Now, the 28-year-old British actor has a best-actor Oscar nomination for starring in one of last year's biggest films, "Get Out"; a culture-shifting blockbuster opening this week ("Black Panther"); and a Steve McQueen film on the horizon.
The Associated Press, which named Kaluuya one of its breakthrough entertainers of 2017, spoke to the actor recently about his crazy year, the life-changing nomination and his mom's practical advice on Oscar-nomination morning.
Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: You've had quite the year! To think, you were shooting 'Black Panther' when 'Get Out' was about to come out last February.
KALUUYA: When ('Get Out') was in Sundance I was in Atlanta preparing. Literally, I had U.K. press on my day off of 'Black Panther.' It's been a run.
AP: Did you ever think "Get Out" would be this big?
KALUUYA: No, I didn't. An indie horror?! No inkling. I had a feeling 'Black Panther' would be big. It was an ensemble, it was obviously a different thing. I'm English and 'Black Panther' is my third American job. It's kind of like me understanding how it works on this level. I was blessed to have this opportunity. And I didn't expect 'Get Out' to be the horse that it's been, just riding through the whole year and picking up pace. It looks like I have this master plan, but I just do stuff that I believe in and am interested in and work with filmmakers I'm a fan of.
AP: Has life changed for you?
KALUUYA: I mean I'm sitting here and this balcony is bigger than my flat. But I think it's still happening for me to understand the actual change of it. I think it's when it goes quiet you go, 'What's changed?' But like the nom came out Tuesday. It's like seven days. Just as I was like getting into, 'Oh what does this mean?' then I see 'Black Panther,' and it's like boom.
AP: How do you choose what you work on? You have Steve McQueen's "Widows" coming up next.
KALUUYA: I'm drawn to projects where I don't know what happens next. That's what happened with 'Get Out,' I was like, 'I haven't seen this, let's do it.' Because you don't know what's going to happen. With 'Black Panther,' I have ideas now that I've watched it. I think it'll be sold out for three weeks.
AP: Has the phone been ringing more often?
KALUUYA: I've been on 'Get Out' for like a year. I've been scheduled. My year was sewed up in September the year before, doing 'Black Panther,' doing 'Widows,' writing my script. At the moment it's like, after March, after the Oscars, we'll see what happens. I kind of like that. After 'Sicario' I took a year and a half off and I just read scripts and wrote and did my thing and I think this is all kind of representative of my force and that year off and what I'm about and what I want to do. I think it's important to go, 'Let's press pause and see what opportunities are out there.' I want to make things that have stuff to say and work with people who have something to say. I want to continue doing that and I'm willing to wait, and I was willing to wait. I was writing my script and I saw 'Get Out' and I'm like, 'I need to do this,' and 'Black Panther,' I thought, 'I need to do this' and 'Widows,' and it's like 'do this.'
AP: Are you getting excited for the Oscars?
KALUUYA: I don't know. ... I have no idea. I don't know what's happening. I haven't thought that far.
AP: What were you thinking when Tiffany Haddish mispronounced your name on nominations morning?
KALUUYA: I haven't watched it yet! I haven't seen the announcement. I just can't. I just can't. I have seen clips of my friends watching it. And when my name comes up everyone screams. So I know what she did. She's East African so it's cool. And it's so life changing for me anyway. It's a life changing thing for me. 'Get Out' was my second American job. I didn't sign up to an indie horror for that. I did it because I thought it was cool and I wanted to watch it.
AP: Is your family excited for you?
KALUUYA (laughing): I FaceTimed (my mom) in the morning and she was like, 'Hopefully you can convey that into a job.' Very practical. Very practical. 'You haven't got a job at the moment. You need a job.'
Follow Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
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