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David Oyelowo, Kate Mara and Ashley Smith Talk ‘Captive’ and Seeing Others ‘Through the Eyes of Christ’

The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in New York celebrated its grand opening Monday night with a screening of Paramount’s “Captive,” based on the book “Unlikely Angel.” Named after the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the center is a project of the Archdiocese of New York. Slated to welcome the crowd was Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, however, with special guest Pope Francis en route to America in 10 days, he was a bit tied up in preparations.

“As you watch it, think about reaching out to people on the periphery,” the center’s Executive Director Bill Spencer Reilly told the aud ahead of the screening, referring to a sentiment uttered by Pope Francis himself.

Following the film, “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King moderated a Q&A panel with the stars of the film, David Oyelowo and Kate Mara; Ashley Smith, who was taken hostage by Brian Nichols in March 2005; Claritha Nichols, mother of the now-imprisoned Brian Nichols; and the film’s producer Terry Botwick.

In preparation for the film, Mara spent time with Smith and her family. After taking Smith hostage, Nichols was convicted for the murder of four people during that manhunt and according to his mother, has been in solitary confinement for 10 years after letting Smith go and turning himself in.

“There’s no way I could get to him. So what you see is very much from talking to Ashley about that night and the trial that took place afterwards and the book. So I was nervous about meeting you, Mrs. Nichols,” Oyelowo said. “That’s your baby there that I’m playing and I didn’t get to meet him.”

Nichols said she felt grateful to Smith for talking her son into surrendering. “Ashley showed him human kindness. I thank her for talking to him, for helping him… and letting him know he needed to do the right thing and turn himself in.”

“I really was just being myself and taking the next step that I thought was right,” Smith said. “I really believe that God gave me his eyes to see Brian. And instead of seeing Brian through the eyes of a human being, I saw him through the eyes of Christ.”

“It was very emotional watching it,” Nichols said. Smith said she watched it for the first time with her now 16-year-old daughter and was quite pleased with Mara’s portrayal of her.

“She did really good, but she really has too much of a Southern twang,” she said to laughter from the audience. “And then I saw myself on television and thought, ‘Oh, no she didn’t.’”

“My biggest concern was telling her story truthfully,” said Mara. “I wasn’t interested in impersonating her in any way. The accent thing always helps though as David knows — as an actor it’s part of your costume. So I was kind of studying her voice when we spent that day together.”

Gayle noticed that Oyelowo’s character doesn’t speak for the first 25 minutes of the film, which he confirmed was a conscious choice.

“We wanted to do that to play on the audience’s prejudices. Because when you see a news story unfolding, you see a mugshot. You see freeze frames, and to be perfectly frank, you see a black man who is on the run, and it does all kinds of things in your mind especially in the world we live in today. And we wanted to show that without giving him personality or humanity in a sense. So that by the time you see him interact with Ashley, you see his humanity reemerge,” explained Oyelowo.

King told Botwick that she liked that the film also turned attention to the four victims. “I thought that was very important. You showed us their pictures. You showed their names. Because I think quite often in so many of these movies the victims are sometimes forgotten. I was very touched that you did that.”

Captive” opens Sept. 18.

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