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Actor Daniel Kaluuya takes on a new role: director of 'The Kitchen' on Netflix

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A lot of people got to know actor Daniel Kaluuya from his Oscar nominated-performance in "Get Out." He's been waiting a very long time to direct his own film, and it's finally here. Coming to Netflix tomorrow, "The Kitchen" is a futurist vision of London where public housing has basically been eliminated, and the people who rely on it are being forced out of their homes in violent raids. "The Kitchen" is one of those communities, and they're fighting back.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KITCHEN")

KANE ROBINSON: (As Izi) They ordered us to leave. And we said no. This is our home. We ain't going nowhere. They cut our water, they cut our supplies. And we said, no, we ain't going nowhere. Now the target is us.

FADEL: It's the ultimate gentrification storyline.

DANIEL KALUUYA: Yeah. It is, in a sense, but also, it is a celebration of what they do have - the connection, the joy, the vibrancy, the community. And we wanted to explore and celebrate that and show what is worth fighting for.

FADEL: That's Daniel Kaluuya. I spoke with him and the lead actor in his film, Kane Robinson. He plays Izi, a resident of the kitchen who seems to have a shot at getting out. He's got a good job. He saved up enough to relocate. And then he meets a kid named Benji who needs his help. Benji seems to think that Izi is the father who left him and his mom before he was born.

ROBINSON: Izi does live in the kitchen, but he don't feel he belongs in the kitchen. He wants to be somewhere else, and he has no real ties to that community, has no friends, doesn't have much belongings. He's living a solitary life, and everything is just temporary for him. Where he works is at a funeral home, and names come up on the screen of who is going to have their funeral next. And he sees a name that he recognizes and it's an ex-girlfriend of his. And so he goes to the funeral and he sees a young kid, and that kid is Benji. So he's like, am I going to run away, or am I going to find out more and potentially help this kid that has no one left?

FADEL: Yeah. He becomes that connection.

ROBINSON: Yeah.

FADEL: So Benji moves into the kitchen with Izi for a while. He's lost his mom. Izi is the only person in the world he has now, and he's warning Benji not to fall in with the wrong crowd while he's staying in the kitchen. This is a scene from that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KITCHEN")

ROBINSON: (As Izi) When they end up doing something stupid like killing a fed and you're there, they will leave you. Trust me, they will leave you.

JEDAIAH BANNERMAN: (As Benji) You left me.

FADEL: You know, the story, in the beginning, I'm thinking it's about home and oppression and inequality. And this is where you realize this is also about fatherhood.

KALUUYA: Yeah. I think it's - I mean, we set up this character, Izi, who's selfish. He's about himself. And with Benji's introduction, he is now given a clear choice, and he kind of doesn't want what he needs, essentially, Benji being at a stage in his life where he wants a father, an elder, to kind of guide him in this next stage of his life, especially now that his mom's passed away, and how they can do that when Izi is stuck in his island - his one-man island.

FADEL: He needs what he doesn't want. That's interesting what you just said. What do you mean by that?

KALUUYA: In a sense that, like, he needs connection. He needs love. But he could have opened himself to the kitchen, which has an abundance of it, and he's chosen not to. He's chosen to be by himself.

FADEL: Kane, what did you draw on to play Izi? I mean, as you both have described, this is a emotionally cut off person who doesn't want to be connected, can be really selfish, isn't keen on letting anybody in and not including Benji, but he also, almost unwillingly, is a protector. If you could talk about preparing for this character and what you drew on in your own life for this.

ROBINSON: You know, I grew up - my dad, you know, wasn't around. But just like many other young people that I grew up with, my mom was a mom and a dad, and I was raised by her and my aunties and whatever. So I really know that strength. So I kind of draw on just, like, personal experience. Another thing that was quite interesting about the process of this film is we finished filming and then came back to film some more a year later - maybe not that long. But I had my first child within that time, so...

FADEL: Oh.

ROBINSON: ...Coming back to, like, shoot a couple key Izi and Benji scenes, it kind of informed those scenes and it - just something about it changes you.

FADEL: That's so interesting. So what scenes? I'm curious now.

ROBINSON: We came back and we shot that scene where Benji finally says my mom told me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE KITCHEN")

ROBINSON: (As Izi) What did she say?

BANNERMAN: (As Benji) She said you never loved her, but you would have loved me.

ROBINSON: And at that point, you really know that Izi cares about this kid, and it's going to change his whole world...

FADEL: Yeah.

ROBINSON: ...If he leans into it.

FADEL: Which can be terrifying.

ROBINSON: Yeah. Which can be terrifying.

FADEL: Daniel, I mean, this is your directorial debut. You co-wrote this film. Why this story for your debut?

KALUUYA: Man, I really care about London being global.

FADEL: Yeah.

KALUUYA: I didn't really see the people that I saw around in my life giving narratives that are universal. What happens is, is when we have Black characters, we get constrained into the narrative of how white people perceive us. And I was like, well, that's about racism. That's not about Black people. That's not about us.

FADEL: Right.

KALUUYA: Like, racism and Blackness are not synonyms. But for whatever reason, in this world, we use it as that. And I disagree, essentially, and I want us to deal with themes that are big and broad and in the same way that I see other cultures that are big and broad. And so it was something that was worthy of the time.

FADEL: Daniel Kaluuya co-wrote and co-directed "The Kitchen." Kane Robinson stars in the film. It's on Netflix. Thank you both and congratulations.

KALUUYA: Thanks, Leila. Appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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