Interview: 'Get Out' Star Daniel Kaluuya Discusses Jordan Peele And The Sunken Place

In Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya doesn't play the typical thriller/horror movie lead. The character makes some wise decisions as things go wrong. He feels real, his backstory feels real, his relationship feels real, and his emotions feel real. Kaluuya isn't playing a cardboard character waiting to get the ax; he plays somebody the audience understands and roots for.

With his directorial debut, Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) has given Kaluuya a role with a genuine interior life. The actor is known for his time on the popular drama Skins, but he's had some memorable performances over the past few years, including a supporting role in Sicario and an impassioned performance in Black Mirror.

I spoke with Kaluuya, who also has a part in Marvel's Black Panther, about working with Peele, on-set improvisation, and the significance of the "sunken place" in Get Out.

With Jordan Peele's background in acting, does that make him different from other directors you've worked with?

I think he gets it, I think he gets it. He's got an improvisation background, and me and [co-star Allison Williams] as well, so he trusts that instincts are very important and he doesn't try and micromanage you. Kinda lets you go and trusts you. And it's how you trust him when he thinks that things should be a certain way and it's really cool to have him invested creatively in the process like that, so it was really cool. And Jordan's allowed that, it came to fruition in that way.

It's a tightly constructed thriller, but was there room for improvisation? 

I think a majority of the film was improvised, a lot of stuff made up in a day, if it wasn't working, like you get in the moment, it doesn't feel right, we have to be loose, and flexible enough to allow for whatever ideas need to happen. I think everyone knew where their character arcs was going, so people were kind of managers of their characters and mapping that. And Jordan allowed us, gave us the license to do that. So a lot of it was improv, a lot of it was right and he wanted it to feel natural and off cast, which is like life, you know?

Did any scenes change quite a bit from improv?

I don't want to spoil stuff, but there's a lot of stuff. There's loads of scenes like the opening scene with me and Allison, where we kind of felt the vibe and did that, and then a lot of the car seqeunces we made up in the day.

We always did it, and there was a scene, this is a bit of a spoiler, [Spoiler Warning] but when we find out where Rose was coming from, I couldn't do that scene the way it was scripted, really. And then, that was something that we kind of made up. When he was asking Rose to give me the keys, all that stuff was made up in a day. It just felt natural because what was scripted didn't feel right in the space it was in, and Jordan allowed us to do that, and you need to give where credit's due. He was open enough to see that. [Spoiler Over]

Unlike a lot of thrillers or horror movies, this is a movie where the leads make some wise decisions. Does a part of you think, "Great, now I don't have to convince the audience I'm doing something that makes no sense?" 

Yeah, loads of time, and that's why I don't really work this much because I say it in the audition, or I say it to them, or I don't go after it. I kind of find it hard to close my mouth. And again there were loads of scenes where the character doesn't make sense but the plot is motoring the story as opposed to the character, and you feel it, you don't write it out, that decision.

People are decisions and actions. You can say what the fuck you want, but you are your decisions, you are your actions. And, unless someone's doing that to facilitate a story progressing, it's just, I can always beat it. Jordan ia so intimate with the genre, and understanding what the audience is thinking. He's a step ahead, and someone like the Rose character voices every single thing that an audience would say in that situation. And throwing bones at Chris and going "Yo, you get out of this place" – I mean it's like, it's ridiculous but it's a device in order to counteract that, you know? Sort of, have someone in his ear that's basically thinking, and second guessing.

Get Out Trailer

Lil Rel Howery is great in the movie, and you guys have such a good relationship in the film, even though we only really see you two talking on the phone. Would you two ever be on set with each other those days?

Some days I'd be on set, some days Jordan would be him, and that was really funny as well, so it was just kind of like, I mean, he gets it man. He's just cool and he's open. That's the thing about every performer in this film. Everyone was just open and present. It makes it easy, you know, you don't have to...no one's in each other's way. No one has a prepared performance, everyone's just doing what feels real. And then, his last scene, he was just incredible. He would just do shit to make you crack, you know? He'd be going out there. And then, you have to stay in your space, and then, again, that's a testament to Jordan and the writing, and the fact that he set the dynamic and the casting the way that just feels natural, you know?

It's not forced. You don't have to go out of your way in order to make that because the writing speaks for itself and the dynamic and the kind of person those two characters are. And you know that relationship, you know that guy is gonna clown. He's saying actually real stuff, but he says it in a very comedic manner. He doesn't mean to be comedic, that's just how he sees the world. So that really rang true with me, because I've got loads of friends like that.

As you said, Jordan knows the genre well. Were there any horror movies you two discussed that inspired Get Out?

There were shows that he liked, like Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, that he was talking about, and there was a show I talked about called Psychoville, which is a great series back home, written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, which I was in. It's kind of like a horror comedy series and that really resonated me when I read this. It was the closest thing I read to Get Out.

But, obviously, this is talking about race instead of just weird and random stuff that's in Psychoville. So that's what it was, that's what really helped it. Also, for me, you just gotta root for Chris and Rose, in order for the film to pay off. And it was about me finding the humanity within it, and finding the real guy within it. Because that's what it is. This guy's a real guy, that just happens to fall in love with this girl and then this is what happens when he's vulnerable.

He's very vulnerable during the sunken place sequences. How was it shooting those scenes? What did they mean to you? 

Just feeling, that's how being black sometimes feels like. You can't actually say what you want to say because you may lose your job and you're paralyzed in your life. You know? You're paralyzed in your life, you want to express an emotion, and then it comes out in rage elsewhere, because you internalized it, because you can't live your truth, and that's what I'm trying to say is so amazing.

Yourself is being controlled and being managed, by someone who doesn't have your best interests at heart, AKA, your cinematic version of yourself in terms of a black psyche, you know? And that's what really rang true with me. Well, you paralyzed me, and if he expresses emotion it comes out like this, and he's upset about not being able to move, you know? Because a lot of people out here in the streets can't move, you know? They can't do anything, they can't even feed their kids, man. They can't even afford to heal them. You can be paralyzed all day and you can't...there's nothing worse than that. And that's what black people are going through every day. Now. And so, that's what really was important to me, to express that.

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Get Out is in theaters today.