David Oyelowo interview: ‘Don’t Let Go’ film adds smartphone twist to time travel genre
David Oyelowo and Storm Reid appear in <i>Relive</i> by Jacob Estes, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance.
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David Oyelowo is best known for playing a convincing Martin Luther King Jr. in the award-winning film "Selma" shot in metro Atlanta and released five years ago.
The 43-year-old actor is now lead in another serious but seriously fictional drama with a modern time-travel twist called “Don’t Let Go,” out Friday.
In it, his police detective character Jack Ratcliff discovers his niece Ashley (Storm Reid) and her parents are brutally murdered.
Mired in a spiral of grief and self recrimination, he suddenly gets a call from his niece on his phone. That alone makes no sense. Then he figures out she is talking to him from two weeks earlier before her actual murder. They are basically conversing simultaneously from two time periods.
The rest of the film focuses on him trying to help her prevent her own death while he figures out who is to blame.
Oyelowo, in Atlanta recently to promote the film, said the movie is ultimately about the love between his character and his niece, who is like the daughter he never had.
“The theme is what lengths are you prepared to go to save someone you love?” he said. “This is wrapped up brilliantly in the time-travel genre and a psychological thriller whodunit.”
Oyelowo noted that this isn’t your typical father/daughter dynamic. “This type of relationship between an uncle and niece feels more like a choice,” he said. “She is from a dysfunctional family and sees him as a sort of father figure. They really do love each other and this is further evidenced in what they do to reconnect in the light of tragedy.”
Reid, a 16-year-old Atlanta native playing his niece, is an actress on the rise with an upcoming role in the Atlanta-shot “Suicide Squad,” which beings production soon.
Oyelowo, who is an executive producer on the film, said casting the Ashley role was crucial.
"We needed to find someone with the prowess of a Natalie Portman who could bring emotional intelligence at such a young age," he said. "I went to visit my friend Ava DuVernay on the 'A Wrinkle in Time' set. I saw Storm and thought, 'Whoa! I think this is someone who has what it takes!' She showed a special kind of maturity and aptitude. We did a chemistry test and it was clear she had the chops."
Ironically, because of the fact the two characters spend much of the film talking to each other on the phone across time, they actually spend a good portion of the movie separated.
To bolster a sense of intimacy, the two actors made a pact: if Oyelowo were on camera talking to Reid, she would be on set just out of earshot and vice versa.
“There is this inherent distance on the phone,” he said. “It was a challenge for sure. We didn’t want to take any chances.”
During a key diner scene, for instance, Oyelowo would sit in a car in the parking lot and be on the phone actually talking to her.
Oyelowo said when the script came to him, it was set on a farm in Ohio with a white cast. He changed that.
“We really opened the film up by moving to Los Angeles while continuing to work the time element,” he said. “We didn’t want to spoon-feed the audience this intellectually dense idea. We kept trying to strip it down and have the audience stay on the ride rather than have to do a bunch of math.”
And unlike “Selma,” this film involved a lot of outdoor shots in the Los Angeles heat.
“There was a lot of running around trying not to die,” Oyelowo said, with a chuckle. “The sweat was real. There was no acting involve there.”
“Don’t Let Go,” opening wide in theaters August 30
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.