‘The Water Man’: David Oyelowo On His Feature Directing Debut, The Importance Of Representation & How His Kids Affect His Work – Q&A

Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor David Oyelowo marks his characteristic directorial debut with The Water Man, a sci-fi journey story a few boy in the hunt for a legendary creature with the power to cheat dying, which simply had its premiere at TIFF.

“I would describe it as life-affirming,” Oyelowo advised Deadline of his first go-around within the director’s seat. “As an actor, you are part of telling a story. As a director, you are the storyteller, and that was something I really just loved.”

Oyelowo, who directed from a script by Emma Needell, additionally co-stars alongside Lonnie Chavis, Rosario Dawson, Amiah Miller, Alfred Molina and Maria Bello.

The plot follows younger Gunner (Chavis) who units off with a neighborhood misfit named Jo (Miller) to search out the legendary Water Man so as to save his sick mom (Dawson). While extraordinarily near his mom, he and his father Amos (Oyelowo) are compelled to study one another as Amos goes on the seek for his son.

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“He is prepared to put himself in harm’s way to do that,” stated Oyelowo forward of the pic’s Toronto Film Festival premiere. “Personally, I find sacrificial love to be the greatest attribute we as human beings have. Anyone who puts themselves on the line for someone else, in my opinion, is a hero. To see that manifest in an 11-year-old boy, for his mother, was just something I found and find very moving.”

For Oyelowo, this movie not solely harkens again to the films he beloved rising up, like Goonies and Stand By Me, but it surely’s additionally one thing that the daddy of 4 can get pleasure from along with his youngsters.

Lonnie Chavis, left, and Amiah Miller in ‘The Water Man.’
Karen Ballard

“One of the things I want to do is to create art that my kids see themselves reflected in because I think that is also radical, and it also affirms your existence, the fact that you can see yourself reflected as the protagonist or in the center of a film narrative,” he stated.

Oyelowo was very eager on constructing a world that’s reflective of his personal, even incorporating some cultural references for his Nigerian heritage. His hope is that those that expertise the movie “see themselves reflected and hopefully to see their minds and their hearts both engaged and moved.”

“That’s my goal,” he stated. “I think that the most satisfying feeling I have when I watch a film is when my head is engaged, and my heart is also engaged, and that’s what we tried to do with The Water Man. I hope it entertains people and moves them at the same time.”

Here is extra of Deadline’s dialog with Oyelowo:

DEADLINE: I wish to congratulate you in your first movie as director. And it’s at TIFF. What are you feeling this second, now that that is all taking place?

DAVID OYELOWO: Well, one of many issues I’ve skilled with a number of the different administrators I’ve labored with is simply how exposing it’s to direct a movie. As an actor, you may conceal behind modifying, the script, advertising and marketing, you recognize? There are so many issues that kind of mitigate the danger when it comes to you being blamed for something that goes flawed with the movie, however as a director, it’s your imaginative and prescient. You’re the captain of this ship, and in order that’s very exposing. It’s additionally thrilling. I’m somebody who likes to really feel the worry and do it anyway, so it’s a myriad of feelings in the intervening time.

DEADLINE: This mission was first introduced in, I consider it was 2015, and it was introduced that you just had been going to supply with Oprah Winfrey’s firm, Harpo Films. How did this script come about, and what made you wish to take it on?

OYELOWO: Emma Needell wrote the script. The script was on the Black List, and I used to be within the technique of searching for one thing precisely like this. I’ve 4 youngsters, and I really like watching motion pictures with them, and the reality of the matter is, after you run out of the Marvel motion pictures, the Disney motion pictures, the Star Wars motion pictures, the sort of movies I grew up loving appeared skinny on the bottom. Films like Goonies or Stand by Me or NeverEnding Story or Close Encounters. Films that didn’t should be made on the hundred-million-dollars-and-up worth vary however had journey, had escapism but additionally had some that means to them. Something that will engender a dialog.

I keep in mind E.T. being the primary time I had witnessed a single-parent household on display, as an illustration. I used to be searching for a mission that I might be completely happy to share with my youngsters, that they might be entertained by, but additionally have some that means to them. My company, CAA, introduced me The Water Man, and it was precisely what I used to be searching for. I wasn’t pondering of directing at that time.

