As a classically trained stage actor, and mesmerizing talent on screen too, this gentleman from Oxford England is THE REAL DEAL. Whether you have seen him in Spielberg’s LINCOLN, or in his breathtakingly real portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King in last years academy award nominated film SELMA, this multifaceted actor has proven he can DO IT ALL!!!
In his next film and role, Oyelowo plays killer Brian Nichols in the real-life drama ~ CAPTIVE.
Visiting St. Louis to promote his new film, I and a few of my fellow critics got the opportunity to talk to David about this latest film and what drove him to take on the role of killer Brian Nichols…
HAVE YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO VISIT ST LOUIS BEFORE?
Yes, I have… a few times actually. We have very good friends who run the St. Louis Family Church…and my kids sometimes go to their summer camps…I LOVE ST. LOUIS!
WHAT DREW YOU TO THE ROLE?
I was more drawn to the story, than the role itself. As you know, Brian Nichols murdered four people that morning, and ended up taking Ashley Smith hostage, and that on paper is not a role I gravitate towards in a hurry. But the story in its totality…when you think about the fact that Ashley Smith was a meth addict, who had lost custody of her daughter – these were two broken people who were held up together in her apartment for 7 hours. Whenever you look at this story, there was this blank spot of what happened over this span of time. You only had Ashley’s side of the story, you didn’t hear much from Brian Nichols ~ he was facing trail now for murder, and is presently serving multiple life sentences. So, how miraculous is a situation where, someone who had killed four people in the morning, then turns around and not only lets this woman go, but gives himself up, and then in a weird twist of fate, she attributes part of her salvation to him, is something that generates intrigue in me. So I was very interested in what happened in those seven hours, that’s what drew me to this piece. More than what Brian Nichols did, it was how that, + Her, + 7 hours = what went on to happen beyond this event…
WERE YOU ABLE TO MEET BRIAN NICHOLS?
I wasn’t, NO. The nature of his sentence means you can’t have access, But I did get to meet his mother, which was very intense as you can imagine. The thing that was extraordinary about meeting her, even 10 years on, is that she still can’t quite believe that this is her life, and that this was her son that did this. It is still reverberating for that family, if you can imagine.
DID YOU HAVE MUCH FOOTAGE TO STUDY OF HIM?
Yes, of the trail mainly. Not before hand. My primary source for getting under the skin of Brian was Ashley, really. She remembers this event as if it happened yesterday, and she was on the set with us through quite a lot of the shoot.
DID ASHLEY SMITH HAVE MUCH INFLUENCE BEING ON THE SET?
She had influence in so far as ~ not from a creative point of view, but more from a factual point of view. I was very keen, because I couldn’t speak to Brian, and because I was limited in being able to talk to people who knew Brian, I just wanted to make sure that what we were doing felt true, felt like it was authentic to the experience. It is one of those stories where is no need to embellish anything, All of It literally it played out like a movie. When you think about the fact that Brian Nichols kills those people in Atlanta GA, and then it was a 45 minute drive to Duluth GA, and it was an apartment complex, and then he finds his way into her specific apartment. You couldn’t write that, is the truth of the matter. So for us it was about sticking true to the story, and that was primarily her function for us while we were shooting the film.
GOING FROM PLAYING DR, MARTIN LUTHER KING, AND THEN SEEING YOU IN THIS ROLE, IT MADE ME SAY~WHO IS DR. KING? IT’S APPARENT THAT YOU A NOT GOING TO BE TYPECAST FROM THE ROLES YOU ARE SELECTING…
That’s the reason to do it. There is a very real risk in playing someone like Dr. King to be typecast. Thankfully people loved that film and have been very nice about my performance in it, but an unwanted byproduct of it would be to be purely associated with that for the rest of my career, and to not have audiences be prepared to go on a different journey with me. SO, in many ways playing Brian Nichols who is antithetical to Dr. King, even a film I did called Nightingale for HBO, is similarly a very, very different kind character. That is not purely why I did those films, but it is definitely something I aspire in doing…
DID YOU HAVE ANY SECONDS THOUGHTS ABOUT PLAYING BRIAN?
Yes, I did. Because I know what it costs me to play these roles. You can’t phone that in. My job as an actor is to fully inhabit the character. And, when I say “that costs”, with a character like Brian Nichols, unlike Dr. King, Dr. King is someone who I hugely admire, and what an honor to get to play him. I so valued getting to go on that journey. Brian Nichols and what he did, and who he is, didn’t have the same draw, for obvious reasons. But, my job was the same. Your job as an actor is to not judge your character. You have to be able to understand why they do, what they do, when they are doing it, so that you function as a three dimensional human being that people can believe.
DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR ROLE AS AN ACTOR IS TO GARNER SYMPATHY WITH A ROLE LIKE THIS?
