Ava DuVernay is ‘stunned’ over her Golden Globe directing nod for ‘Selma’

One of the nicest surprises from this morning's 2015 Golden Globe nominations was the love the Hollywood Foreign Press Association bestowed upon Ava DuVernay's “Selma.” The dramatic story behind the historic 1965 Selma-to-Birmingham march earned four nominations including Best Picture – Drama, Best Original Song (“Glory” by John Legend and Common), Best Actor in a Drama (David Oyelowo) and Best Director (DuVernay). It's somewhat disheartening that DuVernay is only the fifth woman nominated by the HFPA (still more than the Academy Awards for the moment) and the first African-American one, but this sort of love for one of the best pictures of the year? We can only hope Oscar is listening.

DuVernay and Oyelowo were in Toronto this morning following a special TIFF screening last night. She jumped on the phone to chat about the big day.


HitFix: Congratulations Ava! How is Toronto? Where were you when you heard about the nominations?

Ava DuVernay: It's snowing and we are so high up I can see the flakes. It kind of feels like we are floating and it's all white. And it's just me and David in a room and we're getting ready to do TV interviews because we're here in Toronto doing press. When they said, “Turn on the TV, it's happening now,” my highest hope was for David. Because I know what he put into this. Every inch of himself. Every molecule. Every bit of his DNA is in this picture. So, yeah, it was a very happy moment.

Do you feel like you've even had a breather? You were just shooting this movie less than six months ago.

This is the thing. We shot for 32 days. The bridge, the Bloody Sunday scene, we only had two days on that Bridge. It rained for half of a day so we had a day and a half. We had two and a half months to edit and finish. I mean, from July 4 until when we debuted on November 11 we were editing all of the time. It was August, September and October what we had to work on. Finishing all the music, all of the crafting of the film. Yeah, I'm still in that. I feel like I just took my hands off the film. I really, really feel like I'm barely ready to show it to people and now things are happening. It's a little surreal, but beautiful.

One of the major strengths of the film is its incredible supporting cast. Did you have a list in the back of your head of all the actors you'd always wanted to work with and whether they'd work for the movie?

Yes, I had a mental list. Oprah Winfrey being in it allowed me much more freedom in casting than one traditionally has, just because they wanted a “name, name, name, name.” So, her being there allowed me to have freedom everywhere else. I am like the biggest Tim Roth fan going back to obscure films. I am a Giovanni Ribisi stalker. I love, loved him. André Holland, who is on this show called “The Knick” right now, I first saw him in “42” and thinking, “My God, who is that?” Tessa Thompson. I saw her in this small little film a few years back and I always remembered her. To be able to put together your dream cast of who you always loved. That's how I approached it.  

How did Tom Wilkinson come about playing LBJ?

He was one of the first on my list because the physicality of King and Johnson was so much a part of their relationship. They used to do something called the Johnson Treatment. There are pictures of it in the historical archives. He was a huge guy. He was 6' 4″ and would lean over people and use his physicality. And we do that in the film, so it was really important that I had a bigger guy. So, I was looking for taller actors. Who were the best tall actors with gravitas? And, literally, he was at the top of the list.  And I asked him and he said yes.

I know David can't talk this morning, but what are your thoughts on what this sort of recognition means to him? He's been a working actor for over a decade. He's finally getting the spotlight.

David is in every movie basically. [Laughs.] Every movie you see? Do not be freaked out because David Oyelowo is going to pop up. “Interstellar,” “Jack Reacher,” “A Most Violent Year,” “The Help,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Red Tails,” “Lincoln.” I mean, the list goes on and he's always good. He's never the center. Never the center. Oh, I don't want to get emotional, but I adore him so much. His talent is immense and his heart is even bigger. And for him to be the center of this film? For the first time? And to be received like this? Really and truly what I want out of this whole thing is that for David. I think it means a lot to him. It means a lot to me. It means a lot to a lot of people.

Bradford Young's work is phenomenal and he just feels like a cinematographer who is going to be at the top of everyone's must have list. Have you done everything you can to lock him down for your next picture?

I know, I know. I'm sure I need to negotiate my next five films with Bradford right now. I'm using my friendship with his wife, his child. I'm just trying to stay in with this brother because he is a young master. We have so much fun together. We have a shorthand. We have a connection on the things we care about. I think he's really brilliant and I've been fortunate now to have shot three things with him and I hope many more.

Last question, you're only the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Globes and the first African-American woman. Does that have any significance for you personally?

I had no idea. That is not anything that had come into my mind. I wasn't thinking about this for me. I thought it was a bit of a longshot. I really put my highest hopes for David with it. I'm stunned by it. I really don't have words for it. Someone literally told me seven minutes ago. It's bittersweet in a way. It's absolutely not true that there hasn't been good work by black women before this moment. So for whatever reason, it's happening now. It's very sweet for me, but I tip my hat to all the black women who came before me, women of color period, who haven't been able to be in this category and just hope now that a door's been opened.

“Selma” opens in limited release on Christmas Day.