Friday, May 29 at 9 PM

Nightingale

HBO Films

Interview with David Oyelowo

HBO

What do remember about the first time you read the ‘Nightingale’ script?

David Oyelowo

I have very vivid memories of the first time I read the script because I hadn't read anything quite like it before. I’d had experiences [with similar material] in the theater, when I’d done a play called Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound.’ Prometheus is a god who gives mankind the gift of fire, and Zeus ties him to a rock where he has his liver pecked by an eagle for 13 generations. That was about an hour and 45 minutes of wailing at Zeus -- you can do that in a theater. Those kinds of opportunities very rarely come along with film because it can be a safer and less adventurous, less inventive medium. This felt like the kind of piece that came along once in a lifetime, and I thought, “This can't be done. Let’s do it.”

HBO

Why didn’t you think it could be done?

David Oyelowo

As viewers of film, we are predisposed to go on a visual journey that takes us through different environments. You have the car chase, the love interest, the sex scene, the climax. As a result, audiences have come to expect certain things when they watch a film. Now if you have one actor, in a house on his own, there is [seemingly] no chance for any of that. But, you still have to have all of those things. You have to find inventive ways of doing the same thing. The equivalent of the car chase for us in ‘Nightingale’ is when Peter has an emotional meltdown.

HBO

How did you prepare for such an intense role?

David Oyelowo

When Elliott [Lester, who directed the film] and I honed in on the fact that Peter essentially had seven different personalities that was the point at which I felt I had to do something I’d never done before as an actor, which was to stay in character the whole time. I just didn’t know how to have that many human beings revolving around in my head and still have me in there as well. So for the three weeks that we shot the film, I didn’t come out of character. I have a wife and four lovely children, and I felt Peter Snowden isn't the guy you want around your kids, so I moved into a friend’s apartment while he was away doing another film. That degree of mania, that degree of complexity is something I’d never played before and I didn’t know the effect it would have on me. I watch ‘Nightingale’ now, and I'm a little freaked out by it. I can see that I'm shifting through personas, and I'm making choices that I wouldn’t make as an actor just playing a role.

HBO

After living and breathing as Peter Snowden for three weeks, how did you feel when they called a wrap on the last day of filming?

David Oyelowo

When they said, “It’s a wrap,” I was able to shelve Peter immediately. The funniest thing was that our crew didn’t realize I was English. They asked me, “What are you doing? Why are you talking funny?” I think people left the set more traumatized than they’d been by being around Peter for three weeks. It took me a moment to click into myself as well. I’d never literally just shelved myself. I still had some of David’s thoughts, but they got a little blurry there for a while. I remember dreaming in an American accent, which is the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced as an actor.

"Peter is someone who feels a real need to be connected to people but doesn’t have the emotional tools to actually do it."
HBO

What is the significance of Peter’s YouTube videos?

David Oyelowo

We live in an age of immense connectivity, and the by-product of that is isolation. Peter is someone who feels a real need to be connected to people but doesn’t have the emotional tools to actually do it. So much of what you see in ‘Nightingale’ is Peter’s desire for connection but his inability to actually connect and so this artificial form of connection through YouTube gives him self-esteem. I think anyone and everyone who’s on social media, who is constantly checking how many likes or comments they have on anything they’ve posted, can relate to the fact that it has become a bizarre boost to the ego.

HBO

Can you talk about Peter’s relationship with his mother? What do you think drove him to kill her?

David Oyelowo

In a family, you can stay a certain age for years. He’s a man in his mid-30s who still lives at home with his mother who takes care of all of his needs and tells him what to do. Even though she wants him to mature, she also needs him to stay a child because -- with her husband passing away and her daughter having left home -- she needs to keep him in a certain state so he won’t leave. To have him mature would be awful for her. Peter also had an overbearing father who was a very much a man’s man, and when Peter was in the military, he felt the huge pressure of what it is to be a man under those circumstances as well.

This bleeds into what one of the syndromes I think Peter has, called reaction formation. It’s basically what we do when we have extremely dark feelings about something, so we go completely the other way. Peter convinces himself that he loves his mother dearly because his feelings for her are actually very dark. When he has a friend whom he wants to come for dinner and she says no, this is the final straw for Peter. It’s the moment beyond which 30-odd years of being told what to do bursts into an act of real darkness.