David Oyelowo in ‘The Water Man’
Photo by Karen Ballard/courtesy of The Water Man

DEADLINE: When did you determine to direct?

OYELOWO: I knew that I wished to direct someday, however in 2015, my thoughts wasn’t in a spot of “let me find a vehicle to direct.” What occurred is that we truly had a director and we had been within the technique of creating the script. That director left to go and do one other mission, and we had truly had a begin date. We had financing. We even solid Lonnie Chavis for the position of Gunner, after which we misplaced our director. It was truly Emma, our author, who turned to me and stated, “Look, David, you’ve been with this project for four years, I don’t think anyone knows this project better than you. I think you should direct it.” Which gave me pause, however I knew directing was one thing I wished to take action I made a decision to leap in.

DEADLINE: Was it a worry factor, such as you had been saying earlier than?

OYELOWO: Yeah. I search for artistic endeavors that scare me. I do assume that’s how nice artwork has a possible of being made when it feels harmful. It was a bit scary. I took about two weeks to consider it, however I noticed that it was a mission I used to be passionate sufficient about to dedicate the time required and so I jumped in.

DEADLINEHow would you describe your first expertise with directing a characteristic?

OYELOWO: I might describe it as life-affirming. I had a really wonderful time with this solid and crew. I’m somebody who actually loves that I get to inform tales. As an actor, you might be a part of telling a narrative. As a director, you’re the storyteller and that was one thing I actually simply beloved. And I had wonderful individuals round me, who actually elevated each thought I had getting into.

DEADLINEWas there something specifically in regards to the Water Man story that drew you in?

OYELOWO: The movie is a few younger child who’s attempting to find the Water Man, this mythic determine who is meant to have the present of with the ability to cheat dying. His mom is extremely sick, and so he goes to search for the Water Man so as to save his mom and he’s ready to place himself in hurt’s manner to do this.

Personally, I discover sacrificial like to be the best attribute we as human beings have. Anyone who places themselves on the road for another person, in my view, is a hero. To see that manifest in an 11-year-old boy, for his mom, was simply one thing I discovered and discover very shifting.

DEADLINE: I additionally actually appreciated the build-out of the connection with the daddy and the son, with Gunner and Amos. There’s a little bit of a disconnect, however there’s nonetheless this love between him and his mum or dad. You talked about you having youngsters and wanting to observe one thing like this. How necessary was it to point out that father-son dynamic?

OYELOWO: Absolutely. They say write what you recognize, and I might in all probability say direct what you recognize, as nicely.  I’ve three sons myself, and I really like them deeply. They are wonderful youngsters, but it surely’s not at all times plain crusing. Any mum or dad will inform you that, and so, to point out a number of the dysfunction that may occur inside a loving household is simply actuality. At the tip of the day, if love can conquer that dysfunction, if self-sacrifice will help you discover your manner again to one another, I feel that, once more, is one of the best of who we’re, as individuals, and is what, actually as a mum or dad, I aspire to. I attempt to be an excellent mum or dad.

I do know I’m imperfect, however I wish to do all the pieces I can to principally give my youngsters one of the best shot they’ve in life. When the script truly got here to me, it was set in Montana, with a white household. What I see a dearth of in motion pictures is seeing black households the place their battle is just not at all times by means of the lens of race or financial struggles that they’ve. We as black and brown individuals have the identical challenges individuals have everywhere in the world, and it’s not at all times tied to the colour of our pores and skin.

I feel it’s as radical to point out a loving black household going by means of what we’d name quote-unquote regular points, in addition to racial points. That was one thing that I used to be actually completely happy to showcase, as nicely.

DEADLINEAlso, it’s very refreshing to see a black household at this middle of this kind of style, proper? The fantasy sci-fi style, had been you at all times a fan?

OYELOWO: I’ve at all times been a fan of that style. I feel most individuals are, however you recognize the reality of the matter is rising up, I used to be by no means actually mirrored in these narratives, these movies that I talked about, that I beloved. Whether it’s Goonies or Stand by Me or Close Encounters, these types of adventure-based movies the place you will have younger individuals on the middle of the narrative. I by no means bought to see myself mirrored. One of the issues I wish to do is to create artwork that my youngsters see themselves mirrored in as a result of I feel that can be radical, and it additionally affirms your existence, the truth that you may see your self mirrored because the protagonist, or within the middle of a movie narrative.

