Daniel Kaluuya on his first feature film as a director: “All roads have been leading to this”

Daniel Kaluuya on his first feature film as a director: "All roads have been leading to this"

Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya has taken a new leap in his career with his directorial debut in “The Kitchen,” a film exploring the complexities of the Black British experience set in a dystopian universe. A passion project 10 years in the making, Kaluuya said he found directing to be more difficult than he originally imagined and called it “humbling.”

“I didn’t realize how present you have to be and how many decisions you have to make consistently,” said Kaluuya, who won an Oscar in 2021 for his performance as Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

The film, which Kaluuya also co-wrote, is set in futuristic London and follows a community determined to protect its home, known as “The Kitchen,” from an oppressive police state. He said that the hardest part of writing the film was having confidence.

“It’s like, you have this fear of being rubbish. The realization is that you have to be rubbish. Like it’s literally part of the process. It’s kind of, you’re going to get the first draft. It’s going to be rubbish,” said Kaluuya.

The pivot for his writing came when he stopped “trying to be good or great” but focused on being “honest.”

Raised in London’s Camden Town by his Ugandan-born mother, Kaluuya’s early life as a teenager who was acting out in school motivated him to become an actor after his teacher suggested that path. His mother put him in improv classes, which he kept as a secret from his friends.

“It was my thing,” said Kaluuya.

By age 9, he had already written his first play, which won a competition and was performed at Hampstead Theatre.

Ten years later, he wrote two episodes for the hit British TV series “Skins,” in which he also starred. His breakthrough role came at age 21 in Roy Williams’ boxing drama, “Sucker Punch,” marking his first lead role. This opportunity paved the way for film roles in “Johnny English Reborn” and “Sicario.”

But disillusionment with the film industry soon set in as Kaluuya encountered what he described as racism and uninspiring leadership.

“I just was like, why am I being led by people that don’t inspire me? So then I said, ‘All right, cool. I’m going to leave,’” he said.

This period of introspection led to a pivotal audition for director Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” a psychological thriller that changed his life and earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Following “Get Out,” Kaluuya’s career soared with roles in “Black Panther,” “Queen & Slim,” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” 

Kaluuya said his Oscar win for the latter film enabled him to get the green light to direct “The Kitchen.” 

“I definitely want to do directing. All roads have been leading to this,” said Kaluuya. “I’ve been in denial essentially.”

Now, Kaluuya said his goal is to make what he calls “soul movies.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “It’s something that moves you.”

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