David Oyelowo knew the minute he saw the script for “Queen of Katwe” that he wanted in. The “Selma” star, 40, plays chess coach Robert Katende in the big-screen biopic, based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan teen who became an international chess champion. Oyelowo, who was born in England and lives in Los Angeles, was at the Mandarin Oriental Miami Hotel to discuss the Disney film, out Friday.
How did you first get involved with “Queen of Katwe”?
The script came to me, and I was instantly surprised that a film of this nature was being made by Disney. Normally films highlighting Africa don’t have this type of [uplifting] content. Sometimes we just see the negative side of that continent. I thought that this was this type of project that I would try to cobble money together for and try to get off the ground. Plus it was directed by Mira Nair ["Mississippi Masala”] who is phenomenal. Then you throw in Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother. Put it all together, I would say it was a no-brainer.
How much did you know about the game before shooting started?
Nothing! I had never had paid much attention, really. But now I can play chess. And I came to learn how it’s a useful tool in teaching life lessons to children. I tend to enjoy the challenge of knowing very little about the character or their world of expertise. The fun thing about my job is you become a momentary expert on things. I’m someone who is very curious about life in general.
How do you keep it together with all your various projects?
I have a very wonderful family [w[wife is actress Jessica Watson]They keep me grounded. If I’m not on a movie set I’m with them. They are my sanity and my insanity all at once. With four kids and three dogs, there’s never a dull moment, I can promise you. It’s the best in the world when I get home, and I’m completely buried by love.