Actor in Focus: Daniel Kaluuya – ‘An Aura of Cheekiness Stripped Away’


Hailing from London, the now 31-year-old Daniel Kaluuya has already cemented himself as a prominent star of the 2010s, with a promising career heading into this decade. Having started out with bit-parts in a number of British television series, he found his first recurring role as the constantly code-switching Posh Kenneth in E4’s first generation of Skins. Bringing a level of charisma that would become a prominent factor in his later roles, Kaluuya imbued Kenneth with an aura of cheekiness that makes him feel both real and likeable.

After a few more stints on TV, Kaluuya appeared in the 2009 Doctor Who Easter special, ‘Planet of the Dead’. As 20-year-old Barkley, he was a secondary character transported to a dead alien planet whilst aboard a London bus. This type of character was emblematic of his early television career. Often, he was never given much opportunity to shine in very limiting roles, but showed promise in what he could, and did, bring to them.

His jump to feature film came two years later in Johnny English Reborn (2011), in which he plays English’s partner/overseer Agent Tucker. Playing the straight man to Rowan Atkinson’s English, Kaluuya continued to work within the comedy genre that he had first started with in Skins. Through the mid-2010s his career quieted down with the most notable parts being a small supporting role in Kick-Ass 2 and as the protagonist of the Black Mirror episode, ‘Fifteen Million Merits’. It was then, in 2017, when Kaluuya’s career exploded.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out had Kaluuya star as Chris Washington, a black man living in America on a trip to meet his white fiancée’s parents. To Chris, Kaluuya brought with him the charisma that had been present throughout his career. Very cleverly, Kaluuya uses his charismatic smile and demeanour to hide Chris’s true feelings of weariness towards the casual liberal racism seen throughout the film. This treatment takes a toll on Chris, slowly tearing him down until the cheeky Posh Kenneth Kaluuya has been stripped away and a new, more serious Kaluuya has been born.

Following his Oscar nominated role as Chris Washington, his next feature role came in the over $1 billion grossing blockbuster Black Panther. Starring alongside the late Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira and Michael B. Jordan, Kaluuya took on the role of secondary antagonist W’Kabi. Still new to the Hollywood scene, Kaluuya holds his own against an all-star cast. His conflict with both Boseman and Gurira brings another level of conflict to the film, as W’Kabi is torn between loyalty and tradition.

In a serious departure from his previous cinematic roles, Kaluuya’s next appearance was in 2018’s Widows, Steve McQueen’s remake of the 1980s mini-series by Lynda La Plante. Playing gangster Jatemme Manning, Kaluuya is near unrecognisable. As Manning, he commands the screen through sheer terror, his appearance enough to change a scene and the film revolves around his every word. Manning’s mannerisms feel inhuman as he inspects, calculates and punctuates with violent outbursts.

Over the last decade and a half, Kaluuya has worked to cultivate his career. While it has only now begun to bear fruit, his early efforts can now be re-examined and looked upon through the guise of what he has become; showing promise early on and grafting his career into what he has now. With his upcoming film Judas and the Black Messiah, he plays real-life Black Panther, Fred Hampton, in a seemingly suspenseful story inspired by true events. If his past is anything to go by, the trajectory for Daniel Kaluuya’s career can only go up.

Judas and the Black Messiah will be released next year. Check out the trailer below:


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3rd year film student

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