There are two new sheriffs in town and there’s room enough for both of them. Both played by David Oyelowo in separate series, one about our nation’s history and another set in a dystopian future, the 47-year-old British actor enforces the law. Oyelowo, best known for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in 2014 selmaHe currently stars as Sheriff Holston in the Apple TV+ adaptation of Hugh Howey’s celebrated science fiction novel, Silo. Later in the year, he’ll (most likely) don an actual sheriff’s hat at Paramount’s under reeves, the true-life story of the first black deputy US sheriff west of the Mississippi River.
In Silo, Oyelowo watches over a post-apocalyptic underground structure that houses 10,000 people. Humanity is forced to live in a massive silo because the air outside is toxic and kills anyone who breathes it in a matter of minutes. Or have the lords of the silo been lying? A great mystery, of course, ensues. Silo it is the last Dystopian tale to hit the streaming wars, picking up the slack from Hulu The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO The last of us. Maybe it’s some pandemic that still has us all in an existential tailspin.
“What I love is the fact that we were doing something contemporary that speaks to the now, in terms of some of the themes, and I think that’s what makes great television,” Oyelowo tells me over Zoom.. You are calling from a remarkably well-lit room in Fort Worth, Texas, where you are currently filming. under reeves. But for now, our minds are still deep in the world of Silo. “When you look, there’s so much that’s relevant to what you’re seeing on the news today,” he says. “Being a human being is having to accept the fact that your time here is finite.” All the shows that They highlight that fact, they speak to the reality of our very existence and how much is at stake as a result.”
Here, Oyelowo dives further into the depths of the silo and shares his reaction to a big twist in silos second episode, how he avoided the pressure to follow up selmaand why did you want to work with yellow stone creator taylor sheridan in Under Reeves.
ESQUIRE: If you were in the silo in real life, as David Oyelowo and not Sheriff Holston, what would your job be?
DAVID OYELOWO: Oh wow. That is a very good question. I would love to be a tour guide, because it would be very fast. There’s not much of it, so I’d have really good hours and I could go home and relax. The reality is that human beings are not designed to live underground. There are literal conditions that miners have encountered, and people spending a lot of time underground or without natural light, it’s just not what we’re designed for. There are real reasons why it’s not the most fun place on the planet.
They could use a good show to see!
And some sun. [Laughs.]
What initially drew you in, Sheriff Holston?
It was the script. I found it really compelling and, in a way, an insight into society. Yes, it’s a sci-fi show, but I found many aspects of it pertinent to a post-COVID world, where we’ve all had to ask existential questions. Then there was the ordinary, relatable, grounded nature of how the show begins. Holston and his wife, Allison, played by Rashida [Jones]—we find them wanting to start a family, which is something many people can relate to. But under these circumstances, it is a population-controlled environment. The stakes are high when you are given the opportunity to try for a family, and then given a finite amount of time to try. So it’s the combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary that really drew me so much.
Do you think people will be surprised by your big twist at the end of the second episode?
I hope people are surprised. I certainly was when I read the scripts. And those surprises don’t diminish, I know what continues to happen later in the show. It is a very, very fragile existence. It raises a question, because the way things start to fall apart in the silo is almost an argument for the authoritative nature of things that are in place. Because once these questions start to be asked, you pull on that thread and it unwinds rather devastatingly.
Silo it is unique in that different actors arrive at different points in the show to tell their story, unlike all of those who appear in Episode One and appear in every episode thereafter.
Not only is it intriguing, but it’s incredibly satisfying for the audience, because the reality is that you don’t know who’s about to walk in, how long they’ll be there, how important their character is, or when they’ll be there. suddenly he’s going to be thrown out of the show. So keep the tension through the roof. It also means you won’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting in the first few episodes. The initial episodes can be like, OKlet’s trudge through the mud to get to the good things. We don’t do that with this. You are pushed towards him and pulled by the seat of your pants. You’re right, that’s something unique to the program, also one of the things that works best.
It seems that the rise of limited series and short-lived roles has allowed actors more creative freedom, since they are no longer tied to a show for five or six seasons.
100 percent. Anyone knows that doing the same thing over and over again for an extended period of time is not ideal. Not ideal for the audience. Not ideal if you are a creative person. I’m constantly looking for a new adventure, a new story to tell, and it’s wonderful when you sit in it for a while and really tell that story. I’m here in Texas right now shooting Under Reeves. WWe can count that into eight episodes, and this was an epic, epic life. Creatively, you want to be in a place where you’re excited, you feel like there’s more story to tell, and the more finite it is, the more chance there is for the story to continue to be powerful.
Sheridan took you to Texas? Did you come and have dinner?
I’ve known Taylor for a while now and what he’s built is pretty impressive. I’m in Fort Worth, but it’s not far from his ranch where I watched 1883 Being shot. We use some of those places to under reeves also. He’s really an inspiration in terms of what’s possible when you have passion, when you have talent, and when you somehow have the energy that he has. So it’s been quite a ride. He’s someone I’m very, very inspired by.
I remember when the show was first announced, people were confused: they thought Bass Reeves was a bit yellow stone character they forgot about. Of course, he was a real person in American history. Are you excited to share their story?
Yeah, I’ve been trying to make this one for over eight years, and I have Taylor to thank for rejuvenating the western. It is understandable that people think that because the yellow stone the universe continues to be built, but this is a separate story and, as you say, a historical figure. But [Reeves] lived in the same Fort Smith and Fort Worth environment as the Duttons in 1883so it’s an easy mistake to make. [Laughs.]
Have you ever felt pressure after selma to pursue historically larger roles?
Oh no, quite the opposite. She really wanted to run in the opposite direction. Your job as an actor, especially if you want to be one that sticks around for a while, is to keep the audience guessing. I was offered so many other historical figures, so many other civil rights stories after doing that. But that was the last thing I wanted to do, especially when you’ve played such an imposing figure as Martin Luther King Jr. It’s going to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. I knew it when we were doing it. I know now. But as is the case with Siloor now going out and doing a western like under reevesI’m looking to keep bringing the changes, challenge myself and hopefully keep the audience interested.
Josh Rosenberg is an assistant editor at Esquire and maintains a steady diet of one movie a day. Previous work of his can be found on Spin, CBR and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.