Looking back on the first quarter of this year, there’s no doubt that Daniel Kaluuya’s 2018 has started off pretty well. He received an Oscar nod for Best Actor, and his current film in theaters is in the process of obliterating box office records. With several projects in the pipeline, including a film directed by British auteur Steve McQueen, and still one year to go before the big 3-0, anyone else in his position would undoubtedly be quaking in their boots. Thankfully for Mr. Kaluuya, excellence has been second nature to him for quite some time.
Daniel Kaluuya was born February 24 1989 in London, England. He and his older sister were brought up by their mother in a council estate in north London. Initially, it was a teacher of Daniel’s who suggested, rather bruskly, that he try acting as a way to channel his energy. Her exact words in his report, he remembers, were “Daniel is a distraction to himself and others.” His response? Write a play.
The play, which he wrote at 9 years old, won a local competition and was performed at Hampstead Theatre. Although he did later return to theatre in his teenage years, Kaluuya practiced football as his extra-curricular for several years. He shifted from stage to sport due to a lack of confidence in his potential to pursue acting, which stemmed from the hypercritical environment of the housing projects he grew up in.”The biggest problem,” he told the New York Times, “is that you don’t know it’s possible. You don’t have the vocabulary, conceptually, to articulate that wish.”
Thankfully, he did successfully find the words to articulate his wish, enrolling in improvisational classes at Anna Scher Theatre. Above anything, he appreciated that these classes were the only part of his week where he wasn’t acting. “Being young, working class and black, everything you do is policed […] But in those improv classes, there was no pressure to be anything except honest, and that made me happy.”
Following in the footsteps of fellow classmates, Daniel sought out acting gigs, scoring his first role at 16, in the BBC drama Shoot the Messenger. The following year, he took on dual jobs for the scandalous teen series Skins, both acting and writing for the show’s first two seasons. At this same time, he also continued to write for the Hampstead Theater’s youth program, all while preparing for his A-Levels. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone to undergo, but pressure is no big deal when you’re already a stone cold diamond. During his final year of high school, his drama teacher noted that he was the most talented actor he has ever come across. A far cry from his elementary school teacher’s sentiments. But being a “distraction” is one of his many assets as an actor — his presence is hard to ignore, and something you wouldn’t want to ignore in the first place.
After a smattering of roles across film, TV, and theatre across both sides of the pond, it was his turn in the dystopian anthology series Black Mirror that caught the attention of Jordan Peele, who brought him in to read for the lead role in 2017’s breakout thriller Get Out. Peele found his heartbreaking performance in the episode Fifteen Million Merits to be a perfect fit for the indie thriller, stating, “Through most of the episode he’s restrained and subdued, but by the end his passion explodes into a primal unhinged monologue that is a thing of beauty.”
With this same restrained-primal energy, a skill he honed in his improv class (the original goal being to “get [everyone] to stop playing Snake on their phone,”) Kaluuya brought an intensely magnetic and powerfully authentic performance as Chris, earning himself Best Actor nominations from the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTAs, and winning the BAFTA Rising Star Award.
For any other young actor, this would be a perfectly satisfactory — if not extraordinary — recap of one’s CV. But for Kaluuya, it doesn’t quite stop there. Since Get Out, he also took on a supporting role in Marvel’s most recent film, Black Panther, which has absolutely demolished the box office, breaking records left, right, and center. With several other projects in the works at this very moment, including a script in development with the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, Daniel Kaluuya is, in no small measure, a prolific powerhouse. With every second on screen or stage and sentence of screenplay penned, he is pure-and-plainly poetic. With a roster this outstanding in his first 13 years in the industry, you best get your telescopes at the ready, because there is no doubt that this star will keep rising to greater heights.