SELMA Star David Oyelowo – His Faith & Calling to Play MLK


Recently, I got a chance to sit down with David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King Jr. in the new film, SELMA. He shared a story with me about his journey to playing one of the most iconic figures in American history. Rather than interpret his story or even comment on it, I though I would share it with you directly. Here is the unedited exchange between David and I.

JB: David, I’ve heard a really wild story, that in 2007, you felt like, that, that you heard from God that you were supposed to play Dr. King. Is that story true? As a person of faith I was really excited to hear that story, so…is there any truth to that, and…and if so, how did you get from 2007 to today?

DO: Yeah, well, it’s absolutely true. I mean, …my wife and I had moved to LA from the UK in May of 2007 and July of 2007 is when I first read the script. And to be perfectly honest, you know, we were new here, we had two kids at the time; we now have four – but, you know, you’re kind of having this moment of “What on EARTH are we doing here?” You know, but we felt called to move and so I was in a time of deep prayer over that time, just like “Lord, I just pray this works.” And then, this script came along, and I guess because I was very much in a space of “Talk to me Lord, because we made this – this big move,” I read that script, and VERY clearly, God said to me “You are going to play Dr. King in ‘Selma.’” It wasn’t just “you are going to play Dr. King,” it was THIS film. And that was SO weird to me that I started a prayer diary that day, and that’s the first entry in it. That’s why I know that date so clearly. Because it was like “I’m British, I’ve not done barely ANY American movies; who on earth do I think I am?” You know, it was such a kind of crazy, but it-it lodged in my spirit in a way that I couldn’t shake it, and my wife helped me put a couple of scenes on tape, sent it to the director at the time. Unfortunately, he didn’t AGREE with God… so, that didn’t work out, but the beautiful thing, and so many things happened in the interim, but to literally go from a situation whereby the director attached at the time didn’t want me, to ME being able to suggest a director that I love, adore, and KNEW was right, is just a kind of extraordinary, undeniably miraculous situation. Also considering that the film we had done together was a $200,000 movie – tiny movie, beautiful movie, won Ava “best director” at Sundance in 2012. But to then go to THIS size of movie, which is a spike for anyone, and for us to get it done is — the miracles around this film have just been undeniable from day one.

David went on to tell a story about faith becoming very real on the set of SELMA. While filming one of King’s speeches, all the electricity in the church they were filming in went out.

DO: It’s just so, the timing was crazy! I was calling my pastor and “The DEVIL is trying to stop us! The lights just went out. Y’all need to PRAY with me!” He was so wonderful. He said “David…God speaks in the thunder and the lightning. It’s fine,” and I was like “Ehhh, I don’t know…the devil is a-LIVE!” The amazing thing was we had prayed together as this huge congregation…But it was an undeniable, tangible, whether you’re a person of faith or not…we went through something.

David ended the story saying that the congregation was ushered outside the church, only to be awed by giant double rainbow in the sky.

SELMA opens in Los Angeles and New York on Christmas Day. The films opens nation wide on January 9, 2015.

This piece is the first in a series on the film, SELMA.