January 7, 2015 / 1:15 PM / 5 years ago

A Minute With: Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in 'Selma'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It’s rare for an actress to play the same character twice but Carmen Ejogo, who played Coretta Scott King in the HBO movie “Boycott”, portrays her again in the 1960s civil rights era movie “Selma”, to be released in U.S. theaters nationwide on Friday.

Actress Carmen Ejogo takes part in a panel discussion of ABC's new series "Zero Hour" during the 2013 Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California, January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Amazingly, Ejogo says early versions of the “Selma” script had no role for the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ejogo, 41, of Scottish and Nigerian heritage, talked with Reuters about how she approached the part.

Q: It’s hard to believe there was no Coretta because the relationship between her and Martin is so central to this movie.

A: (Director) Ava DuVernay added some genius ideas, including the idea of putting Coretta in the film. There was no Coretta in the original script. Maybe one telephone call scene. But in terms of being the emotional core of the movie and how Martin makes the choices he makes, that wasn’t there.

Q: You played Coretta Scott King in a 2001 HBO movie about the 1955 bus boycotts. What was different the second time around?

A: Coretta was a completely different woman by 1965. There is a burden about her of what she could have been and what she has become, the aspirations for the marriage, the unspoken knowing that Martin doesn’t have long with her. I feel strongly that they knew it was going to end badly, and we are only three years away from that moment (his 1968 assassination) in this film.

Q: What pressure is there in playing such an iconic figure?

A: I think being British has been very helpful to me because I didn’t go to school learning about Coretta as being the most important female in black history ... I was able to embrace the full scope of the woman, the frailty, the good and the bad, and recognize ultimately that I wouldn’t be doing her a disservice by presenting those things, but I would be doing her a favor.

Q: How do you think “Selma” will be perceived by the black community or by the U.S. audience, if there is a distinction?

A: I hope it’s the same reaction in that it really serves as an inspiration. I think that this film will prove to be as inspiring to the people that are picketing outside Walmart trying to get workers’ rights, the people on the streets of Hong Kong, and Iran, and Ukraine. And I am so excited that this film will be as inspiring to a black person in Ferguson, Missouri as to a white kid in middle America.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Patricia Reaney and David Gregorio

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