Martin Luther King role stirs Selma actor's faith

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
Actor David Oyelowo (R), his wife Jessica Oyelowo (L) and their children pose at the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala in Palm Springs, California, January 3, 2015. | REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Christian Examiner) -- Whether it's reading an account of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in the civil rights movement, hearing one of his sermons or seeing the historic footage of his famous "I had a dream" speech, King's words impact and change lives to this day. It's no surprise then why despite the controversy of historical inaccuracies that plague the film, playing the lead character was altogether transformational for Selma actor David Oyelowo.

"I always knew that in order to play Dr. King, I had to have God flow through me because when you see Dr. King giving those speeches, you see that he is moving in his anointing," Oyelowo said in an podcasted interview with Jim Wallis of Soujourners, a Christian social justice organization based in Washington D.C.

The British born Oyelowo, who Christianity Today reported became a "born-again Christian at the age of 16," credited King's faith as the reason the pastor and Nobel Peace Prize winner was able to accomplish all that he did.

"I don't think [King] could have as stuck ... to the theme of nonviolence and love in the face of hate if he didn't feel that command and that notion from God," Wallis' account of the interview reported.

It was exactly that aspect of King which stirred such deep admiration, the actor explained.

"What I so admire about him is the fact that even though he is a celebrated orator he is a celebrated speaker of words, he didn't just talk the word, he walked the word as well -- and he walked it for 13 years from the age of 26 to when he was assisnated at 39."

"His life was under threat, he was pulled every which way in order to be a voice for the voiceless (despite) so many times where he could have and wanted to step away form his calling, he never did."

Though he's not a pastor or political leader, Oyelowo claimed he felt a "visceral connection" with King after reading the script and noted playing the role was a type of calling of his own.

Calling to mind the exact date that he first read the script as July 24, 2007, Oyelowo said he vividly remembered the date because it was then he first felt God tell him he would play King in the film Selma.

"It was a shocking revelation to me," the actor remembered. "I'm not American, I'm British and automatically in my mind that disqualifies me from playing Dr. King."

"But I do know the voice of God," he stated explaining the familiarity with which he has heard that voice throughout his Christian life.

"It's the voice that told me to marry my wife and its the voice that gave me the name of my children before they were even conceived," he noted before adding that each of his children notably embody the meaning of those names.

"It's the same voice I go to to help me when selecting roles," Oyelowo said.

Though it took nearly seven years and several changes in directors before the movie would eventually be released this month, the actor claimed the timing of the film's release as a "divine moment" when America is "in the midst of racial unrest." He also remained firmly planted in the idea that this was a role God intended him to play. "God has never failed me. I've never had a moment where doubting his voice felt like something to do."

As for the transformation he experienced in his own faith through playing this role, Oyelowo said King's example of following his calling despite "insurmountable odds" has become the aim of his own spiritual life.

"(It is) something that I just feel I now have to try...I will fail, no doubt, but I have to fastidiously implement this in my own life. That's what I believe we are called to do (as Christians) and it's become an incredible example to me of what sacrificial love is."