David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Ava DuVernay (Director), Dede Gardner (Producer), Jeremy Kleiner (Producer), and Oprah Winfrey (Producer) participated in a press conference about “Selma.”

Read what Oprah and David had to say about the project below:

 

David, and speaking of unlocking Martin Luther King Jr. from the statue, you were given the task of doing that and translating that statue into real life. Please, tell us about your process. When we look at you now, obviously the transformation was dramatic, from who you are in real life to who you played on screen, David. Talk to us, if you will, about the creative process you undertook.

DAVID OYELOWO: Well, you know, Dr. King did not think of himself as an icon. He didn’t walk around thinking of himself as a historical figure. He was a man. And you know, I am so full of admiration, in terms of what he did, and I am not him, but the thing that I could seize upon was he was a father of four, as I am, he was a Christian, as I am, he was someone who valued justice, as I do, and those were my entry points. One of the most valuable sources I had for finding him was [PH] Andrew Young. I spent a lot of time with Ambassador Young and he talked to me about his friend. He talked to me, as Ava just mentioned, he talked to me about the prankster, the father, the man who was at times unsure, and that was the foundation on which I had to build. Of course, as an actor, you have to do the technical things, you know, the weight gain. And also, you know what? One of the amazing things for me was the journey I went through in order to get to this place. I had the privilege of being in films like Lincoln, in which I played a Unionist soldier, I played a preacher in The Help, I played a black fighter pilot in Red Tails, I played the son of a butler in The Butler. And who was in the sit-ins, in the freedom rides, became a Black Panther, you know, all these things also went into this portrayal. So I kind of feel like in the seven years since I read the script, I was on this journey towards this and now, it culminated in the right people coming together to make the film. I have to give such credit to Jeremy and DeeDee for sticking with the project for eight years. A lot of producers, considering how many false starts we had, would have maybe shelved the project. They didn’t. And so, you know, the right people, as I say, came together to support me in doing what I did.

Speaking of the right person, Oprah Winfrey, I want to talk to you so much about your motivating force behind this film as a producer. But you also decided to give us your creative talent to this film. Why did you choose to play a role in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes?

OPRAH WINFREY: ‘Cause Ava made me do it. Ava made me do it. Ava sent me an online piece regarding the real Annie Lee Cooper that was from a Selma newspaper when she celebrated her 100th birthday in 2010. And in that piece, it talked about her life and her memories of that time in Selma where she actually knocked out a sheriff. She had the fight with Sheriff Clark, and at the end of the piece, it said every day now, she watched the Oprah show at 4:00, with a tuna fish sandwich. And she did that on purpose. And Ava said, “Don’t you think it would mean a lot to her to know that you who she watched every day at 4:00 with the tuna fish sandwich was portraying her?” And that was it, ‘cause I’d said, no, no, every film I’ve been in, I end up hitting somebody. My last movie I had to slap David. And I said, “I don’t want to do another film where I’m knocking somebody out or I’m having a fight” and so forth. But that, it really happened, and it happened that, you know, there’s a famous photograph of her being pinned down by the two deputy sheriffs. And so I said yes for Annie Lee Cooper, and the tuna fish sandwich and watching the Oprah show every day, but more importantly, for every other woman and man in my history who took that walk to the registrar’s office and was turned down and then went back home and tried it another year, and then went back and tried it another year. This was Annie Lee Cooper’s fifth time. And when you think about what it takes to keep getting up and saying, I will, and I can, in the face of an entire society that says that you cannot and you will not, I just wanted to be able to take the few minutes in that walk and pay tribute to all of those people. That’s why I said yes.

You all have created, all of you, a masterpiece, Oscar buzz all the way. This film, I think, it looks at just how important knowing your history is, and I really think a lot of young people today are kind of far removed from that era. Like, for example, Oprah, in your Master Class, I remember when Cicely Tyson said she asked the 13 year old about Martin Luther King, and she said, “Who’s Martin Luther King?” So I would like to know from you how important is knowing your history, yeah, it’s very important.

