'Got any nibbles?' Daniel Kaluuya asks very loudly.
We're sitting in a silent, very LA restaurant next to a West Hollywood art gallery. You might think the fact that Kaluuya's become an internet sensation (his expressive face in record-breaking box-office hit Get Out inspired a stream of GIFs), and one of cinema's most coveted young actors, would make him a little more reserved in public. Maybe quieter, avoiding recognition? No. Unapologetic and unaffected by his success, Kaluuya, 28, doesn't put on any new-fame affectations, nor does he stray far from his London roots.
Having grown up on an estate in Camden, North London, with Ugandan parents, he keeps all the same friends, listens to the same grime artists and wears his jeans like the boys outside Camden Town Tube station – below the arse. The waitress clearly doesn't have a clue what 'nibbles' are, but hazards a guess. Kaluuya has a charmed way of making you understand exactly where he's coming from.
There's a lightness and humour to Kaluuya, which is a deep contrast to his onscreen roles. He's drawn to rebellious, provocative projects; whether that's the first cast of Channel 4's Noughties teen drama Skins, an episode of Charlie Brooker's dark sci-fi Black Mirror, or 2017's cult horror smash Get Out, which made more than $175 million at the box office and has earned a Golden Globe nomination. 'I've always been looking to fuck shit up,' he says. 'I was a shit in school. When I got into acting a teacher said to my mum, "He needs to let out some energy."'
'I've always been looking to fuck shit up,' he says. 'I was a shit in school. When I got into acting a teacher said to my mum, "He needs to let out some energy."'
When he got the part of Chris in Get Out, an African American who goes home to meet the parents of his white girlfriend (played by Allison Williams, better known as Marni in HBO's Girls), he ignored director Jordan Peele's advice to do his horror-film homework. Instead, he drew on his own experience of everyday racism. 'I lived it. I live it. I live this.
I just read the script, so it was in me.' The themes of outsiderdom and otherness have made Get Out almost documentarian in its realness. 'I go through racism every day, man,' says Kaluuya. 'Probably the same for you with sexism, no? Every day someone says some sick stuff. Racism's horrifying. People end up dead, mothers lose their kids. This shit's fucked up. You have all these experiences and you have to keep going for your dreams, but you're carrying this.' (If you haven't noticed, Kaluuya says fuck a lot.)
'Racism's horrifying. People end up dead, mothers lose their kids.'
On the subject of waking people up to hard truths, I ask if he was surprised by the revelations of sexism in his industry following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. He takes a moment. 'A lot of men are raised in a mad way,' he says. 'I'd be lying to you if I said I was shocked. Everyone knows. Everyone knows. Now it's time to listen to people's stories, to do things properly. Make it a criminal case as opposed to a public shaming. Make sure there are repercussions.'
Kaluuya went to his local sixth form in Camden and, after joining a small theatre group, by 18 he'd been brought in to write on the first series of Skins, a show about teenagers, for teenagers, by teenagers. The producers loved the character he wrote – Posh Kenneth – so much, they had Kaluuya act the part himself. A cult success, the show was notorious for its depiction of sex, drug use and adolescent pressures, as well as its cast of then-unknowns who were living parallel lives to the on-screen storylines. The rave continued off-set. 'It was our uni,' he says of the experience. 'And yeah, it got a bit crazy.' Today, the cast keep in touch, go to each other's weddings, even sometimes do Christmas together.
Fun aside, the freedom and exposure of Skins birthed a new breed of Hollywood breakout stars (Nichoulas Hoult, Jack O'Connell, Dev Patel, Joe Dempsie) who didn't need private-school connections to make it.'There are so many people I know from London in LA now, and we all started together,' he says. 'We used to go raving at Cameos night club. Sometimes you have to appreciate that 'cos when it gets low, it gets low. You have to enjoy the wins.'
When Kaluuya was starting out, it was grime MCs like Skepta and JME, and actor Ashley Waters (formerly Asher D in So Solid Crew) that he looked up to; people from his 'ends' who made him realise he didn't need to minimise his lower economic experience to pursue success. He sees the rise of grime as a sign that the people he grew up around are getting their dues now. 'Everyone was late to the party,' he says. 'Systematic blocks were put in place to stop grime artists from becoming the Oasis of our time. That's who they are. It's so inspiring.You don't understand how subconsciously we've been told that we can't. [Now] we can just be us and we can thrive.'
'Systematic blocks were put in place to stop grime artists from becoming the Oasis of our time.
Kaluuya is careful about the films he signs up to, preferring to convey real-life experiences and portray characters he sees himself in. When talking about his upcoming role in Marvel's Black Panther, an all-black cast blockbuster, he says, 'That story resonated with me because I know that [character]. The sensibilities are aligned.' The film also stars another British rising star, Letitia Wright, whom Kaluuya used to record plays with for BBC Radio 4. 'And now she's got a phat Marvel poster of herself!' he says in disbelief. Last night, the poster with his own face came out. 'I'm in a Marvel film? Holy fuck… This is a brother from Camden Town! It just doesn't compute 'cos I know my life. All my boys say to me, "Yo, you don't understand what's about to happen. After Black Panther, you can't get a bus any more." But I'm still going to get the bus.'
'I'm in a Marvel film? Holy fuck… '
With his winning optimism, and the year he's set to have – he won this year's EE Rising Star BAFTA – it's difficult to believe there's ever a bad day for Daniel Kaluuya. He assures me there is. 'This industry's hard,' he says. 'The world is hard. Being young and black is tough. You can't complain about it, so you need a safe place to moan. When I need a reality check, I call my mum. She gives me the realness and says, "You were born in England. Shut up!"'
Black Panther Is Out Now.