MM: Was there something that surprised you to learn about the couple as you were working on the film?

AA: No, I have to say the surprise for me about the couple came from the very beginning: Who was this African man who really felt he could take a white female back to Africa to be queen of his people? That piqued my interest. My parents are from Ghana, my uncle is a chief. I try to imagine for two seconds what it would have been like if my uncle had been sent to the U.K. to complete his education, and—forget color, what if he’d just come back with an outsider and said, “She’s going to be queen here?” I can imagine what my mother and her sisters would have said, or the other females of the village, because Ruth’s role would have primarily been with the females.

But what became clear when I started to piece the story together was that love compels and it compels you to do all sorts of things that you might not do if you were not thoroughly in love. So that’s what got my heart. That these people were completely driven. They put themselves in a bubble and separated themselves in many ways from any sense of imagining what the reaction might be. Ruth says that line, “We have misjudged this, haven’t we?” That line went in and out of the edit. Do we keep that line or don’t we? But in the end I wanted to keep it, because I wanted again to see the world through their eyes and understand that they really had not thought about what this would mean, because they were so in love.

Rosamund Pike and Oyelowo in A United Kingdom

So that was the thing that surprised me the most about the couple. I knew that they were tenacious. I knew that they were gutsy. I knew that they had courage. I knew all of those things. I knew that they had that, independently. In particular I knew that about Ruth, because Ruth was a post-war woman. She’d just experienced that period where all the men had been sent to war, and therefore women had been given opportunities that they normally wouldn’t have had. So she was self-sufficient, standing on her own two feet. She was at home because that was a loving, affordable environment. She chose not to get married when it was quite normal to be married right around 18 or 19. She was working as a clerk for an insurance company, which was a big deal for a woman back then. I knew that he would have been raised to be courageous as a king, as a leader, someone who was going to be of service to his people. So seeing them together fighting this didn’t surprise me. It was when I understood that they faced two continents, three countries, all these governments and still didn’t give up. That he said, “You know what? I can love my wife and love my people as well.”

MM: What was the challenge of shooting in Africa?

AA: Heat, and heat and heat. As a filmmaker who shot before in Europe, and usually filmed in the winter, knowing how to take care of myself in the cold and still be able to think is something I had worked out. I knew shooting in Africa was going to be an unknown quantity in terms of how my body would respond and think. Although I’d spent a lot of time in Africa, I’d just been chilling; my mom was taking care of me. There was nothing to do. But you make judgments all the time while shooting and I needed my brain to work through that.

I took as much advice as I could, and we all made sure we were hydrated… but there was nowhere to take cover. There was no shade. There was nowhere to stop the heat you were drinking in. But it was a beautiful experience: We were embraced by the people of the country. We tried to make sure that we left something behind in terms of a filmmaking infrastructure and work with the local people as well as people from South Africa and other countries. I in particular have been committed to having an aspiring female director shadow me. So we always made sure that we had that on the film while we were in Botswana and then again when we continued in London.

Asante with Oyelowo on the set of A United Kingdom

MM: Talk about the process of choosing Rosamund Pike.

AA: I love to present women on screen with a quiet dignity, strong women who are unafraid to be vulnerable at the same time. And Rosamund gives me that. It was a no-brainer to send her the script, and her response to it was so crucial. She didn’t come back with exoticized ideas of who Seretse was, the reasons that Ruth went with him, the world of Botswana and Africa. I was very afraid that I was going to have to be rinsing the mind of any actress that came to me with exotic ideas of what Africa should be or what the relationship should be. Her response was so pure, but it was also so gutsy. Her approach reminded me of what I thought Ruth’s approach might have been to falling in love and going to Africa—just no nonsense, matter-of-fact. “I love this man; this is what I have to do. OK, there’s no running water, I deal with it. OK, it’s really hot, I deal with it. OK, I help the women build the wall. This is the world I’ve committed too. This is the man I love.” She just got it and that was a good thing.

MM: Congratulations on just being inducted into the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

AA: That was great. And I feel like it made a difference that we all came along. MM

A United Kingdom opens in theaters February 10, 2017, courtesy of Fox Searchlight. Photographs by Stanislav Honzik.

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