OPRAH WINFREY: You already know the answer to the question because you’re asking it. I think you don’t know yourself and you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from. And Maya Angelou has a wonderful poem, it’s called “To Our Grandmothers” and in it she says, “I come as one but I stand as 10,000.” And I’ve been in multiple meetings where I was the single woman and the single black person within a 50 mile radius, but I step into that room as one, and I come with 10,000, and 10,000 and 10,000, at my back and my sides. And knowing that means I can go anywhere, I can do anything, because I recognize where I’ve come from and what I’ve come from. So the Annie Lee Coopers of the world whose names a lot of people didn’t make the history books and aren’t as known as Dr. King and John Lewis and all the others, were equally important in the courage that they demonstrated daily to stand inside and stand up for themselves, and I think that there is no great val – when you understand your history, you understand you.

A lot of people are going to draw parallels, of course, to what happened then and what’s happening now. Talk to me a little bit about that three step strategy that the SCLC had that Dr. King’s character said. It was three steps. Do you think that strategy should still play to what we’re experiencing today? 

DAVID OYELOWO: Well I think the parallels that I can see, in terms of Selma and Ferguson, is in the same way that in Ferguson, when it was voting rights that was being asked for, it was a black problem. Once Bloody Sunday happened and the country saw those images, it became an American problem. I think with Ferguson, when it was about Ferguson, it was a black problem. When the country saw the injustice of what happened to Eric Garner, it became an American problem. And that was the point beyond which black and white came together and these marches really gained momentum. And in that instance, in Selma, the problem was voting rights and there was federal intervention, because what you had is a situation whereby, for want of a better phrase, the game was rigged. You know, as a black person, if you got killed and someone was brought on trial, they most likely would get off because it was a white jury of their peers. You know, we have a situation now where what we need is police reform and the game is rigged again, because there is a conflict of interest, if it’s local prosecutors and the police. So I would say we need federal intervention again, but also we just need to focus in what are the demands. My fear at the moment is we have this amazing slew of protests but we don’t have someone like Dr. King articulating what it is we want, what it is we need.

OPRAH WINFREY: A clear intention.

DAVID OYELOWO: A clear intention. And that’s not to say that we need a Dr. King in order to do that, but what I hope Selma shows and what is clearly needed, is that clear intention. What are we asking for, how are we going to ask for it in a tactical, politically savvy way, and I really hope and pray that our film in some ways shows what was effective in the past and how we can be effective going forward.

My question is for Ms. Winfrey. We all have moments in life where, you know, we meet someone and we sort of know that that person is special, you know, it’s like this moment where you might go tell your friends, or it sort of connects for you, when you know that this person is a game changer, they’re going to do something amazing. What was that moment for you? You can call it an Aha moment, with Ava, where you knew that this was a history maker, a visionary, she was it?

OPRAH WINFREY: Oh, that’s a great question. Thanks for giving me that question. Actually, I had that moment first with David Oyelowo. David and I were in the trailer doing Butler, and David handed me the tape of – he said, “I did this little film.”

DAVID OYELOWO: She always makes me sound like Oliver Twist.

OPRAH WINFREY: Anyway, I looked at the tape, I googled Ava, I saw that she was an African American woman, director, and read a little bit of her history, and I emailed her, got her email address from David. Did I call you up? I didn’t call you up.

AVA DUVERNAY: You called me up.

OPRAH WINFREY: I did? I gave you a call. I emailed you first and said we’re going to be friends, and then I called her up and told her, we’re gonna be –

AVA DUVERNAY: She emailed me and said we’re going to be friends.

OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah, and emailed and said we’re going to be friends. Please send me your phone number so I can call you.

OPRAH WINFREY: We’re gonna be friends, and send me your phone number. And I could feel from her countenance, from the spirit of her, that there was something inside her that I also had inside me, and I could see that in David and that’s why I befriended David on The Butler, you know? There is, I call it, you know, at my school, when I was looking for girls for my school, I call it the “It factor” and those who have it recognize it in others. And I could sense from David a level of humility and a level of pure passion and desire to honor his calling, and the calling beyond just being an actor, but his calling as a human being, to honor what God had put him here to do. And I saw that in him ‘cause I have that in myself, and I told him we were gonna be friends. I could see that he is favored, he is favored from on high. And I’ve had that favor, so I know what that looks like and I wanted to do whatever I could to elevate that. And I could feel the same thing in Ava. And I think the part of my trajectory here on the planet has been to try to inspire and lift other people up, so when I saw that here was somebody who has that thing, that “it thing” I wanted to do everything in my power to lift that up, to bring light to that, to bring attention to that. And so that’s what happened. And now, we’re just buds, [SOUNDS LIKE] real buds, yeah. Really.

