Making his directorial feature debut at TIFF, David Oyelowo looked to the films he loved as a kid for inspiration when it came to choosing “The Water Man”.

“They had adventure, escapism, and also had a depth and meaning to them,” he says, citing “The Goonies”, “ET”, and “Stand By Me” as personal favourites. Oyelowo tries to channel that energy in his family-friendly film which follows a young boy’s quest to save his sick mother with the help of a mythic figure who is said to have magical healing powers.

“I’ve been looking for something like this primarily as a producer but also what I want to put out in the world,” Oyelowo says during the film’s press conference along with the movie’s cast Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello and Lonnie Chavis. “The intention wasn’t initially to direct it,” he adds, revealing the original direct dropped out of the project, carving a space for Oyelowo to step him.

For his first time behind the camera for a feature film, the actor looked to some of the great directors he had worked with for guidance, including his “Selma” director, Ava DuVernay.  “I’ve had a really blessed career in terms of working with some truly phenomenal directors and I always thought that was going to be my film school,” he says of his career as an actor.

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“David set the tone. He was absolutely delightful,” Molina says of Oyelowo’s directing style on set. “I didn’t hear any sense of panic. He may have been panicking on the inside but didn’t show it,” he laughs. “Everyone talks about his directorial debut but in fact, he directed a short a few years ago that I was happy to be in and even then it was obvious he was a storyteller and he had a great gift for storytelling and it comes from his approach to life, his family, his friends, the industry.

“It shows on screen,” he adds.

“He’s just a good human,” Bello agrees. “I want to work with great artists that are good humans putting great s*** in the world.”

As a first-time feature director, Oyelowo says he learned a lot about himself in the process of bringing “The Water Man” to life.

“I learned about the power of relying on others,” he says. “One of the great pieces of advice I got from so many directors was ‘hire great people and get out of the way.’ I learned trust because I had a vision, but I was working with people who were elevating my vision. I found out in the middle of this process the letting go was letting it become even more than I envisioned.”

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He continues: “I learned the joy that, as an actor, you are trying to sort of manufacture this role [and] this performance you hope that is going to work within the movie, but directing was the opposite of what I thought it was going to be in wielding this ship but letting go was a far more important way to do it.”

Molina agrees with Oyelowo’s idea of learning to trust the people around you.

“This notion of trust is really crucial. Working with directors who were actors has always been exciting,” he says. Molina previously appeared in Oyelowo’s 2009 short film, “Big Guy”. “We rely on all the other experts in the movie to support what we are doing but trust is instinctive. You’re looking straight into the eyes of another actor. What he brought to the film is instinctive for an actor and we all benefitted from that.”

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