David Oyelowo: We're at a tipping point...I truly hope the world will be a slightly different place for my daughter
After playing Martin Luther King Jr, British actor David Oyelowo is turning to comedy for his next role. He tells Georgia Humphreys that while his latest film may be good fun, it has important social commentary too
Dramatic roles are David Oyelowo's forte. He wowed as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma; in The Butler, he stole the limelight as a hot-headed civil rights activist; and in the inspiring A United Kingdom, he portrayed an African prince who shocks the world by falling in love with a white woman.
So, the Oxford-born actor (41) hopes to surprise people with action comedy Gringo.
"I have a silly side, and when I read the script I just felt like, 'This is it,'" he says.
"I've read other comedies and they felt self-consciously funny. This feels funny in a genuine way - I actually laughed when reading the script."
Funnily enough, I'd been told to listen out for Oyelowo's laugh before meeting him.
As he starts telling me about playing businessman Harold Soyinka, I can understand why - it's the sort of great, booming, belly laugh that's wholly infectious.
But Gringo isn't all humour - there are also plenty of grip-your-seat moments, as Harold travels to Mexico for a business trip with his back-stabbing bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron).
Unbeknown to Harold, Richard and Elaine are planning to sell the company to a conglomerate, and the devoted employee is going to be out of a job.
"There is a trusting quality to him that is both his greatest attribute and one of his weaknesses," says Oyelowo of his character.
But that's the least of Harold's worries.
When Richard orders the company's Mexican lab to stop selling Cannabax (a bio-engineered marijuana product) to cartel kingpin The Black Panther, it doesn't go down too well ...
And while mild-mannered Harold might not be your average action hero, after becoming the target of The Black Panther's brutal crusade, he ends up in an adrenaline-filled battle for survival.
"The big question the film asks is, 'Does it pay to be good?'" says Oyelowo. "And for a lot of the film, it looks like it does not.
"Harold's journey is one of waking up to the situation he's in and wising up to what he needs to do to get out of it."
Perhaps what makes Gringo stand out is the social commentary running throughout, something which Oyelowo really appreciated.
"We've seen a lot of public bad behaviour rewarded of late, and you could walk away thinking, 'Does it pay to be bad?'" he explains.
"But you see repercussions for bad behaviour in a fun yet thought-provoking way.
"In terms of what's going on in the world with immigrants, when you look at the character of Harold, who believes in the American Dream and believes in the people around him, those tend to be the people who are put upon by the circumstances they find themselves in."
It was Oyelowo who came up with Harold being a Nigerian immigrant, and he put forward the idea to director Nash Edgerton the very first time he met him to discuss the project.
"I didn't want him to be naive for the sake of it, I wanted it to be rooted in something," says the star, who is married to fellow English actor Jessica Oyelowo.
"I remember growing up in the UK with immigrant parents - my parents came to the UK from Nigeria - and there was a sort of wide-eyed, trusting quality to them that meant they could be taken advantage of in certain circumstances that wouldn't be the case in Nigeria.
"So it just felt like a great way to make that feel truthful, rather than imposed."
Oyelowo now lives in LA. He told BBC Breakfast last week that one reason for moving across the pond was because there are better roles for black actors there.
While there's no questioning that the actor has since forged a successful career, he memorably missed out on a nomination for best actor for Selma at the 2015 Academy Awards, which caused widespread disbelief.
But in the BBC interview, Oyelowo also spoke about how the Oscars So White conversation, which dominated the Academy Awards in 2015 and 2016, has brought change, ensuring films such as Get Out are now being recognised - at this year's Oscars, its British star Daniel Kaluuya was nominated for best actor, while Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win the best original screenplay award.
The actor hopes the Time's Up and Me Too movements will have a similar impact.
"Early on, as things were unfolding, I thought, 'Okay, is this going to be a flash in the pan?'" admits Oyelowo.
"The difference now is that victims who felt voiceless have been publicly seen to be heard, and not further victimised for the bravery of speaking up about the circumstances they've found themselves in, and the perpetrators are being punished.
"I think there is going to be a bit more accountability and women are going to feel more empowered to speak up when they are being treated unfairly."
Is this shift in society something Oyelowo has noticed bubbling to the surface over recent years?
The father-of-four reflects: "I think there have been waves. There have been times in the past where it's come up and you think, 'Okay, is this going to be a moment of change?'
"For whatever reason, it sort of reached a boiling point or a tipping point beyond which I don't think things are going to go back to the way they were.
"I truly hope for, and believe that, the world will be slightly different for my daughter than it was for people my age who have had to endure terrible things."
Gringo is released in cinemas now