ASK anyone if they’ve heard of David Oyelowo and they scratch their heads and look puzzled, even when you list his film credits. But mention Spooks and they’re with you. That’s mainly because over the past four years David has been making films back-to-back, all of which are about to be released globally. Soon you’ll be in no doubt as to who he is.

He plays Stevie Jacobs, the head scientist in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, opening this week, Joe ‘Lightning’ Little in Red Tails, the story of the first African-American pilots to fly in a combat squadron during World War Two, Martin Luther King in Selma, Preacher Green in The Help, as well as parts in upcoming films Default and Middle of Nowhere.

None of this came about by chance of course, and it becomes increasingly obvious that the 43-year-old is a player and understands the game, coming up with expressions like “you’ve got to be in it to win it,” and “he who fights the longest and hardest wins,” which sound foreign coming from the mouth of the RSC’s first black royal lead.

So what was it like trying to break into Hollywood? “Well the competition is much more steep but movies in England are a cottage industry compared to the money and scale of things over there. So I relish being a small fish in a big pond. You just have to be tenacious and determined enough to get there.”

In fact, the hardest thing was relocating his family. “It was difficult,” he admits. “At least we speak the same language, but culturally the US is so different and it takes a while to get your head around it because they have a very different way of doing things over there and it took us about a year to acclimatise.”

“Us” means his wife fellow Brit actress Jessica and their three sons, who until then had always lived in London. David himself was born in Oxford at the John Radcliffe, where his dad was training as a medical nurse, and lived here until he was two. “Oxford seems to be a big part of my identity because wherever you are in the world people have always heard of Oxford and understand its connotations. So they always assume I have a very high IQ,” David laughs.

“But my wife and I made a pact never to be apart for more than two weeks, so we homeschool our children and travel around as a merry band. And it keeps me grounded having a wife, three kids and a dog. We live in a part of LA that’s not all actors and we have a church we go to, so we do have a real life.

“So while there were a lot of logistics involved, the one thing that’s been most successful was moving the boys to LA to a life of perpetual sunshine and lots of space. And we’ve been living in the States for four years now.”

Back in the UK David lives on as MI5 officer Danny Hunter in the British TV drama series Spooks (known in North America as MI-5) which he was part of from 2002 - 2004, something which clearly rankles.

“I’m very, very proud of Spooks and I know, as far as the big movies so far are concerned, that’s where it all started because of Spooks’ notoriety so I’m very proud of that fact. But it would be lovely to get to a point where people can get past Spooks.”

What was it about Spooks then that so enamoured the nation? “It’s amazing because it took four years to get Spooks on air but then 9/11 happened and brought the world round to the threat of terrorism and spies, so it was very timely and I have no doubt that was one of the major elements of its success.

“And we had a tech guy called Mark who was a complete whizz and made us all look good, a miracle considering how computer illiterate I am. But also Spooks was an intelligent drama and gave you the opportunity to conjure up real emotions.”

David had also clocked up parts in the movies A Sound of Thunder, Derailed, Kenneth Branagh's film As You Like It and The Last King of Scotland. “I’d got to a point of awareness in my career where a move made sense and we took the plunge and I’ve been working ever since.”

So tell us about the movies. “Well,” he says settling back in his chair, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes was amazing because of the size of it, that’s why you go to LA and Hollywood because there was a $100 million budget.

“And it isn’t just a really good story, because usually blockbusters tend to be short on story and big on action, but with this the characters are well drawn and you can get your teeth into them rather than wham-bam-thank-you-mam.”

What else? “Red Tails was a George Lucas film, so huge - I play the first black fighter pilot in WW2. At home we don’t have the resources to make films like this but each studio here is the size of a small city.”

With so many winning roles under his belt does he still have to audition? “Yes, and just hope you bring something to the table. I am aware of how blessed I have been and just to make a living is a huge feat.

“My RSC training helped 100 per cent because when you’re on stage you can’t fake it and when you can hone your craft like that you know how to give a truthful performance in the quick world of filmmaking.

“And yet at least 5-10 per cent of you has to be aware that you’re playing the part because its often very technical and you’ve got cameras, lights and microphones everywhere, so it would be very difficult to shut it out. But that’s part of the job and you function as though you’re alone in a room with one other person, and a great actor is one where the audience believes that’s the case, but it’s a constant battle to project real emotion and real situations. Its always a challenge and that’s the trick.”

And one he obviously pulls off, judging by his CV. “Well as I said, maybe soon people will remember me for something other than Spooks,” he smiles wryly.