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Playwright Bola Agbaje: ‘We need to celebrate talent like Daniel Kaluuya and keep them in this country’

Daniel Kaluuya in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton Daniel Kaluuya in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton


Bola Agbaje was delighted by Daniel Kaluuya’s best actor Oscar nomination for his turn in Get Out. But, the Olivier-winning playwright tells Nick Clark she is dismayed that the actor, who was shaped by UK theatre, has not been more lauded at home

What was your first response to Kaluuya’s Oscar nomination?

I was so excited by the news. After he was nominated for the best actor BAFTA it was something I began to hope might happen, but you know how the industry is. He is still quite new in America. After the announcement, my social media was plastered with pictures of him. It was amazing.

What about the media’s take?

Waking up in the morning and putting on BBC Breakfast and seeing nothing, then putting on LBC and they were only talking about Gary Oldman… it was sad. He is the second black British actor to be nominated after Chiwetel Ejiofor. Why aren’t the media celebrating him? I wanted to read articles about Daniel and couldn’t find them. It was frustrating.

While many audiences may have been introduced to Kaluuya through Get Out, he has a strong track record on the stage, right?

It’s true, I find it completely frustrating that when we’re talking about black talent it’s always framed as happening overnight. A lot of us have a history. We’ve spent years grafting and working at our craft. Our success is not overnight and we need to talk about it more. He is an example of someone who has worked regularly in theatre.

Which of Daniel’s theatre performances stand out for you?

I saw Sucker Punch at the Royal Court [in 2010] around six times. It was the first show I returned to again and again and encouraged people around me to see it. I remember when he auditioned for the play and he put in a lot of work. He was so amazing in the role. It was great to see a play that spoke to me as a writer and an audience member. That was when I first thought, ‘Daniel Kaluuya is a star’.

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What does he bring to a role?

Daniel is able to make you forget the world around you. He is mesmerising. He did that in Sucker Punch, he did that in Blue/Orange [at the Young Vic in 2016] and he did that in A Season in the Congo [at the Young Vic in 2013].

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Is it damning that he didn’t really break out until he went to America?

We can’t keep talent, there isn’t enough money invested in the arts. Someone like Daniel has all those great theatre credits, but he had to move on to TV and then film in America. That’s where the money is. I hope he gets offered the right roles to bring him back here, especially on stage. It’s hard sometimes for actors who head to the US to come back and do theatre. This is why we need to celebrate talent like Daniel’s, because he’s not the first to go to the US and making it to the surprise of everyone here. As a country, we need to nurture our talent and try to keep them here. It’s across the board with writers, directors and actors.

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