28 September 2015
David Oyelowo asks the Church 'not to give up on Hollywood'
The star of new film Captive has said it’s important not to “shy away” from playing dark characters.
Released in cinemas last Friday, the film tells the true story of escapee Brian Nichols, played by David Oyelowo, who murders four people and injures a fifth, before taking young mother Ashley Smith (Kate Mara) hostage.
The story unfolds to show the events during her seven hours in captivity, including reading from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, that led to the meth addict’s redemption.
British actor Oyelowo said there’s never been more of a need for “redemption, hope, who God truly is – love.”
Speaking to the Evangelical Alliance, he said that Captive is the story of two people who weren’t searching for God, but found Him during crisis.
While admitting that he struggled to play a murderer, who Brian Nichols himself said had a “demon” inside him, he says he’s right to take such roles.
“I don’t shy away from playing dark characters, but I will not play anything that glamorises or glorifies the darkness. Anyone who has read the Bible will have to admit that is an R-rated book – it’s not the PG version of things. Darkness is everywhere in that book. But the light overcomes the darkness.”
As a father of four, Oyelowo said he could “identify” with the notion of being kept away from his children, as Nichols was before he went on his violent rampage, and what that could illicit in him.
So, does everyone have the capacity to be pushed to such violence if put under the right pressures?
“I personally don’t think that anyone and everyone has it in them to be a murderer, but we all have buttons within us and personalities – whereby nurture, and maybe to a certain degree nurture – we can go to places that are fundamentally ungodly.”
And the film certainly lays that bare.
“The Bible is very clear: sin is sin. And so, for me personally, one of the things we were trying to do with the film was of course show an extreme situation, but by the end you are able to relate to the characters to some extent.”
Was examining the spiritual realm a conscious choice?
“Brian had engaged in a very dark spiritual space – it wasn’t just an intellectual choice, as far as I can understand, he was taken over by something,” he went on, “we had to include that.”
Yet his own journey to faith shows the Selma actor’s belief in God’s unconditional love.
“Grace is grace and God is God.”
After “piggybacking” on his parents’ faith through his teenage years, he realised at the age of 16 it "didn’t mean a lot to him".
He made “a very naïve deal with God – whoever He was – and said: ‘Look, if you’re real, you’ve got to show up to me in the next three months, or I’m out. And He did.’”
He said: “I was struck with this overwhelming sense that there was nothing I could do to make God love me less.”
While the film has mixed reviews from both Christian and secular press, it is unique to many in the way that the 'God bit' doesn’t feel shoehorned in, and it hasn’t shied away from the harsh realities of the world. Is this a fair analysis of the Christian film industry?
“The thing with any smaller genre, any minority, anything that is a small portion of a bigger thing, is you feel the need to be all things to all men for their salvation.”
Oyelowo isn’t interested in “preaching to the choir”, though.
“Anything that feels as though it has an agenda cannot be good storytelling. Great writing, great films – anything that is great artistically – is thought provoking, rather than leading you towards a very agenda-ridden opinion of whoever created the art.
“I want to just make films that make you look at your life, make you look at the truth.”
The 39-year-old’s faith, while it may not be popular in Hollywood, has never been a secret.
“The thing with Hollywood is it’s very spiritually open. It’s just that it’s spiritually open to everything.”
Christians have to do what Jesus did, he says: “Jesus didn’t hang out in the Church. Jesus was with the people who were in a place of darkness.
“There is a lot of darkness coming out of Hollywood, but there are so many people who are open to the light, desirous of it, hungry for it, ravenous for it, but there isn’t enough of it, so of course they gravitate to the overriding spirit of Hollywood.
“So that’s my prayer, that we, the Church, don’t give up on Hollywood, because that would be wrong.”
See www.ethosmedia.org/captive for free resources to accompany this film, including a downloadable Viewer’s Guide, which includes quotations from two books that were central to the events in the film: The Purpose Driven Life and the Bible, along with downloadable videos in which David Oyelowo reflects on the spiritual inspiration provided by Captive. These resources have missional value and are a great opportunity to draw people into the Bible.