Have you heard from the King family? Have they seen the film?

OPRAH WINFREY: Yes, we have heard from the Kings. Last weekend in Santa Barbara at my home we had a celebration with all of the Civil Rights leaders who were actually a part of the film. John Lewis and Andrew Young and Julian Bond and Reverend Lowery and Diane Nash and all of them were there. And along with Bernice King and Martin Luther King, Jr. III. They’ve seen the film now at least two times. They’re really impressed with Carmen. They think that Carmen really depicted their mother beautifully and felt equally so about David’s portrayal of Dr. King. So they’re pretty pleased with the film.

OPRAH WINFREY: Ava is brilliant, because I think you all probably recognize, we didn’t have the IP for this, and so we were not allowed to use any of his original speeches. And there were times where, you know, we needed another scene and literally the producers would be on the phone and said, “Ava, can you write that this weekend? Can you go back and channel Dr. King and write that this weekend?” Which she did. So every single word coming out of his mouth for those speeches, Ava wrote them. And did it in such a way that in the end Bernice King says to you –

DAVID OYELOWO: That “it’s the best interpretation of my father I’ve ever seen.”

OPRAH WINFREY: There you go.

Sidney Poitier said he chooses to do his work as a reflection of his values. Is this a project that you’ve chose, sir, as a reflection of who you are?

DAVID OYELOWO: Yeah. Never before have I engaged in an artist endeavor that so brings everything I am as a man together. I’m a Christian myself, I have four children. Because of my faith, sacrificial love in the face of injustice, these are the things I hold dear. So, you know, as a man, as a storyteller, as a citizen of the world, you know, what you see when you watch Selma is everything I value and aspire to be. One of the things I was so glad that we showed – two of the things – was how humanity came together to fight this cause together, black, white, people of several faiths coming together. I think that that’s the most beautiful thing we do as human beings is coming together. I also feel, as a man, one of the things I was so proud of with this film was Ava bringing to light the women in this film. I have a beautiful wife. I have an incredible daughter. I am a big fan of women. And you know, they were marginalized within this movement, even though it was a movement against injustice and inequality. They were just as brilliant, they were just as bright, they were just as courageous and tenacious, and you know, I just feel one of the greatest blessings of my life was also seeing Ava and Oprah behind the monitor while we were shooting this thing. That, to me, is definitely a realization of Dr. King’s dream, this beautiful black woman telling this story so beautifully, this other beautiful black woman helping us get this story told. This wouldn’t have happened 50 years ago, in terms of them helping us get this done, and so if this is one of, if not the greatest, things I do with my life, I will be happy with that.

A special screening was held this month in California celebrating “Selma” and honoring the Legends who paved the way. Special guests included Oprah Winfey, Director Ava DuVernay and “Selma” cast including David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Tessa Thompson, Niecy Nash, Lorraine Toussaint, Omar Dorsey, Andre Holland, Henry Sanders, Wendell Pierce, Jeremy Strong, Stephen Root, Corey Reynolds, Colman Domingo, Keith Stanfield, and Trai Byers along with Civil Rights Legends: Ambassador Andrew Young, Berry Gordy, Dr. C.T. Vivian, Diane Nash, Dick Gregory, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Juanita Jones Abernathy, Julian Bond, Marian Wright Edelman, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier. Also in attendance were Martin Luther King III, Magic Johnson, Smokey Robinson, Babyface, Tyler Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Stedman Graham, Gayle King, Portia de Rossi, Donna Brazile, Robin Roberts, Angela Bassett, Tracey Edmonds, Deion Sanders, Dr. Phil and MORE!

 

“Selma” will be in select theaters December 25, 2014 and hit all theaters January 9, 2015.