David Oyelowo: Britain's class system is still insidious

 

Spooks star David Oyelowo has complained that working class actors still hit a "glass ceiling" in Britain.

The 36-year-old, who was born in Oxford to Nigerian parents and now lives in Los Angeles, said Britain was not as forward thinking as people liked to think and that the class system was "insidious".

Since making the move to Hollywood six years ago, Oyelowo's credits have included Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher and Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated Lincoln.

The actor lived with his parents on a north London council estate before hitting the headlines in 2001, playing Henry VI for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He told the Radio Times: "There are all kinds of opportunities there (in the US) - I can play civil rights activists, I can play fighter pilots, I can be in a film like Lincoln. But it's not just to do with being black.

"It's also about the scope of the industry. Judi Dench has to go to America, Ralph Fiennes has to go to America, because it's the zenith of our industry. And it feels genuinely meritocratic."

The Last King Of Scotland star added: "America has its own class system, but it's about money. The more money you have, the higher up the ladder you are.

"Here, you can have talent and money and still be deemed working class. That means there are certain glass ceilings.

"So the world in which we could have a black prime minister feels eons away. We like to think we are as progressive, as forward thinking, as America, but it's this class system that feeds into everything. It's very insidious."

Oyelowo played officer Danny Hunter in Spooks and is set to star as an MI5 agent in new Channel 4 feature-length drama Complicit.

He said of his latest role: "I was very keen not to just do a film version of Spooks. Spooks was basically Bond for the telly. Complicit is way more indicative of what MI5 officers actually do. It is slow work. It's laborious. And it's a very selfless job. This is a more realistic depiction."

The married father-of-four added: "The world has changed post-9/11. Certainly post-Guantanamo Bay, the level of scrutiny on the security service has, quite rightly, changed. And it has made their job very hard.

"No one wants to be seen making any more gaffes. But when these guys are in the field, they have to make quick decisions. And I am, daily, grateful that these are not my decisions to make."

Kevin Toolis, who produced Complicit, said the drama aimed to show a more "complex" portrayal of the professional life of an MI5 agent, with its endless "bureaucratic constraints".

"Sadly, the glamorous life of the spy normally depicted on screen bears little resemblance to the mundane reality of intelligence work," he said.

"If James Bond operated in the real world, before he got round to firing his gun, he would have had to fill out in triplicate his exact travel plans, who he was meeting, and what the potential health and safety risks were."

Toolis added: "If movie-makers were more truthful, they would be making Jane Bond, rather than James. Most of the employees of MI6 and the CIA are actually women analysts, who work nine to five in offices that hum with the sound of air conditioners rather than handguns being readied for shoot-outs."

PA

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