David Oyelowo Interview:
How God Paved Way for Film ‘Captive’
Those three words, the tagline for the new film Captive, kept cycling through my mind this week as I prepped for a phone interview. When I watched an early screening, those words quickly moved from my mind to my heart. The movie blew me away.
The film hits theaters this Friday, Sept. 18. (And early screenings of the film will play in select theaters across the country on Thursday night for a special event called Night of Purpose. Click here to see times and locations or to learn how you can host a Night of Purpose.)
I was preparing to speak with one of the stars of “Captive” — a movie that tells the true story of Ashley Smith (played by Kate Mara), the woman who, in 2005, while struggling with a drug addiction, was taken hostage by an escaped prisoner and murderer named Brian Nichols (played by David Oyelowo).
It’s an astonishing true story: as she endured a terrifying captivity in her own apartment, Ashley read the book “Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren aloud to Nichols. What happened next was remarkable. (And if you don’t remember the national news story from 2005, you’ll just have to see the movie to find out what happens.)
And so, on a Friday morning, Sept. 11, 2015 — the 14th anniversary of 9/11 — a call illuminated my phone’s screen, and on the other end came a friendly, smiling voice garbed in a British accent.
It was actor David Oyelowo.
Earlier that morning before the call, I remembered his landmark performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film “Selma.” I recalled him speaking the words of Dr. King — his tone and cadence indistinguishable from the real Dr. King. Scenes from a few of Oyelowo’s other movies filled my mind like cinematic blockbuster flash cards: “Interstellar,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Jack Reacher,” “Lincoln,” and, the first movie I saw with Oyelowo in it, “As You Like It,” a brilliant Kenneth Branagh-directed film adaptation of a Shakespeare play (and one of my favorite movies). He’s had quite a career already, to say the least.
In our inspiring, encouraging conversation, David spoke about his experience playing Brian Nichols in his new film “Captive,” how he prepared for the role, and — something that caught me by surprise — how God paved the way for this film in some remarkable ways.
And as I spoke with David, who is a devout Christian, a thought struck me: “This man’s faith and passion for Christ is absolutely contagious.” It felt more like a timely word of encouragement from a pastor than an interview for a press junket. And somehow it was especially meaningful, a subtle line of poetry from God’s hand, that, on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, we were discussing the wonder of God’s grace that can find us and redeem us even in our most broken, hopeless moments:
When I screened Captive, I have to say, it brought me to tears by the end and I really sensed the Holy Spirit moving in a powerful way. Were there any moments during the shoot, or before or after the shoot for that matter, where you thought, “Wow, something special is happening here,” or moments where you sensed God’s presence in the process?
You know what, that’s been more as the film has come together that I’ve felt that. In all honesty, to play Brian Nichols, you have to inhabit a pretty dark headspace in order to play that truthfully. And so unlike, for instance, when I played a character like Dr. King in “Selma” where this is a man of God who is speaking godly words in order to bring about a change that is godly, you’re plugged in — from a Holy Spirit point of view — far more if you’re playing a murderer who has killed four people in a day, and you’re trying to do that truthfully without judging the character, trying to understand the character. And so I always knew that the price to pay in playing Brian was going to be being in a pretty dark headspace for a while. So it’s not until now, really — even talking to someone like you, who the film has had that kind of effect — I am really now feeling the anointing that I truly believe is on the film.
I see what you mean about having to detach from the role first. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis, how he said that, when he wrote “The Screwtape Letters,” he was in such a dark headspace that it took awhile for him to recover. How do you hope this movie will shape our culture?
