An Interview with David Oyelowo

It’s no easy task to follow up an Oscar-nominated performance – especially when that performance is as big a role as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But such is the case for “Selma” star David Oyelowo. And it’s safe to say that his big-screen follow up role is as different as can be from MLK. In “Captive,” which is based on a true story that made headlines in 2005, Oyelowo stars as Brian Nichols, a man who breaks out of prison, killing 4 people in the process, which leads to him holding a woman named Ashley Smith captive in her own home over the course of 7 hours. I had the opportunity to sit down with the talented actor during a roundtable interview to discuss his performance, the true story the film is based on, and what it takes to play a convicted murderer.

How did you come about not only starring in “Captive,” but co-producing it as well?
I wanted to be a part of producing it because it’s a story that could very easily be given the ‘movie-of-the-week’ treatment, or have the faith side of things be very preachy – and I wasn’t really interested in that version of the film. To me, what’s really amazing about this story is the fact that this was a murderer and a meth addict who were holed up in an apartment together for seven hours, and somehow, an element of faith did impact the story, but it was a very integral part of the story, not an imposed part of the story. I was also just so inspired by what Ashley Smith has gone on to make of her life beyond this moment. She was a meth addict, she had lost custody of her daughter; her life was in a downward spiral…the fact that it took this to wake her up to a new life of purpose and hope is kind of an inspiring thing. And those kinds of movies are tough to get made, so I wanted to do everything I could to push it along.

Did you get a chance to meet Ashley Smith?
I spent a lot of time with Ashley; she was actually on set with us for a lot of the shoot. She was my primary source of information as to what happened that day, who Brian Nichols was, and how he behaved that night. I was very keen that we were truthful with this story. Because you know, there are people whose lives are forever changed for the worse by that day, and the one thing you don’t want to do is do the ‘Hollywood’ version of this, because that would be so disrespectful to these people who are still suffering.”

How does it feel to transition from a role like Martin Luther King to Brian Nicholls?
It was a big switch, as you can imagine. But the commonality, for me, is the fact that both stories are about light shining through the darkness. [When it comes to] “Selma” – people died during that campaign…this was a dark situation. But it took people of all colors, of all ages, coming together to declare it a wrong for that to change. In this film, it took two very broken people having a human exchange, for both of their lives, which were on a downward spiral, to stop and take a turn. For Ashley Smith in particular, a turn for the better, a turn for hope, and a turn for redemption; a turn for a second chance.

How did you go about finding the humanity in a character like Brian Nichols – a character who is a convicted rapist and murderer?
That’s the job of an actor. If you’re going to play a role, you have to find what it is about them that makes them do what they do – and do that from a place that lacks judgment. Otherwise you’re effectively doing what the audience is going to do, which is form an opinion from an outside point of view. You can’t tell the truth unless you’re able to fully inhabit a character and tell their own truth. And Brian’s truth on that given day was that he said he didn’t commit the rape. I have my own opinions about whether that’s true or not, but that was a motivating factor for him to want to break out. He recently found out that he has a new son – that was a motivating factor for him to break out. These were reasons that allowed him to justify why he did what he did. So for me as an actor, the tricky thing is to place myself under those circumstances in order for me to be able to tell the truth for the character. That’s not to say it’s easy; that’s not to say I don’t go some saying ‘oh lord, I need to have a bath.’ It was definitely one of the trickier roles I’ve had to play.

“Captive” is now playing in South Florida theaters.

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