‘The Water Man’: The Valuable Note David Oyelowo Got from Ava DuVernay for His Directing Debut

     September 16, 2020

David Oyelowo has dozens and dozens of acting credits to his name as well as two Golden Globe nominations, an Emmy nomination and a BAFTA nod, but his latest project marks a significant accomplishment; The Water Man is Oyelowo’s feature directorial debut.

The film is a fantasy-adventure starring Lonnie Chavis as Gunner. When his mother’s (Rosario Dawson) condition takes a turn for the worst, Gunner becomes determined to track down a mythical figure called The Water Man in hopes of healing her. Gunner teams with Amiah Miller’s Jo, a local girl who claims to have encountered The Water Man herself, and the duo heads into the forest to track him down.


Image via Karen Ballard

With the film making its big debut at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, I got the chance to chat with Oyelowo, Chavis and Miller about their experience making the movie. During the conversation, Oyelowo highlighted a select group of directors who made a big impression on him and influenced how he approached his own feature:

“I definitely called upon some of those great directors that I’ve been really blessed to have worked with. Some of them being Ava DuVernay who’s a very close friend of mine and who was so, so helpful. But [also] Chris McQuarrie, Will Gluck, Mel Gibson, Nate Parker, Joel Edgerton, those last three being actors who’ve also directed movies.” 

Oyelowo also pinpointed one especially encouraging thought that DuVernay mentioned:

“I’ve done over 40 films now and as Ava said to me, what actors don’t often realize when they go to direct something is that they actually have more experience than most world class directors because even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, the chances are, you’re not doing a movie or two a year. And if you have a decent career as an actor, which I’ve been blessed to have, I have been on so many movie sets, so I know how it’s meant to work, I’ve watched it from the sidelines, and so I’ve sort of had my own version of film school.”

Oyelowo put those lessons learned to good use with this ambitious directing debut that captures the charming adventurous spirit of his two leads, has a number of deeply emotional beats, and also incorporates a fantasy element that lends itself to some mighty stunning visual choices. To hear more about that and Chavis and Miller’s experience working with Oyelowo, check out our full conversation in the video at the top of this article!

the-water-man-posterDavid Oyelowo, Lonnie Chavis, Amiah Miller:

  • 00:18 – Have you seen the incredible poster for this movie?
  • 00:39 – The directors that made a huge impression on Oyelowo that he found himself referring to while directing his first feature.
  • 02:11 – What concerned him most about directing and acting in the film.
  • 03:27 – The strong impression Oyelowo made on Chavis.
  • 04:30 – Miller talks about a memorable scene with a spider.
  • 05:22 – Miller on her character’s striking style.
  • 05:56 – How Chavis improved as an artist himself while making the movie; how Chavis related to Gunner.
  • 06:42 – Chavis reveals the super cool prop he got to keep from set.
  • 07:57 – They discuss personal hobbies that they enjoy sharing with friends and family.
  • 09:50 – Oyelowo talks about working with Rosario Dawson.
  • 11:16 – Chavis highlights the scenes he was most looking forward to filming.
  • 12:03 – Miller talks about handling a significant amount of exposition during a key scene of the film.
  • 13:02 – Oyelowo talks about folklore and what he learned about local legends while making the movie.
  • 14:30 – Oyelowo emphasizes how lucky he was to have Chavis and Miller in the lead roles.
  • 15:23 – Chavis and Miller revisit their first chemistry read.
  • 16:35 – What does Oyelowo do behind the monitor when he’s really liking a take?
  • 17:44 – Do Chavis and Miller have any interest in getting behind the lens themselves?

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