluuya couldn’t believe Peele knew who he was but second, he couldn’t believe that he might have an opportunity to make a horror movie with a social conscience.
“When I first read the script I thought, ‘Can you make a film like this?'” he told Entertainment Weekly. “‘Are you allowed to make a film like this, a thriller that’s dealing with social issues? But because of Jordan’s voice it has layers of comedy, layers of suspense, but also the issue that it’s dealing with isn’t funny. And Jordan’s gift is that he’s managed to do that in an entertaining piece.”
RELATED: Oscars 2018 Nominations: ‘Get Out’ and ‘Lady Bird’ Score Big
Kaluuya credits Peele with being the genius architect behind the production and the reason the film deserves all its acclaim.
“It was a 23-day shoot, so there wasn’t a lot of time, but he did it for us and made us feel welcome,” Kaluuya told Interview magazine. “Obviously, he has an acting background, but also he has an improv background, which I have as well and Allison [Williams] has. He allowed us to go off-script and, if it was not feeling right, just free up. Then there were some days he’d direct us as Tracy Morgan, which was incredible.”
He’s just getting started
Next up for Kaluuya is the Stephen McQueen (12 Years a Slave) film Widows and a role in Marvel’s highly-anticipated movie Black Panther, which hits theaters in February. Kaluuya told GQ that the film, the first stand-alone Marvel feature about a black superhero, is “an African blockbuster.” This is like Game of Thrones. This is crazy. And [director] Ryan Coogler is just, man dem. He’s like us! He’s a normal dude, in a Golden State hat and a Tupac T-shirt directing the whole set. It’s the most beautiful thing to see.”