Daniel Kaluuya Admits He Almost Quit Acting Before Landing Lead Role in 'Get Out'

The Academy Award-winning actor revealed the tidbit in conversation with director Jordan Peele for 'Essence.'

Imagining a world without Daniel Kaluuya's Oscar-nominated performance in Get Out is virtually impossible, but according to the 33-year-old actor, that was nearly the case. In conversation with Jordan Peele for Essence's August issue, the Academy Award winner admitted that he was on the verge of quitting his craft when he began talks with the director for what would become his breakthrough role. 

Peele kicked off the conversation recalling the moment the duo first met. "I saw you in the 'Fifteen Million Merits' episode of Black Mirror, which was a tour de force performance and an undeniable audition for Get Out," he says. "I knew that as a performer you embodied the spectrum of somebody who could play small and subtle. Someone we would root for, but who also had an explosive side and an ability to access certain deranged elements in your psychology. I already knew I wanted you for the film -- but you blew me away in the audition, and now here we are."

In response, Kaluuya admits that he had been "really disillusioned" with acting when Peele reached out to him and they met. "I had stopped acting for like a year and a half," he reveals. 

"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, Okay, I'm not crazy. It’s proper. It's going to be all right," he adds.

He went on to say that his performance in the role was a credit to Peele and the script, saying, "I remember when it came through, I was like, this guy knows what he's doing. It's very rare you find writers that know what they're doing. No one understood it -- but I was like, This is a hit, this is a banger. It was just audacious."

The actor explained that the "actual work" of acting is "being wise enough to not act when the script's strong, and the story's strong, and the character's strong, and the relationship is strong." 

"You’ve just got to say the words, and the script does it for itself," he stresses.

Despite his reluctance before learning about the role, Kaluuya said that after Get Out, he took stock and streamlined the projects he really wanted to do.

"I was just like, If it's not a 'F**k yeah,' it’s a no. That kind of cleaned house. A 'F**k yeah' to me is when you're doing plays, you're doing it for 400 pound a week," he explains. "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."

"I want to go into places that I don't know I can. I want three-dimensional characters. I want to tell the story, no matter how big or how small," he continues. "In Widows, I'm not in the film that much, but my character had an arc -- he had a story and an evolution. As long as that’s there, then I can engage with it."

Peele and Kaluuya have joined forces again with the upcoming sci-fi thriller Nope, which also stars Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Barbie Ferreira, Keith David, Donna Mills and Andrew Patrick Ralston. 

Kaluuya and Palmer play siblings Jill and James Haywood, owners of Haywood Ranch, home of Hollywood's only black-owned horse trainers. The duo recently lost their father to what they suspect are the aliens hovering over their property, and they hatch a scheme to capture and sell the first authentic look at UFOs. Kevin (Brandon Perea) is hired to set up their new UFO-detecting camera system, while Craig (Michael Wincott) is their photographic expert. But they soon learn that the aliens won't let them have what they want so easily. 

The actor shared that he saw the role as an "exciting challenge" when Peele came to him, saying the film is another example of how the director has "expanded" the horror genre. 

"For me, it's about, 'What genre can you reinvent? And what genre can you expand?' I feel like you have expanded horror already, and now you're doing it again -- giving it scale and epicness," he tells Peele. "I love pushing the envelope. We’re in a creative industry, but people will sometimes handle this like they're working at the bank. It's nuts to me. Let's go -- let's create. I don't like hearing, 'Oh, I've never seen that before.' That's the point. That's why people watch films. So it was amazing to be in the center of something that I used to love watching as a kid as well."

Nope hits theaters on July 22.