Up Next

Movies

Storm Reid and David Oyelowo race against time in ‘Don’t Let Go’

The two actors star in a new thriller about an uncle trying to save his niece

Storm Reid and David Oyelowo have each been in multiple projects directed by Ava DuVernay, including A Wrinkle in Time, where Reid starred as Meg and Oyelowo was the voice of the story’s monster. But a new thriller out Friday, Don’t Let Go, marks the first time they’ve worked together at length.

Written and directed by Jacob Estes, Don’t Let Go debuted earlier this year at Sundance under a different title, Relive. Oyelowo plays Jack Radcliff, a Los Angeles detective with an ex-con brother named Garret (Brian Tyree Henry). Reid plays Ashley, Garret’s daughter.

Garret gets into trouble that leads to a gunman murdering him, Ashley and her mother in their own house. But thanks to a weird blip in the space-time continuum, Jack has a chance to rescue his niece when he realizes he’s living in an alternate timeline days ahead of Ashley. She’s only reachable by phone, but if Ashley and Jack can solve the murder case, they have a chance to avoid her meeting a grisly, untimely end.

Storm Reid, who plays Ashley in Don’t Let Go, says she picks her acting roles based on what kind of impact they can make.

Lacey Terrell/Universal Pictures

Reid is just 16, but she has played characters who have faced a parade of miseries that would paralyze most adults. As Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, she had to save the universe, besides her father. Her boyfriend in When They See Us (played by Jharrel Jerome) is snatched away and subjected to 13 years of prison hell for a crime he didn’t commit. In Euphoria, Reid plays Gia, who watches her only sibling (Zendaya as Rue) fall prey to addiction and nearly die of an overdose after they lose their father to cancer.

I spoke to Oyelowo and Reid this month about Reid’s designs on directing, their experiences working with DuVernay and how they created such an intimate relationship between their Don’t Let Go characters when they’re rarely together on screen.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

You’ve both had important roles in works directed by Ava DuVernay. What did you take away from working with her?

“The thing that I always come away with working with Ava is the importance of kindness. She’s an incredibly kind and nurturing person when it comes to an artist. That tends to produce your best work.” — David Oyelowo on Ava DuVernay

Oyelowo: The first film we did together was a film called Middle of Nowhere. And then, of course, Selma as well. The thing that I always come away with working with Ava is the importance of kindness. She’s an incredibly kind and nurturing person when it comes to an artist. That tends to produce your best work. Whether it’s as a producer or how I treat other actors or people I work with, I carry that kindness with me because it’s a good thing to do, period, but also it does help people do their best work.

Reid: She’s amazing at being hands-on and really, again, caring about the people that she works with. She’s a perfect example of giving people opportunity. As long as you can do the job and you do it well and you’re willing to collaborate, she doesn’t care about where you come from or what your sexuality is. It doesn’t really matter to her.

Storm, you keep playing kids who are in really stressful situations and have to grow up quickly. How’d that come to be?

When I’m choosing a project, I don’t feel as though I’m looking for the kid who is going through a lot. I really try to take an approach where I’m being very purposeful with what I choose to be a part of in that it has an impact. People are not always just joyous and coexist, they do go through things. And the characters that I am portraying right now are just going through a lot, and their circumstances have a lot to do with the characters that they are. I’m glad to be able to play such grounded, such well-rounded, emotional characters.

Do you ever need to just take a deep breath and step back after you’ve finished?

David Oyelowo plays Los Angeles police detective Jack Radcliff, who is trying to solve his niece’s murder.

Lacey Terrell/Universal Pictures

No, not really. It’s quite weird, actually, how I’m able to just flip it on and flip it off and I’m able to step into my character’s shoes and kind of step outside of myself. Once I’m done with that or once I’m done with the scene, I have to remind myself that this is not my reality, and it really does help for me to go back to the person I am. But if I’m crying in a scene one minute, then I’ll be laughing the next, so I feel like it’s just a gift that I have.

In Don’t Let Go, the majority of your interactions together are over the phone rather than in person. Yet there’s a palpable emotional connection between the two of you. How did you develop that?

Oyelowo: We spent a fair bit of time together off-screen, but we also made sure that we were always present on set when the other person was having to do one of those phone calls. So even though it was a phone call and I would be in the other room doing those lines, I was present so that we knew each other were close by. We could also talk with each other between takes as well. … I actually met Storm on the set of A Wrinkle in Time when I went to visit the set and saw how magnificent Storm was. That’s partly what put the idea in my head for her to be in Don’t Let Go. From day one, I already sort of had this protective element, even in relation to our relationship as actors. I think all of those things added up to a chemistry and a bond that we hope translates to the screen.

David, had you signed on first?

Yes, yes, I was already on the film, and actually when it first came to me it certainly wasn’t written as an African American family. Actually, the film was set on a farm in Ohio, would you believe? When I was approached, I just couldn’t really imagine myself in that context, so once we started thinking about the film in relation to me and an environment that may feel organic, we geared it to L.A. We set it in South Central.

What attracted you to Don’t Let Go?

Oyelowo: Well, I mean, this sort of unconventional love story, really. There are all kinds of love, and this was familial love, which is something that I think all of us can relate to. And as a father as well, I have children who are Storm’s age, and I know what I would do to protect them under any circumstances. I really connected with this idea of how far I could prepare to go — whether it’s literally in a dangerous situation, or even through time — reach back in order to save your loved one. Even though I loved the genre element of this, I really connected to the emotional side of that aspect.

I was curious about the relationship that Jack has with his brother. How do these two men feel about each other?

Jack must solve the murder of his niece before the two separate timelines in which they’re living unite and it’s too late.

Lacey Terrell/Universal Pictures

I think that there is real love there. But I think we can all relate to having family members who we wish were making different choices or had made different choices. You don’t want their children or the innocent members of the family to have to suffer for those bad choices. We didn’t dwell on it too much because we want the film to feel universal and something that everyone can relate to. But of course, in this particular instance, it has its specificities. I play a cop in this, my brother is indulging in criminal behavior, so already we are at odds. But you can transpose that onto any family situation where there’s a disagreement. Then you have this child in the middle of it who is suffering as a result. We all have dysfunction in our families, and so that was the aspect we wanted to highlight.

Storm, you have ambitions to direct one day. Would you direct David?

Reid: Oh, yes, of course! If he allows me to have that opportunity, I’d love to do it.

Oyelowo: I’d love that too. I mean, I can’t begin to tell you the level of emotional intelligence and talent and just someone that has such a head screwed on as Storm. I was just so impressed with her when we were shooting, and that was, I think she was maybe 14 at the time we shot that. I just continue to be impressed by her and her ambitions and her humanity, her kindness. I just think she has a huge, huge career ahead of her, and this is literally the tip of the iceberg of what she has to offer. I’m sure I’ll be in line to be directed by her someday.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.