David Oyelowo on taking ownership of his role in George Clooney’s ‘The Midnight Sky’

the midnight sky 2 netflix

  • David Oyelowo spoke to Insider about getting the rare chance to speak in his British accent for his role in Netflix's "The Midnight Sky."
  • Director George Clooney also encouraged him to make the character his own by changing the character name to one with a Nigerian last name.
  • Oyelowo also talked about how his character changed when Felicity Jones became pregnant before shooting.
  • At first, Clooney tried to shoot her with VFX so she didn't look pregnant, that was scrapped and it led to Jones and Oyelowo's characters having a deeper connection.
  • "He wanted to bring ourselves to the performances," Oyelowo said of Clooney's direction.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In George Clooney's latest directing effort, "The Midnight Sky," David Oyelowo got to do something he rarely gets to do these days: use his own voice.

The British actor went into the project — which follows a scientist (Clooney) who's trying to find a way to communicate with astronauts that are heading back to an unlivable Earth — thinking he would have to sport an American accent. But when talking to Clooney about playing the captain of the space shuttle Æther, the actor was surprised by the outcome.

"We landed on the British accent because to be perfectly frank we wanted the film to feel as diverse but also as pertinent to us as people as possible," Oyelowo told Insider over Zoom earlier this month.

The movie is based on the 2017 book "Good Morning, Midnight" by Lily Brooks-Dalton. In it, the captain of Æther is named Harper, who is described as a soft-spoken but respected leader who has a crush on crew mate Sully.

David Oyelowo radically changed his character from how he's in the book "The Midnight Sky" is based on.
Netflix

But in one of several surprises the actor would encounter while making the movie, Clooney encouraged Oyelowo to divert from the source material and take ownership of the character.

"George really wanted us to bring ourselves to the roles," Oyelowo said. "So I changed that character's name from Commander Harper to Commander Gordon Adewole, which is a Nigerian name. I hadn't seen an African astronaut before let alone someone who is tasked with saving all of humanity."

A more dramatic development was finding that his costar Felicity Jones, who plays Sully, was pregnant before shooting began.

Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo in "The Midnight Sky."
Philippe Antonello/Netflix

"I remember the very first time I heard she was pregnant it was actually at the Governors Awards and one of the executives from Netflix pulled me to the side and said, 'little development,'" Oyelowo recalled. "And I thought whoa, what are we doing?"

It was initially decided to hide Jones' pregnancy with clever camerawork. 

Clooney would shoot the Sully scenes three times: once with Jones, a second time with her body double, and a third time with no one in the shot. Then the post-production team would use all that footage to digitally place Felicity's face over the body double's in the actual scene.

Oyelowo said they did that for a week of shooting until it was realized it wasn't the best idea.

"It so went against the way George wanted to do this film," Oyelowo said. "He wanted to bring ourselves to the performances. So quite rightly the decision was made very quickly to go back to embracing that."

(L-R) George Clooney, David Oyelowo, and Tiffany Boone on the set of "The Midnight Sky."
Philippe Antonello/Netflix

In the book, Sully and Harper are not romantically linked. Sully is distant until the very end when she reciprocates her feelings toward Harper.

Due to Jones' pregnancy, the dynamic changed between Sully and Oyelowo's Adewole character. In the movie it's more evident that the two are romantically linked and that Adewole is the father of Sully's child. Oyelowo felt that happy accident was perfect for the story they were telling.

"I think both Felicity's pregnancy and the pandemic made the film feel more poignant than it originally was," he said.

Looking back on the making of the movie, what stands out most for Oyelowo is the trust Clooney had in his actors, despite it causing major alterations to the story he wanted to tell.

"I think the number one key to success in being an actor/director is to hire great people and let them do their job," Oyelowo explained. "Let them elevate your vision. Be clear about your vision and let them elevate it and that's what George did. That's clear in using Felicity's pregnancy and my cultural background. Those things enriched the film. That's what a good director does."


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