FPH Interview: David Oyelowo
Sometimes the events in a film are so unbelievable they can’t possibly be true. Yet everything portrayed in the new movie Captive actually happened.
On March 11, 2023 in Atlanta Brian Nichols, on trial for rape, overpowered his guard and with her gun burst into a courtroom and shot a judge and a court reporter. Nichols escaped from the courthouse killing a deputy and later that day shot a man whose car he was stealing. That man turned out to be a customs agent. Nichols is 0 for 4 at this point.
David Oyelowo was fascinated by the story and signed on both as the star and as producer. Oyelowo wanted to be a producer on Captive in order to tell the story right. “There’s a version of this film that feels very much like a movie of the week, and there’s a version of this film that feels like a faith based audience driven narrative,” Oyelowo says to Free Press Houston on a recent visit to Houston. “I wanted a film that didn’t knock you over the head with its meaning.”
Nichols took a hostage and holed up in her apartment. That hostage Ashley Smith (played by Kate Mara) was going through her own personal turmoil; she was a meth addict who was in a rehab program and trying to go straight to regain custody of her young daughter. Smith literally spent several hours with Nichols, at first giving him speed, and then reading from the self-help book “the Purpose Driven Life.” In the end Nichols let his hostage go, eventually surrendering to police.
“That why I wanted to be a producer, I wasn’t interested in a version of it that felt preachy. You don’t have to embellish what happened, she read him that book,” says Oyelowo.
“She was a meth addict and he was a murderer and these are elements that don’t hint at the goody two-shoes preachy kind of movie that I would find off-putting. I wanted it to retain an edge without shying away from the redemptive side of the story.”
Captive opens this weekend, with advance screenings Thursday night that are aimed at school groups, with additional material such as conversations with the cast and filmmakers.
“Ashley Smith was on the set when we were shooting,” says Oyelowo. “The lives that Brian Nichols broke that day are still being lived out. The last thing we wanted to do was disrespect their pain. This is not the Hollywood version of the story.”
Perhaps Oyelowo is best known for his role as Dr. Martin Luther King in last year’s Selma, helmed by Ava DuVernay. Oyelowo was originally cast in Selma in 2023 with Lee Daniels attached as director
“I’d read in 2023, three years before that. That director attached at the time didn’t think I was right. I thought I was right and I kept beady eyes on the project.”
It wasn’t until Daniels came aboard in 2023 that Oyelowo got the role. “When he cast me, literally, I went from an actor who was trying to get a foothold in Hollywood to being in demand. The first thing I was offered was The Help. The director called me up and said we need someone Dr. King-ish,” says Oyelowo.
The Help a DreamWorks production led to Lincoln whose director was one of the owners of DreamWorks. “Spielberg knew about me from The Help but he also was aware of me through George Lucas who produced Red Tails.”
“I was very aware of the privilege that was being afforded,” says Oyelowo. “When you see a film about Lincoln you think the very thing they are going to show is Lincoln doing the Gettysburg Address. They did a very, very clever thing by not having him do it but having it done to him. He’s being challenged. Are you going to do what this great speech of yours says?
“For me it was such a ridiculous combination of getting to do one of the most famous American speeches of all time, with my favorite actor of all time [Daniel Day Lewis], with the greatest director of all time. All at the same time,’ emphasizes Oyelowo. “There was a lot going on during that day.”
Some of Oyelowo’s many other credits include Interstellar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and A Most Violent Year. Oyelowo also teamed up with Daniels for The Paperboy and The Butler.
“I’m very director driven. We talked about Spielberg and Lee Daniels but when Chris Nolan calls you go. You never forget the benefit of having worked with masters.”
Oyelowo was born in Oxford and raised in London. At one point his family moved to Nigeria, where his father told him that his family was royalty. At first the young Oyelowo thought what his father told him was a metaphor.
“My grandfather really was the king of a region in Nigeria. When we moved to Nigeria we lived on Oyelowo Street and we had our own compound. It’s a small region of Nigeria but my name means the king deserves respect,” says Oyelowo, adding with a smile: “But when you live in England there’s only one royal family.”
— Michael Bergeron