"I've never told you this, but when you reached out to me and we had that Skype, I was really disillusioned with acting," the British-born actor revealed to Peele in a new conversation the two had for Essence magazine. "I had stopped acting for like a year and a half. I checked out, because I was just like, this isn't working. I wasn't getting roles, because racism and all this kind of stuff — so you reaching out was like, 'OK, I'm not crazy. It's proper. It's going to be all right.'"
Peele had spotted Kaluuya in the "Fifteen Million Merits" episode of Netflix's sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror.
It's a good thing — for all of us — that Kaluuya joined the movie, which ended up being a smash hit, both critically and commercially, netting an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Peele and a 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as grossing upwards of $255 million internationally. After that, Kaluuya was nominated for the best actor Oscar, and he didn't have as much trouble finding a job. In 2021, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah.
He and Peele teamed up again for the highly anticipated Nope, which hits theaters July 22, that Peele describes as "a Black UFO movie."
During their talk for Essence, Peele noted that Kaluuya seemed to have had a "real intention" with his career.
"I did. I was just like, If it's not a ‘F*** yeah,' it's a no. That kind of cleaned house. A 'F*** yeah' to me is when you're doing plays, you're doing it for 400 pound a week. That's pre-agent, pre-tax, pre-everything. So I was like, 'Would I do this for 400 pound a week?' And if the answer was yes, then all right, cool, I'll do it."
The main requirement for something that Kaluuya is excited about is a "three-dimensional character" with a true arc.
Kaluuya also explained that he's observed a difference in audiences at home and in the States.
"It's something I learned on the press run for Judas and the Black Messiah," he said. "A lot of times people think I'm guarded, but I'm just new. I'm in a new country. Then, when I was being more open, people were talking to me about the interviews — and I'm like, Why are you talking about the interviews? They weren't talking about the film."
He continued, "In England you don't root for people the same way. In America it's like, 'Oh, that's my guy. He's got my perspective. Or she's got my perspective. Cool, I'm rolling with them.' In England it's about talent, and I think in America it's about the character of a person."
Kaluuya won't have to worry about finding acting jobs as long as Peele is working.
As he told Empire magazine this month, he considers his relationship with the actor like that of frequent collaborators Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.