Oyelowo was born in Oxford, England to Nigerian parents of Yoruba ethnicity. He was raised as a Baptist. He grew up in Tooting Bec until he was six, when his family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where his father Stephen worked for the national airline and mother for a railway company. David attended a “‘military-style’ boarding school’. They returned to London when Oyelowo was fourteen, settling in Islington.
While enrolled in theatre studies at City and Islington College, his teacher suggested that he become an actor. Oyelowo enrolled for a year in an art foundation course, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He finished his three-year training in 1998. He also spent time with the National Youth Theatre.
He began his stage career in 1999 when he was offered a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing roles in Ben Jonson’s Volpone, as the title character in Oroonoko (which he also performed in the BBC radio adaptation) and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1999) alongside Guy Henry, Frances de la Tour and Alan Bates. He is however best known for his next stage performance as King Henry VI in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2001 productions of Shakespeare’s trilogy of plays about the king as a part of its season This England: The Histories. In a major landmark for colour-blind casting, Oyelowo was the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare, and although this casting choice was initially criticised by some in the media, Oyelowo’s performance was critically acclaimed and later won the 2001 Ian Charleson Award for best performance by an actor under 30 in a classical play.
In 2012, Oyelowo appeared in Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere.
and Selma (2014).
In 2014 he is on The Tonight Show, with Jimmy Fallon, explaining how to pronounce his name.