Well, the first thing to say is that I didn’t think that Brian didn’t need to kill anyone that day. And shouldn’t have killed anyone that day, and one of the tough things for me was to makes sure that this didn’t, in any way feel like an exoneration of what he did on that day. But, the fact remains that beyond those 7 hours, Ashley Smith attributes HIM with part of why she gained her life back. And when he held a gun to her head and said take the meth, and she said NO – a drug that she had been a slave too for so long…the way she describes it is that she felt GOD took over Brian Nichols~ and said DO YOU WANT TO LIVE OR DO YOU WANT TO DIE ~ you have a choice~ turn way from this thing, or take hold of life. And so regardless of where you are coming from from a Faith point of view, something happened, something miraculous happened. Something that on paper shouldn’t have. And that can only happen when, I believe, that a degree of humanity is shared between these two people. So yes, the idea at the beginning of the movie is for him to be cold blooded…and one of the things I really struggled with is, you have a guy, and this is what he did on the day… he had no shirt on, very muscly guy, two guns running around Atlanta, the kind of guy who we normally deem an action hero in the movies, so one of the toughest things was how do we not make him seem like Jason Statham, or Bourne or Bond, so you have that to one side. But at the end of the day, even though, especially if he had done what he did to any family member of mine…I wouldn’t want to see him as a human being, but the fact remains that he was. And so yes, my job is to portray him with a degree of humanity, that means you can take a look at these two people…because in many ways, Ashley Smith was a drug addict, who had lost custody of her daughter, whose husband has died in a drug related incident, similarly someone who you could discard to the trash heap, and you can say “what are you doing? Wake up! You’ve lost custody of your daughter”…but seeing these two broken people together, and them making choices that took them away from the deadly path that they were both on, can only be born out of humanity…
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH KATE MARA – WHAT DID SHE BRING TO THE ROLE?
I am very proud of Kate in this film. She is one of my best friends. I have known her for a long time. I actually directed her in a short film called BIG GUY about 4 years before we did this film together, and I agree, she is a talent that has been untapped until recently. And what she brought to the film is that she has this incredible kind of vulnerability, but strength as well. And you don’t find that everywhere you go. She is attractive, but there is so much more to her than that. The humanity that has to be seen in her, in order to fool someone like Brian Nichols, is something she just has in spades. Also, her being a very good friend of mine helped, because I have to do some really mean things to her. I have found that whenever that is the case between actors, the greater the level of trust the further you can go. Because you know deep down you’re not going to get hurt. That person isn’t going to take advantage of being in a scene and ruffing you up. So, that helped us to really dig deep, when they are awful to each another, and also when there is a coming together, when they really start to talk as human being, rather than predator and prey…
WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE BEFORE YOU GOT INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT?
Yes, I had read it before I knew about the incident. It had been a very meaningful book for me personally as a Christian myself, the thing that I got from it was that God’s purpose for my life is way bigger than my purpose for my own life, and that kind of an extraordinary thing, especially for an ambitious guy who has quite big dreams. And I think that is what happened here, particularly for Ashley Smith. She had actually said to me that she had watched the news that day, and saw that this killer is on the loose around Atlanta, and at 2 a.m. this man is in her apartment. And when he broke in, she thought this was God’s way of saying you deserve death. You have messed up so much, that it’s done…
ASHLEY ESCAPES DEATH at the HANDS OF BRIAN, BECAUSE HER LIFE HAS PURPOSE, SO SHE MAKES IT THROUGH THIS ENCOUNTER. BRIAN ESCAPES DEATH TOO, AS HE WASN’T GIVEN THE DEATH PENALTY, SO WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS HIS PURPOSE?
I am a believer in life beyond this life. And I think that his purpose is to embrace that. It is to embrace the fact that his has run out of credit, so to speak, here on this earth, but beyond this life there is hope for him. I believe that God is a redemptive God. A God of forgiveness.
Ashley was stopped in her journey, just before it was the point of no return. There was a purpose for her life, in that, look, here we are talking about a movie about her life. THAT IS PURPOSE that came out of that very dark situation. She regained custody of her daughter. She remarried. She has another two kids.
She is now a spokesperson for CELEBRATE RECOVERY, and has helped thousands of people who suffer with the same addiction she had. It is more difficult to find purpose in Brian’s life, but at the end of the day, he stopped. She somehow stopped him in his tracks. And here we are, talking about this white woman, who understandably should have been terrified of this big black man who broke into her apartment, and what she did was say “please don’t kill me”…she made pancakes, she read a book to him… I was there when Brian’s mother thanked Ashley for making her son pancakes…kind of an extraordinary thing for a mother to say, but only a mother would say that, and so I think that there is purpose in all of that really…