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David Oyelowo talks about 'Don't Let Go,' being a dad and more

Nigerian actor David Oyelowo plays a detective getting

Nigerian actor David Oyelowo plays a detective getting calls from his murdered niece in "Don't Let Go." Credit: Getty Images/Frazer Harrison

David Oyelowo’s new thriller “Don’t Let Go” delivers plot twists, turns and one unusual distinction — it may actually have audiences hoping and praying that a teenager WON’T hang up her phone. We’re talking an alternate reality, clearly.

Writer-director Jacob Estes' film, which hits theaters Aug. 30, tracks a Los Angeles police detective (Oyelowo) who is shocked to receive a cell-phone call from his beloved — and recently murdered — niece (Storm Reid). The teen, you see, is somehow calling from the past (just imagine the roaming charges) and the two must work together to solve the crime and prevent it from ever happening.

Born in England to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo (his name is pronounced “oh-YELL-oh-woh”) garnered acclaim as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma” (2014). He also co-starred as Javert in the BBC miniseries “Les Misérables,” which will be seen on PBS this spring. Fans can catch him in the upcoming “Come Away” with Angelina Jolie and “The Water Man,” his directorial debut.

The actor, 43, spoke recently by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

As I watched “Don’t Let Go,” I couldn’t help but think of “Memento,” “Sliding Doors,” even “Groundhog Day.” All films with quirky takes on time.

Those films were definitely inspirations. But the thing I love about “Don’t Let Go” is the way ... it’s steeped in a kind of unconventional love story — a familial love story between this uncle and his niece.

It’s true, we don’t often see that relationship on screen.

I’m always looking for material that has something to say. I enjoy a piece of fluffy entertainment as much as the next person, but sometimes with genre films like this it’s all popcorn and no meat.

Being able to go back in time — or at least phone there — begs the question: If you could go back in time and get a do-over, where would you go?

Well, in secondary school — I guess we call it high school here — there were some fashion choices I’d definitely like to go back and rectify, umm, for sure. (He laughs.) No, the thing that really struck me making the film … I lost my mom two years ago.

Oh, I’m sorry.

Thank you. It was the first time I’d lost someone that close to me.  And you do find yourself thinking, “Gosh, if I had the time again, what would I say? What would I do differently?” My mom and I had a wonderful relationship and not too much was left unsaid, but it definitely made me be able to relate to this idea that if I could do anything to bring back a loved one, I’d do it. By and large, I am a believer that things happen for a reason, and going back to try to change things is kind of futile…and probably not what we’re designed to do. I think we should leave the past alone. But, and this is the contradiction for me, as a father, if I could do anything to prevent anything detrimental happening to my children, I would do it. I’d totally be trying to reach back through time.

So the fact that you’re a dad with four kids, it sounds like that had an impact on why you took this role.

It was a huge factor. This emotional drive through the script of save her, save her, save her, save her — that was the thing that really gripped me. I’m also always looking for roles that are a challenge and defy expectation. And I’m known for more historical roles … period dramas. So the action elements, the thriller elements, the time travel — these were all new for me.

What’s it been like for you and your wife as Brits transplanted to Los Angeles?

We moved here in 2007. My four children were born here. We’ve since become American citizens. This town and this country and this industry have been incredibly good to me.

Some people see L.A. and Hollywood as this godless, immoral place. But you’re a fairly religious man and clearly find a way to make it work.

Yeah … that was very much my dad’s attitude about the entertainment industry — period. I might not have gone into acting if I was one of those teenagers who listened to … his parents. (He chuckles.) Which clearly I’m not. I’ve lived in Lagos, London, New York, L.A. What helps is that I’m here with my wife, my four kids, my three dogs, my dad and we have a sort of inbuilt community that offsets all the craziness. I’m not running about town schmoozing the whole time. By and large, you’ll find me at home, on a film set, or at church. (He chuckles again.) So that definitely helps with keeping your nose clean. 

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