He’s the Skins and Black Mir­ror alum­nus who starred in last year’s sur­prise hor­ror hit Get Out and fea­tures op­po­site Lupita Ny­ong’o in the Mar­vel block­buster Black Pan­ther – 2018 is set to be the year of Daniel Kalu­uya

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With hit films (and an Os­car nom­i­na­tion) un­der his belt, Daniel Kalu­uya is gear­ing up for a big year.

“Got any nib­bles?” Daniel Kalu­uya asks very loudly. We’re sit­ting in a silent, very LA restau­rant next to a West Hol­ly­wood art gallery. You might think the fact that Kalu­uya’s be­come one of cinema’s most cov­eted young ac­tors and an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion (his ex­pres­sive face in box-of­fice hit Get Out in­spired a stream of GIFS) would make him a lit­tle more re­served in pub­lic. Maybe qui­eter, avoid­ing recog­ni­tion. No. Un­apolo­getic and un­af­fected by his suc­cess, the 29-year-old doesn’t put on any new-fame af­fec­ta­tions, nor does he stray far from his English roots.

Hav­ing grown up on a coun­cil es­tate in North Lon­don, the son of Ugan­dan par­ents, he keeps all the same friends, lis­tens to the same grime artists and wears his jeans like the boys out­side the lo­cal Tube sta­tion – below the bum. The waitress clearly doesn’t have a clue what “nib­bles” are, but hazards a guess. Kalu­uya has a charmed way of mak­ing you un­der­stand ex­actly where he’s com­ing from.

There’s a light­ness and hu­mour to the ac­tor, which is a deep con­trast to his on-screen roles. He’s drawn to re­bel­lious, provoca­tive projects, whether that’s the first cast of noughties teen drama Skins, an episode of Char­lie Brooker’s dark sci-fi Black Mir­ror or 2017’s cult hor­ror smash Get Out, which made more than $300 mil­lion at the global box of­fice and earned Kalu­uya a best ac­tor nom­i­na­tion at both the Golden Globes and the Os­cars this year. “I’ve al­ways been look­ing to fuck shit up,” he says. “I was a shit in school. When I got into act­ing, a teacher said to my mum, ‘He needs to let out some en­ergy.’”

When Kalu­uya got the part of Chris, an African-amer­i­can who goes home to meet the par­ents of his white girl­friend (played by Girls’ Al­li­son Wil­liams), in Get Out, he ig­nored di­rec­tor Jor­dan Peele’s ad­vice to do his hor­ror-film home­work. In­stead, he drew on his own ex­pe­ri­ence of ev­ery­day racism. “I lived it. I live it. I live this,” he says. “I just read the script, so it was in me.”

The themes of out­sider­dom and oth­er­ness have made Get Out al­most a doc­u­men­tary in its re­al­ness. “I go through racism ev­ery day, man,” says Kalu­uya. “Prob­a­bly the same for you with sex­ism, no? Ev­ery day some­one says some sick stuff. Racism is hor­ri­fy­ing. Peo­ple end up dead, moth­ers lose their kids. This shit’s fucked up. You have all th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences and you have to keep go­ing for your dreams, but you’re car­ry­ing this.” (If you haven’t no­ticed, Kalu­uya says fuck a lot.)

On the sub­ject of wak­ing peo­ple up to hard truths, I ask if he was sur­prised by the rev­e­la­tions of sex­ism in his in­dus­try fol­low­ing the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal. He takes a mo­ment. “A lot of men are raised in a mad way,” he says. “I’d be ly­ing if I said I was shocked. Ev­ery­one knows. Now it’s time to lis­ten to peo­ple’s sto­ries, to do things prop­erly. Make it a crim­i­nal case as op­posed to a pub­lic sham­ing. Make sure there are reper­cus­sions.”

Af­ter join­ing a small theatre group in North Lon­don, by 19 Kalu­uya had been brought in to write on the first se­ries of Skins, a show about teenagers, for teenagers, by teenagers. The pro­duc­ers loved the char­ac­ter he cre­ated – Posh Ken­neth – so much, they had him act the part him­self. A cult suc­cess, the show was no­to­ri­ous for its de­pic­tion of sex, drug use and ado­les­cent pres­sures, as well as its cast of then-un­knowns who were liv­ing par­al­lel lives to the on-screen sto­ry­lines. The rave con­tin­ued off set. “It was our uni,” he says. “And, yeah, it got a bit crazy.”

Fun aside, the free­dom and ex­po­sure of Skins birthed a new breed of Hol­ly­wood break­out stars (Ni­cholas Hoult, Jack O’con­nell, Dev Pa­tel, Joe Demp­sie), who didn’t need pri­vate-school con­nec­tions to make it. “There are so many peo­ple I know from Lon­don in LA now, and we all started to­gether,” Kalu­uya says. “We used to go rav­ing at [Lon­don’s] Cameos night­club. Some­times you have to ap­pre­ci­ate that be­cause when it gets low, it gets low. You have to en­joy the wins.”

When Kalu­uya was start­ing out, it was grime MCS like Skepta and JME and ac­tor Ash­ley Wal­ters (for­merly Asher D in So Solid Crew) who he looked up to; peo­ple from his “ends” who made him re­alise he didn’t need to min­imise his lower so­cio-eco­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence to pur­sue suc­cess. He sees the rise of grime as a sign that the peo­ple he grew up around are get­ting their dues now. “Ev­ery­one was late to the party,” he says. “Sys­tem­atic blocks were put in place to stop grime artists from be­com­ing the Oa­sis of our time. That’s who they are. It’s so in­spir­ing. You don’t un­der­stand how sub­con­sciously we’ve been told that we can’t. [Now] we can just be us and we can thrive.”

Kalu­uya is care­ful about the films he signs up to, pre­fer­ring to por­tray char­ac­ters in which he sees him­self. When talk­ing about his role in Mar­vel’s Black Pan­ther, a largely black-cast block­buster, he says, “That story res­onated with me be­cause I know that [char­ac­ter]. The sen­si­bil­i­ties are aligned.” The film also stars another Bri­tish ris­ing star, Leti­tia Wright, who Kalu­uya recorded plays with for the UK’S BBC Ra­dio 4. “And now she’s got a phat Mar­vel poster of her­self,” he says in smil­ing dis­be­lief. He was just as sur­prised when the poster with his face came out. “[It was like] I’m in a Mar­vel film? Holy fuck… It just doesn’t com­pute ’cos I know my life. All my boys said to me, ‘Yo, you don’t un­der­stand what’s about to hap­pen. Af­ter Black Pan­ther, you can’t get a bus any­more.’ But I’m still go­ing to get the bus.”

With his win­ning op­ti­mism, and the promis­ing year he’s set to have, it’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve there’s ever a bad day for Daniel Kalu­uya. He as­sures me there is. “This in­dus­try’s hard,” he says. “The world is hard. Be­ing young and black is tough. You can’t com­plain about it, so you need a safe place to moan. When I need a re­al­ity check, I call my mum. She gives me the re­al­ness and says, ‘You were born in Eng­land. Shut up!’”

CHECK OUT: Black Pan­ther is out now

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