'Woodlawn' star: Movie 'timely' in wake of Ferguson & Baltimore riots

by Michael Foust , Guest Reviewer |

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – Caleb Castille, the lead actor in the new movie "Woodlawn," is accustomed to the audibles and last-second changes that make football so fun, having played the sport himself in college and having watched his father and two of his brothers join NFL teams.

But even he was a little surprised by the "audible" that Woodlawn's moviemakers tossed at him less than a week prior to the first day of filming.

Castille was set to be a stunt double for the lead actor in the film when the lead actor pulled out. Soon, Castille got a life-changing phone call.

"Three days before production they called and said, 'We're looking at a few new guys and you're one of them.' So I went back through a three-day audition process and at the end of those three days, I was the one," Castille said.

The movie, though, is about much more than football, he told Christian Examiner.

"Woodlawn" (PG) tells the true story of a 1970s-era Birmingham, Ala., high school football team that is divided by integration and hatred when revival breaks out on the team and spreads throughout the city. Castille plays Tony Nathan, the star of that team who overcame racism and insults to excel not only on that level but also at the University of Alabama and in the NFL.

To say Castille is a perfect fit for the role may be an understatement. His father (Jeremiah) and two brothers (Simeon and Tim) starred at Alabama and went on to play in the NFL. Jeremiah even was a pallbearer for legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who is played by Jon Voight in the movie.

Castille himself joined the Alabama team as a walk-on in 2010 before quitting the sport to pursue acting.

"I just wanted to do something different and wanted to impact people in a different way," Castille said. "I wanted God to use me in a different way, and so I went into acting. And about a year and a half later here comes Woodlawn."

"Woodlawn" is being released just a few months after riots broke out in Baltimore and barely a year after riots embroiled Ferguson, Mo. Both were centered on racial issues.

"The story is so timely, with what we've been dealing with," Castille said. "History repeats itself, and it's up to us to stop that cycle. I want people to be entertained, but I want them to be moved by the story. [Directors] Jon and Andy [Erwin] wanted this film to work without the football. They wanted the story to progress even if they didn't put any football in it. I think we accomplished that. This film is about peace and it's about loving your fellow man."

He acknowledged he felt a little pressure while playing the role of Nathan, a legend for a team that won a share of the national championship in 1978 and who went on to play in two Super Bowls.

"You know how Alabama is about their history and tradition," Castille said. "So I wanted to get it right. If this was a story about my dad, I would want it to be right. And then you have the fact that Tony is still alive. What gave me the confidence to go forward with this story and succeed in the role is meeting Tony and seeing the type of man that he was and his character being true to how they wrote him in the story."

Castille did not star at Alabama as did Nathan, although he did pick up two national championship rings (2011, 2012) and he learned valuable lessons by playing under Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has four national titles and five conference championships to his credit.

"What makes Coach Saban so great is he's a winner at life," Castille said. "He understands what it takes to perform at a high level of doing things in an excellent way. I took all of that and I thought, 'I don't have to go to the NFL.' I can take everything I've learned here and apply it to anything in life – whether I want to go into radio or broadcasting or acting. He's one of the greatest life coaches I've been around in my life."

For more information, visit WoodlawnMovie.com.

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