Anyone who has seen Jordan Peele’s horror/social-satire “Get Out” understands the intense appeal of Daniel Kaluuya. As Chris, a young black photographer who gets sucked into a racial nightmare — a “sunken place” — when he visits the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), the British actor takes audiences to places that are honest and true and, for many, difficult and discomfiting.
The $4.5-million film has earned more than $252 million worldwide following its February release, been embraced by critics and is earning awards buzz, but its deeper success is the fresh perspective on race it has offered and the frank conversations about racism — the real horror at the film’s heart — it has stirred.
Energetically tucking into a passel of small plates in the funky, history-tweaking lounge at New York’s Beekman Hotel, SAG nominee Kaluuya, whose next movie is “Black Panther,” dives into just such a raw conversation with equal enthusiasm.
What do people say when they approach to you?
Some black women hug me and walk away. A lot of black men talk about dating white women and how they’ve been there too. People open up about their racial experiences. I feel like I’m a walking therapy session. It’s quite intense. But it means a lot to people.
Do you feel like white and black audiences respond differently to the movie?
Yeah, because they’re at a different point in their well of racial knowledge. It’s like when Trump became president. A lot of liberals were shocked. A lot of black people weren’t. It’s similar. I was at an airport and a white man said, “Wasn’t it all a dream?”
That’s how he sees racism. It’s not my job to educate you on this. Whatever it means to you it means to you. I think black people are like, yeah, thank you for articulating it. And white people are like, what is this? They’re just piecing it together because that’s not their experience.
Is the honesty what drew you to it?
Yeah, it’s this stuff you kind of shouldn’t say. But why shouldn’t you say it? We’re living in a social climate where you have to navigate all that. Jordan just said it, and it’s exciting because anything can happen. It feels like it’s costing Jordan to say this.
Did it cost you anything to embody that?
It helped me because I let out all the … I was feeling. That rage, I feel that. But that’s not socially acceptable. When you’re a young black man, you’re not allowed to be emotional. One of the reasons I act is people pay me to be emotional. So it was cathartic for me. I feel lighter. I let it all out in a space I could trust.
Everything else is like we’re in a political or racial debate when it’s like, I am who I am and I’m proud of where I come from and what I’m about.
Do you think it matters that you didn’t grow up in America, didn’t share Chris’ African American experience, as Samuel L. Jackson suggested?
Jordan was wary when he first spoke to me. And I said, “Yeah, this is through an African American perspective, but you are articulating a black truth within the Western world.” You leave the M25 [the freeway encircling London] in England, it’s not easy. Everyone’s white. That’s really alienating. I lived that. I felt it. I was like, “Yo, this is my interpretation. This is how I feel. This is how I see it. Do you feel what I’m feeling?” It was on Jordan to say if he felt it. Everything else is like we’re in a political or racial debate when it’s like, I am who I am and I’m proud of where I come from and what I’m about.
How do you hope the movie will advance conversations about race?
I hope people listen to black people more. You’d be surprised how little people listen to black people when it comes to racial issues. It’s weird. I hope they see it from our point of view and go, maybe how that person sees it is how that person sees it. Maybe they have experiences that you would never understand, which is why they are doing something. Chris got out at the end of the movie, and it’s this joyous moment, but he still has to live his life. He has to process that he was singled out, persecuted, kidnapped, abused because he was black. Being black and having self-belief has cost him. Standing up for himself, that cost. I hope they adopt the perspective. Actually, I just hope they listen.