Daniel Kaluuya said he was deeply changed by his latest role, taking on the larger-than-life persona of Black Panther trailblazer Fred Hampton, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the new film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the story centers on Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, his rise in the party and clash with the FBI, and his fatal betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.
Kaluuya said that the task of embodying Hammond’s stature was an intense experience.
“It felt heavy,” Kaluuya told USA Today. “It’s a lot of weight to carry. Awakening people that are asleep, you have to deeply understand why they’re asleep and carry that and show compassion to that and move to them from their perspective and awaken them like that. So it’s a lot of thoughts, a lot of things happening. There was a deep, deep, deep, deep weight on me, around me and in me.”
The actor zealously studied every aspect of Hammond in order to bring him to life. That includes the way the revolutionary spoke. Kaluuya said he even consulted with an opera singer in order to nail his voice.
“To speak different, I have to think different,” he said. There’s a lot of levels to occupy and in someone’s space, spiritually speaking. I met up with an opera singer. And I looked at it from a technical standpoint. What’s this cadence? What’s that cadence? Because it’s a different cadence when he speaks and a different cadence when he does speeches.”
He added, “It was a universe of things that I had to gather in order to get the voice in a place that made me feel confident and clear and allow me to be a vessel.”
Kaluuya said it is hard not to be changed during the process of portraying someone else, however, he doesn’t regret taking on such an exacting role.
“I just know some stuff and that’s me now. You can’t be unchanged by it. You can’t say ‘Oh, I want to be as light as I was in 2016,’ no, you’re not. You’ve seen something,” he said. “It’s only a weight that’s a detriment if you resist it. I just stopped resisting and just accept it. I go, ‘Yeah, yeah, that happened.’ I’m grateful for it, I’m blessed it happened and I move accordingly.”
Kaluuya who is British with Ugandan parents has become a target of backlash on social media for playing a Black American. He spoke on the criticism directed at him in an interview with Variety about the making of the movie.
“I’m a vessel for a spirit that is going through me,” he said. “It’s important for us as Black people across the diaspora to be together. And that’s not to discount what Black Americans feel, what they’ve been through. It’s not about me. It’s about chairman Fred Hampton.”
Kaluuya even went to Chicago and got the blessing of Hampton’s family to take on the role prior to the start of filming, according to Variety.
“We had to declare who we were and what our intentions were,” he said of that meeting.
This is not the first time Kaluuya has received negative reactions for portraying Americans in films. In 2017, Samuel L. Jackson voiced his thoughts over another film Kaluuya starred in not being cast with an American Black actor instead. That movies, “Get Out,” addresses aspects of racism in American culture.
In an interview with New York radio station Hot 97, Jackson said, “There are a lot of Black British actors that work in this country, all the time. I tend to wonder what would that movie have been with an American brother who really understands that in a way.”
Jackson added, “Because Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. Britain, there’s only about eight real white people left in Britain. So what would a brother from America have made of that role? I’m sure the director helped. Some things are universal, but everything ain’t.”
Following Jackson’s comments, Kaluuya told GQ: “I resent that I have to prove I’m Black.”
In August, during a panel discussion, director Shaka King upheld his decision to cast Kaluuya in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
“I’m well aware of the debate around British actors playing American Black, iconic figures,” he said. “But I was born in America, my family is Caribbean and I have a South African name so I am, literally, emblematic of a diasporic way of thinking.”
Now, Kaluuya asserts that he is unaffected by the discussions about him and his casting qualifications, and refuses to let those dialogues define him.
“I no longer give power to things outside of myself to define myself,” he told USA Today. “How I feel about myself is how I feel about myself, that’s it. If people feel that way, that’s all that is, how they feel and I allow them to feel that, that’s on them. The issue isn’t their definition, the issue is that I’m looking to them to tell me who I am. I tell you who I am. … If people want to say stuff, let them say stuff. I ain’t sweating it.”