Academy Award winner Daniel Kaaluya admits there’s a lot to unpack in his new horror-adventure Nope. In the Jordan Peele-directed film, Kaaluya and Keke Palmer play siblings OJ and Emerald Haywood, respectively, who, in an effort to save their ranch, decide to record a UFO on their property to make some extra money.
Kaaluya tells EBONY that he had a lot of questions for Peele when they first sat down to talk about the project. “I had like ten million questions,” Kaluuya, 33, laughs. “How Jordan felt about Black exploitation was a big one. Because Black men giving our emotions and making money off of it—you can't ignore that. I got a little clarity in terms of how that relates to this film and how it feeds the narrative.”
The actor says he also asked Peele about the “spectacle” and the focus on “attention.”
“There's a big throughline in terms of trauma [and] being a child star like Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (played by Steven Yeun) and the terms 'attention' and 'attending', and how that affects one,” shares Kaluuyaa. “If you don't address it, you just end up repeating it.”
While Kaluuya says he spent “hours and hours” picking Peele’s brain on the film’s deeper meanings, the Oscar winner says that there was at least one thing in Nope that didn’t need an explanation: the authentic display of Black joy.
“You see it a lot through the love of this brother and sister and their love for each other,” explains Kaluuya. He also says he enjoyed those moments of unbridled fun in the film because it offered a snapshot into the siblings’ relationship as kids. “I love that,” continues the film star, before detailing some of the things that bring him joy as an actor and filmmaker.
“I love telling stories as a creative,” he says. “And when you're hitting the moment and you're in the zone—and everything's working, everything's synergy— or the director's got an incredible idea and then ‘woo-dooooop’, it's all happening—that brings me a lot of joy.”
While Kaluuya is all smiles as he reflects on the intricacies of the creative process of filmmaking, there’s also a keen sense of excitement when he discusses working with Peele. The two became quick friends when the actor starred in the director’s 2017 social-thriller, Get Out, a film that won Peele an Oscar and made Kaluuya a household name. However, the actor reveals it wasn’t Peele’s go-to genre that interested him in Nope: it was his overwhelming respect for him.
“I'm not really a horror watcher,” reveals Kaluuya. “But, Jordan and I, we just have a shorthand. We just understand what we both care about in a character. Also, we know how to push each other which is really important.”
Now, five years after his breakout role in Get Out and just over a year after winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah, Kaluuya admits a lot has changed since he first emerged on the scene. Aside from “more access, more experience and incredible opportunities,” the British actor says he’s also gained some amazing support.
“I've got an incredible American community,” he says. “I'm growing creatively and, personally, I find there's a lot of people in America who inspire me—they're really doing big things and go for it.”
While it’s safe to say that Kaluuya appreciates the difference in culture and his newfound sense of freedom while in the U.S., the actor does admit that he can’t escape the familiar hurdles of being a Black man in Hollywood.
“It's the same issues; it's just bougier,” Kaluuya says. “It's still the root of it. It’s still: ‘You're not respecting me, because you think something less of me.’ But [most of the time] the [white Hollywood folks] are unaware of it, and then by highlighting it, you are making them aware. But then they have to think about what that means about them as a whole. You always have to kind of navigate that because [of being] Black.”
Nope is out now, in theaters nationwide.