DEADLINE: Were you the kind of person who was actually into folklore or mythology rising up? 

OYELOWO: Well, as you recognize, I’m of Nigerian descent. I lived in Nigeria from the age of 6 to 13. Nigeria has an extremely wealthy custom of storytelling, with mythic figures. There’s an oral custom of passed-down narratives, and I bought to expertise a few of that. So the mix of my love of movie, after which rising up in that atmosphere, meant that I used to be very eager to hearken to, expertise, and be a part of telling these sorts of tales.

DEADLINE: What would you say the Water Man represents on this story?

OYELOWO: The Water Man for me, represents hope. He’s an emblem of hope, a mythic determine who has the power to cheat dying, however the hope that the movie tries to investigate is, the place does your hope lie? Where ought to your hope lie? Should your hope lie in with the ability to dwell eternally, or ought to your hope lie in loving these you will have been given to like? And that’s the journey that Gunner goes on.

He’s making an attempt to carry on to issues, and the query is how onerous do you maintain on, and the way a lot do you lose by holding on so tight? That’s the journey, and what I really like about these sorts of myths, once they have youngsters on the middle of them, is once they don’t patronize the intelligence of these youngsters. It is when their feelings are valued, and never undermined.

At 11, you may nonetheless really feel very massive feelings. You’re nonetheless going by means of issues that may generally be robust. Sometimes you don’t totally perceive. That’s why we name these sorts of narratives rites of passage. You are going from one part of your life into one other, and that’s very a lot what Gunner goes by means of on this story.

DEADLINE: Speaking of being from Nigeria, like we stated earlier, you clearly couldn’t assist however discover the cultural references that had been included on this story from the music to the garb. Am I protected to imagine that there was a significant intention behind that?

Karen Ballard

OYELOWO: Yeah. I’m so glad you noticed that. For me, once I was rising up, not solely did I not see myself represented when it comes to somebody who appears to be like like me, however I didn’t see my tradition represented. Africa is a large continent that has influenced the world enormously in terms of music and style and tradition and artwork. Yet, in Western filmmaking, very hardly ever is there an acknowledgment of that.

In the rating, we regularly use classical music with Western European devices, however for me, devices in motion pictures needs to be there as a result of they evoke a sure emotion, and so, we’ve got used African drums within the rating. We have used Afrobeat music. Even although they’re an American household, they’re related to their African roots, and so that you see that within the furnishings. You see that within the clothes. You see that of their id, they usually don’t put on it in some sort of entrance footed apparent manner. It’s simply a part of who they’re and that’s my expertise.

That’s what I see in so many African Americans as nicely. It’s an embrace of that heritage, and I wished to point out that in each side of the movie, within the manufacturing design, within the costume, within the music, and in a number of the attitudes. I actually pushed Rosario to have her middle of gravity be a bit decrease, in a way, as a mom in direction of her son, and that’s one thing I positively see in African ladies, African-American ladies, Afro-Latina ladies, as nicely. So, that’s one thing we wished to permeate the movie.

DEADLINE: You directed, produced and acted on this film. What would you say was your largest problem, and what did you study from the expertise?

OYELOWO: The largest problem is the second the place it’s a must to direct your self, in a way, as a result of typically, you’re so reliant on another person guiding you, and while you’re directing, you will have so many issues in your thoughts. When I’m appearing, particularly if it’s an intense position, I’m typically in a little bit little bit of a tunnel-vision house. That means I possibly hold to myself a little bit bit extra, simply in order that I keep within the zone of that character.

You can’t afford to do this while you’re directing. Everyone has a query. Everyone has a necessity, and also you’re the one who has to attempt to assist them do one of the best of what they’ve been tasked to do. So I bought actually nice recommendation from the likes of Joel Edgerton, who’s an actor who’s additionally directed very efficiently, Nate Parker the identical, and Mel Gibson. I reached out to these guys, all of them associates of mine, and really Joel gave me a extremely, actually nice piece of recommendation, which was by no means, while you’re in a scene, as an actor, name reduce, after which instantly begin directing the actor reverse you earlier than strolling away from them.

