We had the privilege to sit down and chat with David Oyelowo (Selma) about his upcoming film Captive, who met with clinical psychologists to prepare for his role of murderer, Brian Nichols. There are some spoilers ahead (actually quite a few) and we do talk a lot about how passionate he is about the story and interaction between Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols. More importantly, we talk about faith, drugs and… pancakes? Take a look.
How did you find yourself not only starring in, but also co-producing this project?
- I wanted to be a part of this because I feel like it can be given that ‘movie of the week’ treatment. I’m all for the faith side of things and know it can be preachy, but I didn’t want to make it like that. I didn’t want to make that version. What fascinated me about the story was that this was a murderer and a meth addict who were holed up together for 7 hours and somehow an element of faith did impact the story; it was an integral part of it but not an imposed part. I also felt so inspired by Ashley Smith and what she has made of her life since the incident. She was a meth addict at the time who had lost custody of her daughter, her life was in a downward spiral. Her husband had been murdered in a drug related incident and for it to take something like this to sort of wake her up for a new life of purpose. These kind of movies tend to be tough to make so I really wanted to push it along.
How do you think you would’ve handled that situation if it would’ve happened to you?
- Oh my Lord. Well one thing I know for sure, at the point which Ashley is being held at gunpoint and he asks her to take the meth—I for one have never done drugs in my life, but I can’t tell you I wouldn’t have taken the meth. It’s kind of extraordinary that this woman had been a slave to that drug for many years, something about that moment she feels like in that moment God took over Brian’s body and made her choose between life and death. I also most certainly would not have made him pancakes.
How does it feel to transition from such a heroic character like Martin Luther King, Jr to a murderer like Brian Nichols?
- It was a big switch as you can imagine, but the commonality for me is that both stories are about light shining through the darkness. In Selma, people died. There was severe injustice on black people in the south. That was real and it had been going on for hundreds of years. This was a dark situation but it took people of all colors and ages to declare it a wrong and to make a change. In this film, it took two very broken people having a human exchange to stop and take a turn for the better; for hope, a second chance. It is absolutely feasible that Ashley Smith would have been his fifth victim that day and for Brian to very well be his sixth victim and that didn’t happen because the light shone through a very dark place.
Watching the end, and seeing Nichols being taken into custody felt like I was watching something from another era. I feel like if that would’ve happened now, Nichols would’ve been shot on the spot. What do you think has changed in the past 10 years?
- I honestly don’t think anything has changed. I think the reason he wasn’t killed was because of Ashley Smith. She went to the cops and they were floored by the fact that this man let her go. The fact that he let her go meant that they were able to connect with some sort of level of humanity that he had. I think the reason why black men are being cut down in the streets of America is because they are being dehumanized. When a cop encounters them, they don’t see a human being, they see a threat. Black people have been getting killed in this country for years, it’s in the news more now because we have cameras and social media, which means stories can’t be buried like they once could be. I genuinely don’t think that things are way worse, I just think we’re more aware now than we were 10 years ago. I strongly believe that the exchange between Ashley and Brian is what led the cops to treat him with humanity.
Did you get to meet any of the people in the real life?
- I spent a lot of time with Ashley. She was on set for a lot of the shoot and she was my primary source of information. We were keen on being truthful because there are people whose lives were forever changed on that day and the one thing you don’t want to do is the Hollywood version of this because that would be disrespectful to those who are still suffering. You can’t have access to Brian because he’s serving multiple sentences currently.
What about his son?
- We kept his son out of it, we didn’t even use his real name in the film because that’s a new life. We don’t want him to be tainted solely by what his father did.
Once you read the script, was there a scene that you were particularly nervous or excited to film?
- Nothing about playing Brian Nichols was exciting, I’ll be honest. But I was excited about the film and the story. More than excitement, though, I had trepidation. I had to really bulk up to play him, running across the street in a suit with no undershirt and two guns—in Hollywood, those are visions of a hero. You know, you say “there’s the badass action dude who’s gonna save the day!” The thing that we had to work really hard for was not glamorizing it; to make it feel as cold-blooded as it was and make him seem like the monster that he was. Then have something about his interaction with Ashley bring out his humanity. It was really tough, even that day in the courthouse—shooting the judge, we had to make it so raw and factual and make it so it wasn’t an action movie so that it’s as shocking as it was on that day. I was never excited really to play Brian Nichols and I wanted to make sure that it didn’t seem like I was making excuses for what he did.
Captive, starring Kate Mara and David Oyelowo is in theaters September 18!