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May/June 2021

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ritish actor David Oyelowo is one of Hollywood's most sought-af- ter talents, thanks to his starring roles in such films as Ava DuVernay's Selma, which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for his powerful portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, Lee Daniels' The Butler and Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. Now the actor is making his feature directorial debut with The Water Man in which he also stars alongside Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello and Lonnie Chavis. A family-friendly fan- tasy-adventure, the film tells the story of a young boy, Gunner (Chavez), who sets out on a quest to save his ill mother (Dawson) by searching for a mythic fig- ure who knows the secret to immortality. Gunner enlists the help of a mysterious local girl, who has her own terrifying tale of meeting this figure, known as the Water Man, face-to-face. Together they journey into the remote Wild Horse forest, but the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Back home, Gunner's father, Amos (Oyelowo), who has grown distant from Gunner over the years, will stop at nothing to find his son — and in the pro- cess discovers who his son really is. Here, in an exclusive interview for Post, I spoke with Oyelowo, whose diverse credits include The Help, Les Misérables, Jack Reacher and the new releases Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway and Chaos Walking, about the challenges of making and posting the film, which he also co-produced with EP Oprah Winfrey. What sort of film did you set out to make? "A family adventure film with meaning, like the kind of film I loved growing up — especially anything with the Amblin logo. I knew I'd be excited and go on a journey, but I knew they'd also be thought-pro- voking, like E.T., where it's also dealing with the challenges of a single-parent family. Those films were my inspiration." Actors-turned-directors like George Clooney, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood often direct themselves, but they've all told me, "It's never easy." How tough was it? "It is hard, but to be honest, the run-up and prep was tougher than the actual doing of it. As an actor, you know how all-consuming it is to play a role, and I love to really immerse myself, so you don't pay that much attention to every little thing going on around you — and nothing like you do as a director. So that was nerve-wracking, knowing I'd be on screen while a lot of my attention had been focused elsewhere, and that maybe 'me plus acting plus directing' would equal 'bad actor'. So for the first two weeks on set, I had my wife there, as she has a very sensitive BS detector, and she could let me know if my performance was going off the rails. And it was really exhilarating to be involved in every part of the process as the director." Where did you shoot, and how tough was the shoot? "We scouted all over the US, but in the end, shot it all over Oregon. The film wasn't set there, but we found this amaz- ing forest — the Lewis & Clark park — which was so magical just naturally, I just couldn't shake it. Stand By Me was shot there, which is another childhood favor- ite for me, and I loved the idea of also shooting in the same location. The shoot was a tight 30 days, and prep was even tighter — just five or six weeks when ideally you want a couple of months for something this size. But it helped that we did a pre-prep scout of the area for a week, then hit the ground running." Talk about the look you and your DP Matthew Lloyd went for. "We shot with the (Arri) Alexa Mini, mainly because we were in all sorts of crazy terrain and he wanted a camera that was quite nimble. As for the look, we wanted it to look epic and intimate at the same time, so we shot with anamorphic lenses with selective focus, so we could isolate the characters but still enjoy the beauty of the forest at the same time." Tell us about post. Was it remote because of COVID? "For the most part, yes, and it was a nightmare doing stuff like ADR with the actors and masks. Everyone was su- per-paranoid and would leave the room, and I never even met my colorist — Sean Coleman at Company 3. He and the DP had worked together before, so for this they'd work their magic and then send the files to me. I was just on my laptop or using my TV screen at home, so the quality wasn't the same, but no one wanted us to all be in the same room, so it was the only way, but far from ideal." Actors spend a lot of time with directors on set, so the move to directing is a trip into fairly familiar territory, but post is a very different process. Was it a steep learning curve? "You're right and it was, but my ap- proach was very simple. I'm the novice, so I made sure to have really expe- THE WATER MAN DIRECTOR DAVID OYELOWO BY IAIN BLAIR THIS ACTOR MAKES HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT WITH A FAMILY-FRIENDLY ADVENTURE B DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 14 POST MAY/JUNE 2021 Actor/director David Oyelowo

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