I’m hoping that in seeing this extreme circumstance that played out between a meth addict and a murderer, we can see elements of ourselves. You may not have been through something as dramatic or as intense as this, but I think we all have things that we have tapped into. We all have mistakes we’ve made that we would love a second chance from. We all, maybe, have had moments where we feel we’ve done irredeemable things like Ashley Smith felt she had done. But she did find redemption. She said to me herself: that night, when Brian Nichols broke into her apartment, she felt that she had messed up so much that she was worthy of death, in [explaining] why he had broken in. But it was quite the opposite. God’s plan for her life was so much different than that, and she had put herself on the scrap heap, but God hadn’t. So my hope is that people will watch this film and see that there is a second chance for them and see that redemption is a possibility for them and that there is nothing that, in God’s eyes, makes you ineligible for a second chance.
Amen. I definitely think the movie has that effect. After seeing it I immediately thought of all the things that God has done to give me another chance, and this overwhelming sense of His grace (and my desperate need for it) came over me — so thank you for making this movie. What was your process for preparing for this role as Brian Nichols?
You know, it’s different for every role you play. With this one, I would have loved to have been able to meet Brian Nichols, but he’s serving multiple life sentences in a prison in Georgia right now, so I couldn’t get access to him. So Ashley Smith was my primary source of information. Thankfully, she remembered these events as if they’d happened yesterday. Her book, Unlikely Angel, was a huge source for me. It’s a book that she had written soon after these events took place.
I also spoke to a clinical psychologist about what goes on in the mind of someone when they go off and do something as heinous as killing four people in the morning. All of that combined with just the truth of the matter that Brian Nichols was on trial for rape, denied that he committed the rape; he felt like he was entrapped — you know, what he constantly talked about was the fact that he thought this judge was about to enslave him. His son was newly born, and he felt a need to get to his son. As a father of four myself I’ve got to somehow try and get my mind into hi
s mind and understand how it must feel to believe you’re innocent, to want to get to your son, and what you would do to get that and get there — so these are all things that go into it: a combination of what really happened, who he really was, all the research information, and then, emotionally, just playing from yourself in that place and hoping that you can tell the truth.
Philippians 4:8-9 tells us to always focus on the good that God is doing. I’d like to end our interview by following that advice and just asking this question: what good things has God been doing in your life recently that have been encouraging, that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
This film seeing the light of day is an incredible encouragement. I actually made this film before “Selma,” and I had always felt — as a producer anyway — I wanted to wait for it to have the right platform. I went on to do “Selma,” that film did very well, gained me a notoriety that I didn’t have before, and “Selma” was distributed by Paramount. I know it was the success of “Selma” that enabled a studio of Paramount’s stature to be the one to now bring “Captive” to the world.
And, you know, a film like “Captive” is really my heart. This is the kind of movie I want to see out in the world because it’s not — what we tried to do — is not make a film that’s preachy but a film that’s real. Not shy away from the darkness but show that the light can overwhelm the darkness, and to reveal that in a true story, especially with someone like Ashley Smith whose life has gone on to be filled with purpose; and she attributes her salvation to God and her faith in Christ.
It’s incredible to me to see God blessing the work of my hands and the people around me by giving [Captive] a platform and amplification that it otherwise might not have had. That’s encouraging to me. That, to me, is what the Bible means when it says we go from faith to faith; God coming along and putting in rocket fuel like “Captive,” or even “Selma,” is what encourages you to keep going. And it goes back to the Parable of the Talents: when God has given you something, go and multiply it, invest in it. Don’t bring back the thing that He has given you. Bring back more. And He’s the one who grows it as you combine faith with hard work. So that’s what I see playing out in my life. It’s hugely encouraging, and it’s what inspires me to keep going.
Captive releases in theaters this Friday, Sept. 18. Early screenings of the film will play in select theaters across the country on Thursday night for a special event called Night of Purpose. Click here to see times and locations or to learn how you can host a Night of Purpose. You can read my review of “Captive” here.
Image of David Oyelowo for Facebook Ad taken from Wikicommons with the following author information:
Author: Mingle Media TV
Info: Actor David Oyelowo at the 3rd Annual ICON MANN POWER 50 event on February 18, 2015
License granted: Creative Commons Share Alike
All other images taken from promotional materials for the film, including screenshots from the trailer and the movie poster.