David Oyelowo Fights for Family As Time-Traveling Detective in “Don’t Let Go”
Saving your family from a murder that already happened sounds like an obviously impossible feat, but that’s precisely the premise of Blumhouse Tilt’s end-of summer thrill ride, “Don’t Let Go”
The time-traveling murder mystery follows David Oyelowo as Jack Radcliff: an LA detective who receives a phone call from his murdered niece (played by Storm Reid), after her and her family were killed in a violent home invasion.
The 1 hour 43-minute drama follows Oyelowo, Reid and supporting cast members Mykelti Williamson (Fences) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), around South Central LA on a high-speed, transtemporal journey to uncover their family’s killer and undo the deeds of the past with only a cell phone to crack the case.
Originally premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival under the on-the-nose nomer “Relive”, the name change wasn’t the only makeover “Don’t Let Go” received since its inception. After signing on Oyelowo, the film itself underwent an entire refashioning, taking a screenplay initially intended for a white protagonist and family set in rural Ohio and adapting it to the layered nuances of black inner-city family life.
Luckily for the film’s producers, these are precisely the types of roles that attract Oyelowo. Though he received a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King in Ava Duvernay’s Selma, the 43-year-old British American actor is more interested in taking on stories originally intended for his Caucasian peers and giving them an African American voice; a career move he credits to Hollywood icon Denzel Washington.
We sat down with David to talk all things Don’t Let Go; from how the role reflects his stance on Hollywood, hilarious behind-the scenes moments and how it’s shaped his outlook on fatherhood.
NG: Don’t Let Go is a bit different from the films we’ve seen you in before. What initially drew you to the script?
David Oyelowo: It was the idea of being prepared to do anything you can for someone you love. I’m a dad myself and that’s something I’m very connected to as an emotion. That was the thing I really recognized and what resonating with me as I read the script.
I also love time travel movies. Edge of Tomorrow is a more recent one that I thought was great but also Back II The Future . So to have something that had both of those elements – the emotion and time travel – is what drew me in.
NG: How did this role change your view of fatherhood after having to live through the trauma your character lived through?
DO: If anything it reinforces it. It reinforces the fact that I would do anything and everything I could to protect my children. It also illustrates that fatherhood is not necessarily a birthright.
Jack Radcliff, my character in the film, is Ashley’s uncle not her father, but it plays more like the father-daughter relationship. The character that Brian Tyree Henry plays as my brother is a bit of a ne’re-do-well. He’s irresponsible when it comes to being a father and that means that Ashley needs someone to fulfill that role for her in an unorthodox way; in a way other than her father seems is able to fulfill. So, I think it’s both things: what I would be prepared to do as a father and also the fact that fathers can and do take many forms.
NG: This was a very interesting film for me. Thriller/drama mixed with the fantasy element of a time travel movie; which are usually two very different experiences on screen. If there was one thing you could go back in time to change, what would it be?
DO: I think things happen for a reason but I also connect with and understand why wanting to go back and change things is a desire of ours. There’s nothing I can think of, thankfully, in my own life that I would necessarily go back and change because every experience I’ve had has continued to shape me (I’d like to think) for the better. However, I can definitely understand how under these circumstances my character Jack would want to go back and change things.
NG: The move focuses mostly on your character detective Jack Radcliff and the relationship he has with his niece Ashley, played by Storm Reid. She’s actually more of your partner in the film than your actual on-screen partner Bobby (Mykelti Williamson). How was it carrying this film with a co-star and supporting actress that’s so young?
DO: It was a real pleasure actually, because in many ways Storm Reid would be excused from not being as brilliant as she is. But she just is. I didn’t even think of her as young actress or less experienced actress because she was just so present and so believable as that character. She has something so very natural that I never felt like I was acting with someone who was less proficient than I am. If anything I had a hard time trying to keep up with just how brilliant she is in the movie.
NG: In an interview back in 2016 you talked about asking your agents to put you up for roles that your white peers would typically play. Jack Radcliff is a character I feel like we’ve seen before, but never as a black man. Was this one of those role you were going for?
DO: It 100% is. Jack Radcliff was written as a white character. It was set on a farm in Ohio. It was not in South Central LA originally. It wasn’t an African American family. What I said back in 2016 has been a guiding light for me. It’s actually something I stole from Denzel Washington who back in the day said, “Send me everything Harrison Ford is turning down.”
White actors have traditionally been afforded a level of complexity in their roles that black actors don’t necessarily get considered for. That’s also the reason I often produce my movies. I don’t want to just step into the shoes of what a white actor would have done. There is something specific about my culture, my skin and my history and I want to imbue anything I do with that. I don’t want to deny that. I want to be able to be in stories and in frameworks that are not necessarily always tied to race. That was definitely the case with Don’t Let Go.
NG: Despite the seriousness of the movie’s storyline, can you talk about some memorably funny times you had on-set with the cast while making this movie?
DO: Anyone who knows Brian Tyree Henry knows he’s a bit of a joker. There was a very gory dummy of himself which for whatever reason, he just loved. He loved walking around with the decapitated version of himself and that really freaked me out. I would not be the person walking around with a decapitated version of myself but he was taking selfies with it. He was dancing with it. It was hilarious. He’s clearly less squeamish that I am.
NG: How do you want this this particular character to shape your legacy as an actor?
DO: My hope is to be remembered as someone you couldn’t pin down in terms of the kind of characters I play, the genre and the nature of the performance I give. The actors I aspire to be like are actors who were chameleonic. Whether is Meryl Streep or Daniel Day- Lewis, who both are forever evolving and changing and who are tough to pin down; that’s definitely what I’m always looking to accomplish an actor.
Don’t Let Go premiers in theaters every where August 30th. Watch the trailer below.