You virtually should stroll away from them, put your director hat on, and are available again, in order that they don’t really feel like they’re being judged or analyzed throughout an interplay between characters, and that was one thing that actually helped me. I made certain I wasn’t the one who stated motion and reduce, as nicely. My first AD did that, simply in order that there was a demarcation between David the actor and David the director. It’s positively a little bit of a schizophrenic endeavor, directing one thing you’re in.

My spouse, Jessica, actually helped me. She was there to sort of let me know if I used to be faking it till I made it, and fortunately she would simply give me a delicate thumbs-up, and that made me really feel assured.

DEADLINE: Are you the kind of one that is continually occupied with the kind of legacy that you just wish to depart by means of your work? Is that one thing you consider while you select what initiatives to tackle?

OYELOWO: It is, and it’s each a blessing and a burden, if I’m completely sincere. I feel as a black artistic, for me, anyway, I’m at all times conscious of the cultural efficiency of this medium. When you’re younger, you don’t essentially even actually totally consciously notice how a lot you’re being influenced by the pictures you’re seeing, however whether or not you prefer it or not, you might be being influenced. They are telling you one thing about your self. They are telling you one thing about different individuals.

They are telling you who’s necessary, what’s necessary, what’s morally proper, what’s morally flawed, and that’s a duty I take very severely. So, sure, it positively performs into the alternatives I make — doubly so, once I’m producing or directing. I at all times have my youngsters on my thoughts. Is what I’m placing out on this planet in lockstep with what I’m making an attempt to show my youngsters, as a result of I don’t assume you may totally separate the 2. I don’t assume I will be espousing sure values, after which my work be opposite to these. It is one thing that’s typically on my thoughts.

DEADLINE: I consider that solely six black administrators ever have been nominated for an Oscar, and clearly thus far, no black filmmaker has gained. This 12 months appears to be a transformative 12 months, not simply on this world with what’s happening but additionally in Hollywood. It looks as if there have been extra significant discussions about placing issues in place to fight the shortage of variety and inclusion that we’ve skilled all through the years. Do you’re feeling that significant adjustments are coming, and do you’re feeling like it’ll be lasting, not only a second in our historical past?

OYELOWO: This might be one of many first instances I’ll say in an interview, sure. I do assume that there’s lasting change. I feel initiatives just like the Academy simply put out places our enterprise on discover. Because on the finish of the day, what has occurred historically, and traditionally, is the Academy, and Hollywood usually, has principally set the usual for what needs to be valued and is efficacious to them, and due to this fact to the world.

So by placing out these inclusion initiatives, it’s reframing what needs to be valued, and what needs to be beneficial to our enterprise, and to the world. The reality of the matter is in case you don’t adhere to these issues now, the celebration of your work could also be curtailed. That is one thing that we haven’t had earlier than. We’ve simply had these insidious, quiet however evident circumstances whereby we simply know we’re being handled lesser than, and so, that shift within the worth system is unquestionably important and inspiring to somebody like me, who’s making an attempt to place work out, that the kind of photos I’m making an attempt to create are being valued.

DEADLINE: What do hope individuals take away after watching The Water Man?

OYELOWO: Well, I spoke to that in the identical manner that the movies that I really like sharing with my youngsters. What I’m searching for is escapism, is journey, however to see themselves mirrored, and hopefully to see their minds and their hearts each engaged and moved. That’s my purpose. I feel that essentially the most satisfying feeling I’ve once I watch a movie is when my head is engaged, and my coronary heart can be engaged, and that’s what we tried to do with The Water Man. I hope it entertains individuals and strikes them on the similar time.

DEADLINE: In normal, what would you say you’re trying ahead to essentially the most? 

OYELOWO: What an enormous query. What I’m trying ahead to essentially the most is, and this sounds very lofty, however is a world the place the teachings realized over this very making an attempt time for humanity begin being utilized. I feel there’s much more kindness we will afford to offer one another. There are some systemic issues that want to vary, that the pandemic has highlighted. What we’re doing to our planet is de facto reprehensible, however having been starved of the contact we took as a right, I hope and pray we get again to that, and after we do, we simply do it higher.

Sumati Pavagi

A late bloomer but an early learner, Sumati likes to be honestly biased. Though fascinated by the far-flung corners of the galaxy, She doesn’t fancy the idea of humans moving to Mars. Sumati is a Contributing Author for Buzzfeed. e-mail:

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