Academy Award nominee David Oyelowo was drawn to his starring role in the movie “Captive” because the true story of the 2005 Atlanta-area murder and hostage saga shows the power of the gospel to transform lives, he told Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren.
Oyelowo, acclaimed for his role of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 movie “Selma,” in Captive portrays Brian Nichols, an accused rapist who escapes jail, murders four people and injures others before holding methamphetamine addict Ashley Smith hostage in her home overnight. Smith reads to Nichols from Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, and successfully encourages Nichols to release her and surrender to police.
“I was less drawn to playing Brian than I was drawn to the effect this event had on Ashley Smith. And as a Christian myself, I was just so taken with the fact that you have a murderer and a meth addict holed up together for seven hours. Somehow out of that comes salvation, hope, redemption, and Ashley Smith in particular stepping into a new chapter in her life where she gets her life back,” Oyelowo said in an interview broadcast on Saddleback’s online church.
“Often what comes out of Hollywood is not edifying, not godly, doesn’t have a moral compass, certainly doesn’t hint at true hope,” he noted. “This was a story that I just knew I had to be part of seeing come to fruition.”
David Oyelowo portrays criminal Brian Nichols in “Captive,” based on the true 2005 story of hostage Ashley Smith who read to the murderer from Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life.”
The film showcases Smith as the methamphetamine addict she was when Nichols overtook her outside her home, and brings to screen the story of their interactions before Nichols surrendered to police. Smith had been reading The Purpose Driven Life for the past 33 days, but had succumbed to temptation to use meth twice during that time, including the night before her capture.
It was when she refused Nichols’ offer of meth during the hostage ordeal that God delivered her from the addiction that had robbed her of hope and caused her to lose custody of her daughter, Smith told Baptist Press in advance of a screening of the film that opens nationwide Sept. 18 with a PG-13 rating.
“He asked me three different times, ‘Do you want to use this? How ‘bout you do this with me? Why don’t we do this together?’ And I promise you it was like Jesus was standing in front of me saying, ‘Do you want to live today, or do you want to die today? Because this is your choice,’” Smith said. “And I really honestly believe that if I would have [chosen] to do the drugs that night that I would have died, whether it be by the hands of Brian Nichols or somebody else. But I looked at Brian Nichols and I said I don’t want to use that now and I never want to use it again, whether I’ve got five years to live or I’ve got 50 years to live, and by the grace of God I have not [used it again].”
Instead, Smith has used her life to tell of the forgiveness, deliverance and redemption she has found in Christ. She has remarried, regained custody of her daughter, is author of Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero, and often speaks at meetings of the Celebrate Recovery discipleship ministry founded by Saddleback Church.
Warren said Smith exemplifies that our greatest ministry often grows from our deepest hurt and pain.
“One of the chapters she read to Brian out of Purpose Driven Life was ‘You’re Shaped to Serve God.’ And that’s everything she’s done since that moment,” Warren told Oyelowo. “I mean it literally turned the trajectory of her life and she has used the way God shaped her to serve God and others. … She is serving God out of her pain.”
Smith had accepted Christ when she was 7 years old and had been baptized by Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page when he was pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. During her struggles, Satan tried to convince her she was lost, she said.
“I knew that I was still saved because the Bible tells me that once I’m saved, I’m always saved. But it also tells me that we have struggles and that there’s nothing that we can do that God will not love us,” she said. “And for a long time I believed Satan’s lie saying, ‘You know what, it’s too late. You’re too bad. He doesn’t want you back anymore. Your Christianity is ruined because of all these choices that you’ve made that dishonored God.’ And I believed Satan for a very, very long time.”
Smith believed she deserved to die at Nichols’ hands, she said.
“But it wasn’t until God literally reached down into the pits of hell that my life had become, in my apartment that night and He pulled me out of it. And He showed me, ‘You know what, I love you. It doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, I love you,’” Smith said. “It was like an immediate freedom. … God was asking me to trust Him. He was asking me if I wanted a new life, or if I didn’t want a new life. And I wanted a new life. Thankfully He gave me one.”
Oyelowo can relate to Smith’s experience, he told Warren.
“When I became a Christian at the age of 16, it was outside of my religious experience, it was outside of … my upbringing,” Oyelowo said. “I felt God say to me, ‘David there is nothing you can do to make Me love you less. And I truly believe it was a revelation of that fact, in the midst of this event, that started to turn things for Ashley. She had messed up so much that she felt she deserved death, and yet a new hope started rising up in her, partly because Brian was a mirror to her of how bad things can get without the Lord’s intervention. And so having been given a second chance beyond this event, it was the point beyond which – to hear her say it – she didn’t feel a pull towards meth again.”
Such redemption in the midst of the darkness surrounding Smith and Nichols is the remarkable story of the film, said Oyelowo, who met Nichols’ mother Claritha Nichols in August.
“She said that [Nichols] has said very recently that he is [in prison] where he is supposed to be, which is a really chilling thing to say,” Oyelowo told Warren. “But in that moment when Ashley was reading your book to [him] I truly believe that what was speaking to his spirit is he may have run out of credit here on earth, but there is a life beyond this life and there is hope for him beyond this life. And to take yet another life in the shape of Ashley’s would be just a further erosion of his own life. And so there was a hope of something beyond that situation they were in, even for him.”
On Sept. 17, in advance of the movie’s wide release, “Captive: Night of Purpose” will feature a screening of the film in theaters in 50 markets, followed by the viewing of a pre-recorded panel discussion with Oyelowo, Smith, Kate Mara who portrays Smith in the film, Claritha Nichols and Captive producer Terry Botwick. CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King will moderate the discussion.
More information on Captive: Night of Purpose is available at captivemovieresources.com/nightofpurpose.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)