James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
CAPTIVE stars and is produced by virtuoso actor David Oyelowo, who brought many to tears with his performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in SELMA.
In CAPTIVE, Oyelowo plays escaped murder/fugitive Brian Nichols, who spends seven hours with recovering meth addict Ashley Smith (Kate Mara). This true story delves into trust and faith, even when a positive outcome is well nigh gone.
So needless to say, when you get the chance to have a conversation about Oyelowo’s work with the man himself, you take it. We discussed his myriad of skills as a performer, including his stern yet soft facial expressions and other filmmakers he admires.
I’ve got to start off by complimenting you on that red tux you wore at the Oscars. I know you’ve heard it dozens of times, but it has since been in my mind.
Oyelowo: “Thank you. It was a bold one, but clearly it did pay off.”
In my opinion, you played characters that just have this conviction and this unbridled passion, and that comes off really well on-screen. Where does that come from?
Oyelowo: “Well, I’m a person who is a deep lover of life. I’m very passionate, and feel very privileged about what I do for a living. I think stories are an incredibly powerful means for us to understand ourselves as human beings, the world we live in, to be educated, inspired, and to heal and to gain hope, so I’m very aware that God-given ability is not enough. You really need to be a fairly blessed individual to do what I do. It’s a very, very competitive profession, so whenever I’m afforded the opportunity, I go all in, and so, hopefully, that’s what comes through in the performances I give.”
It’s a definitely an eclectic selection of roles that you have chosen, from RED TAILS to A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. I really like that each role has a purpose. With this, it feels like there’s a lot of care and a lot of love, but it is still very intimidating. I could imagine that you would try to harvest a tense environment when you were with working Kate Mara.
Oyelowo: “Yeah, it was very tense, and quite rightly so. You can only imagine what it must have been like for Ashley Smith, in particular– being holed up in that apartment with Brian Nichols on that day. Considering she had once been used herself, and seeing the murders he had committed that day. I think one of the things that really helped in doing the film is the fact that [Mara] and I are very, very good friends, and have been for a while. I was a very strong advocate for her playing that role. I think when there is trust, there is a confidence in each other to do what needs to be done: to tell the truth. You can maybe push it and be in that tense environment without it getting overwhelming. Even though it was a tense set, there was a lot of laughter as well.”
Oyelowo: “She’s someone I know well and we always have a fun time together. It also helped to have Ashley Smith there for a lot of the shoot, to really ground what we were doing, so what we were doing felt authentic, and also to make sure that we were being truthful to a story that, is still impacting people’s lives. The people who were killed that day, the families are still dealing with the fallout from Ashley, even though she has gained a new life now, filled with purpose and hope– there are traumatic elements to what went on that day that she still has to live with. All of those things, between my friendship with Kate, and having Ashley on the set, all helped with the authenticity that we were able to bring.”
Absolutely. You’re a producer on CAPTIVE, correct?
Oyelowo: “I am. Yeah, I am.”
Fantastic. I really was sucked in by that opening scene, where the audience is first introduced to Brian, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t have any dialogue in that scene, when he breaks out of the courtroom, did you?
Oyelowo: “No. No. He never speaks until he hits the apartment. The first time that you ever see him speak is when he calls her on the couch.”
I really like that. It really gave me chills. Was that difficult to capture Brian’s thoughts, with just your facial expressions?”
Oyelowo: “Yeah. The reason I say yes is that. We made a conscious decision that we wanted to play on the audience’s prejudice. The fact that when you see someone like Brian Nichols, quite rightly and understandably, you reach a whole bunch of judgments and conclusions. We wanted the first half hour of the film to feel like you’re almost playing out behind the scenes of the news story. Whereby you’re catching flashes of what the news is seeing, but you’re also going through the wall to see what’s actually happening, and for it to feel like it felt on that day in Atlanta as the news was breaking.
This thing was happening so fast, and people were so terrified, because where is this guy that’s killing people gone? You should really feel the danger of Brian Nichols, so that when he breaks into Ashley Smith’s apartment, you’re terrified for her, as terrified as she was for herself, because she had also watched the news that day, before he even entered into her apartment. Then, slowly, you start to introduce the fact that behind these monstrous acts, is a human being. As human beings, that actually ended up being one of the reasons why Ashley Smith’s life turned around for the better. That was the tricky balance we had to strike in that element of the film.”
Did you ever meet Brian?
Oyelowo: “I tried to, but he’s serving multiple life sentences, in a prison in Georgia, and he’s not allowed to see anyone, so I couldn’t. The actual Ashley Smith is my main source of information. Also, I have now met Brian’s mother, which was pretty intense, I have to say. Meeting her and hearing what she had to say about the events and her son. No, meeting Brian was not possible.”
I know faith based films are popular at the box office. The number one movie in America is a faith based film (WAR ROOM) right now. Even though this film isn’t necessarily overt, and it’s very subtle, and I think done very well I might add. The fact that Paramount, this global company, is backing a film with this subject matter, what does that mean to you?
Oyelowo: “Well, I think it means that things are opening up, and I think the reason the faith based market is very niche. It’s very Christo-centric. It’s very much off the beaten track. A lot of those films have been financed by individuals, and made around churches and with churches, and with actors who are not necessarily known entities, and that has it’s place, and their success is fantastic. I think the reason why a film like CAPTIVE has pictures backing it is, this is a film that is, in a sense, a hybrid.”
Yeah, I didn’t even make that connection.
Oyelowo: “It speaks to that audience, hopefully, because the elements of faith in it are undeniable, but hopefully it also speaks to a broader audience, because the faith elements are not crow-barred in, but they are integral to the story. Not in a different way than, say, SELMA. I was playing a preacher in that, but you don’t think of it primarily as a faith based film, because the faith elements are woven in very organically, and that’s what I was very keen on having be the case with CAPTIVE, and I think it’s no accident that the same studio that distributed SELMA, is also now distributing CAPTIVE.”
Oyelowo: “I think that they recognize that if the production values are high, if the writing is good, and the performances are sound, then this is a film that has the potential and the possibility of reaching a broad audience, a broader audience than what one would just simply and purely call faith based.”
Yeah, because there’s that moment when Kate is in the bathroom, and she’s just saying, “Oh, God. Please Jesus, help me. Help me.” It felt like any person would say that. I say that when I stub my toe.
I really like that, and it doesn’t feel shoehorned. To put it simply, it’s natural.
Lastly, you’ve worked with some of our great contemporary filmmakers: Ava DuVernay, Christopher Nolan, JC Chandor, and obviously, you know, Lee Daniels. Are there any other filmmakers out there that you’re drawn to, or interested in collaborating with?
Oyelowo: “A big ambition of mine is to work with Kathryn Bigelow.”
Oyelowo: “I think she’s an extraordinary filmmaker. She would be someone … She’s definitely in my bucket list. I’m very, very driven by filmmakers. It doesn’t really matter to me the size of the role, because no matter what you play, under their directorial gaze, you learn as an actor. I want to do what I do for a long time, and the only way to keep it going is to keep pushing yourself, and hopefully get better and better as an actor, and one of the primary ways of doing that is working with directors who are fantastic at what they do.”
Totally. David, it’s been a pleasure, and I know audiences greatly admire your work, and I admire the diverse roles that you pick. It’s no small feat.
Oyelowo: “Thank you, and I appreciate it. Nice speaking to you.”
CAPTIVE opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, September 18th.