Q&A: David Oyelowo Goes Toe-to-Toe With Tom Cruise

It's been a big year for David Oyelowo, who delivered stellar performances in everything from the Nicole Kidman indie(ish) thriller "The Paperboy" to Oscar favorite "Lincoln." But he's not done yet.

The British thesp and father of four has one last feature hitting screens before 2012 draws to a close — a little flick you may have heard of starring Tom Cruise called "Jack Reacher," based on the best-selling series by Lee Child. Oyelowo plays Emerson, an exacting detective who isn't down with Reacher's fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style. We caught up with Oyelowo to talk Tom Cruise, being fiscally responsible and why his kids find his fame "confusing."

What was it like on set?

I think we were all just very, very excited to be making the film. A lot of that was obviously embodied by Tom who was playing Jack Reacher, but also [director] Chris McQuarrie. His excitement was infectious.

For me, as a young actor, getting to work with the guy who wrote "The Usual Suspects," which is one of my favorite films, let alone the guy who happens to be the biggest movie star in the world, was pretty exciting.

How was it working with Tom? Were you nervous?

For me, I'm always looking for opportunities to work with people who are better than me, who are more experienced than me, people from whom I can learn. And who could I learn more from than someone with an unprecedented movie star career that has spanned over thirty years whose name is Tom Cruise? So if I had any trepidation it was mostly about just making sure I was bringing my absolute A-game.

Jack ReacherWhat was Tom like, really? Be honest.

The thing about him, really, is that he is so disarming and he doesn't carry himself with a lot of that movie star baggage. He's just a guy who is really desirous of telling a good story and telling it well. So even if you're nervous about meeting "Tom Cruise," that all just goes once you actually meet him.

What was it like playing Detective Emerson, who has so many surprising layers?

What I loved about it is that Detective Emerson is very much a counterpoint to Jack Reacher. In some ways, they have similar qualities. They're both intense. They're both investigators. They're both uncompromising. They're both prickly, for lack of a better word.

And there is a world in which these two might team up and go after the bad guy, but not in this movie. In this movie, things get in the way and they have more of an acrimonious relationship. I found that even more interesting than if it had been some sort of buddy-buddy cop movie. I really enjoyed going toe-to-toe with Tom.

Were you a fan of the books?

I read them after I had read the script. I was very encouraged when I read "One Shot," which is the book on which "Jack Reacher" is based because I was so impressed with the way that Chris had captured the tone of that book and the world of Jack Reacher. As everyone knows, you often read a great book and then see the movie version of that story and it's not always …  umm …


[Laughs] I was going to say satisfying.

What's a dream role that you would love to play?

I'm so happy you asked that because I'm trying to get a Sugar Ray Robinson movie off the ground n, and that's definitely a dream role for me, playing such a great boxer who had aspirations of being a dancer. When you watch him, you can see how that desire fed into his boxing, and I just think that's such an interesting angle and interesting story.

David OyelowoWho are some actors who you look up to or whose career you would love to emulate?

I admire many actors, though I don't think there's anyone whose career I would want to mirror sort of by the beats. What I'm really looking to do is constantly defy expectations. I'm very curious to see if you can actually have a character actor and a movie star's career combined.

But that said, Sidney Poitier is an actor who I greatly admire for doing what he did, when he did it. Daniel Day-Lewis I hugely admire for his ability to just totally immerse in every character he plays. Sean Penn is another one for me who I just look to, and I have to say, now that I have worked with Tom Cruise, he's got to be on that list as well. His work ethic is second to none. He's so passionate. He so exacting. I really hope thirty years into my career that I still have as much passion as he does.

Well you're on your way — but can you think back to your first Hollywood paycheck? What did you buy?

[Laughs] Oh my goodness. What did I buy? I don't know. I probably paid off a chunk of my mortgage. I'm a father of four and I like to think of myself as very responsible, so I probably did a very boring but responsible thing.

How old are your children? Have they seen this movie?

They're eleven, seven, four and one, so they haven't seen this movie. They probably won't be for a while. [Laughs]

Do they think of you as a movie star yet?

It's funny. I've had a pretty good year. I've had quite a few films come out that have sort of cumulatively led to more exposure and therefore being recognized more. It's definitely been a year in which there has been a shift, so I'll be out with my kids and we'll get stopped for various reasons by people who have seen me in movies and that's a little bit of an adjustment for them, and for me, frankly! [Laughs]

Do your kids think it's cool or are they like, "Why are people interested in our boring dad?"

[Laughs] I think they find it confusing to be honest, because they know me as "Daddy" and think of me being home with our dog and my wife and just doing normal things at home. They are on set with me sometimes, but because I make a lot of films that they can't see, it's still a little bit of a surprise to them when they see that other people know who I am.

Well, if things keep going this way, they may have to get used to it.

One can dream.