Actor David Oyelowo, breaking boundaries even in space
In Selma, he played civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. fighting for social justice. In George Clooney's The Midnight Sky, airing on Netflix, he fights for the future of humanity.
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As the world continues to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, you might wonder if people are up for a movie about an apocalyptic event that threatens all life on our planet. But that's exactly what George Clooney is up to with The Midnight Sky, a sci-fi drama he directs and stars in and which will be released Dec. 23 on Netflix.
Based on the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the movie is about a spaceship returning to Earth after a mission to discover habitable planets in our solar system. But the journey home is derailed after a global catastrophe pretty much wipes out most of life on Earth. Clooney plays a scientist and loner, who decides to remain at his Arctic station after disaster strikes. But he soon risks his life, for reasons that aren't obvious at first, to warn the deep-space astronauts it's not safe to return home.
One of those astronauts is played by David Oyelowo, an actor you may know from his role as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie Selma.
Oyelowo describes The Midnight Sky, which also stars award-winning actors Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler, as a sci-fi story "with a brain." Yes, it's a big movie set in space with big action sequences. But the story delivers a quiet film, one that focuses on the journey each character takes at what is the end -- or the beginning -- of a new chapter in human history.
"What drew me to the material was how despite the fact it's a sci-fi movie, it's a space movie, it's a big movie, that it actually dealt with the story in a very personal, intimate way," Oyelowo, 44, tells me in an interview for CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast series. Clooney's character is "someone who spends their life with a big goal -- the planet -- and securing its future. That has been a big priority of his for all of his life, but the victim of that has been his family life, his ability to connect personally with those closest to him and those who love him and he loves."
"Then you juxtapose that with this crew of astronauts who have been tasked with finding a planet that humanity can now colonize, because we have so detrimentally affected our own planet," he adds. "You see in the characters, played by myself and Felicity Jones, that they also have problems with connection. You could argue that's why they can make peace with being away from Earth for two years as they go and find another planet. But in running away from Planet Earth, they find each other."
The British actor hopes the message people take away from the movie is that, at the end of the day -- or the end of the world -- what's important is people, people helping each other, and the sacrifices we make to save those we love. And he believes the timing -- the movie wrapped up filming in February right before the world went into COVID-19 lockdown -- is an important reminder of how quickly life can change.
"The levels of isolation, the schools closing ... just the sheer knock-on effect of this virus that started in one part of the world and spread. It both illustrated how connected we are, and how fragile we are," he says. "And so even though I don't think the [pandemic] denotes the end of the world, it definitely shows that we are more fragile than we thought we were."
I also spoke with him about how the movie showcases a diverse team of astronauts not only with a commander of African descent (Oyelowo's parents are Nigerian), but also a pregnant woman. We talked about how tech plays into the film, and how he uses it in real life -- he's a big fan of Apple's Airpods but would embrace flying cars that could take him above the traffic in Los Angeles.
And we talked about how he's obsessed with the skill, gamesmanship and artistry of mixed martial arts as he prepares to take on the role of noted professional boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. "I don't know what it is about seeing two grown men pummel each other into a bloody mess," he says with a laugh about his "love" of MMA. "It is brutal, but there's something about it. It's very primal and intellectual for me ... It goes to the heart of what it is to survive."