Actor David Oyelowo, director and star of the new film “The Water Man,” reflected on the movie’s themes of eternity and grief through the lens of his family's strong Christian faith in an interview with The Christian Post.
The Golden Globe-nominated actor known for his roles in blockbuster films “Selma” and “The Butler,” and his equally talented wife, Jessica Oyelowo, known for her roles in “Sleepy Hollow” and “Alice and Wonderland,” partnered together to help produce “The Water Man” under their Yoruba Saxon Productions banner. David made his directorial debut with the motion picture along with starring in it, and Jessica lent her musical talents to the movie’s soundtrack.
“We love watching movies together, and I just found that some of the movies that I loved growing up, films like "E.T.," "Stand By Me," The Goonies," "Gremlins," "Willow," "NeverEnding Story," we had to revisit those films in order to share films of that nature with our kids,” David told The Christian Post, explaining why he and his wife decided to be a part of bringing forth a youth-fantasy movie.
“The Water Man,” now in theaters, tells the story of Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) and his mother (Rosario Dawson), who “share a special bond, but when his mom’s illness worsens, he [begins reading] stacks of books on both science and the supernatural in search of possible cures. After learning about the mythic Water Man, who may carry the secret to everlasting life, Gunner and his rebellious friend Jo (Amiah Miller) go on a quest into the Water Man’s mysterious forest,” The synopsis reads. “Facing challenges and dangers they never imagined, the friends’ hope for rescue lies with Gunner’s father (David Oyelowo), who must immerse himself in his son’s world to follow the clues that will lead him to the kids and put his family back together.”
To accompany the film, Jessica penned a new Christian music single titled “What Love Does” to highlight the beauty of sacrificial love modeled best by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Lonnie's character in the movie is willing to give everything, the way Jesus gave everything for us,” David said.
The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with David and Jessica Oyelowo, who've been married for 23 years. The couple share their Christian testimonies along with their thoughts on some of the themes explored in the film, which is rated PG and features some scary scenes and contains some strong language.
Jeannie Law: I first spoke to you, David, after your 2015 film, "Captive." How have you both grown in your faith since all of the success that has followed that film?
David Oyelowo: "Captive" was our second film at our production company, the production company Jess and I run together [Yoruba Saxon Productions], and "The Water Man" is our sixth film, so we've made a few films since then.
Our individual faith walks ... I became a born-again Christian when I was 16. I met Jess when I was 18. She likes to say that she was a Christian from birth, which I can completely believe she came out this way. One of the beautiful things about marriage has been that we married young. We were both believers and our marriage, our faith, our careers, our family have all grown together. When the Bible says one will put 1,000 to flight but two would put 10,000 to flight, I feel like we are living embodiments of that, and that's been a real blessing in our lives.
Jessica Oyelowo: We met in a youth theater when we were teenagers and we happened to walk out the door at the same time to go to lunch. We didn't know each other very well and [we said], "You want to get some lunch? ‘Yeah, let's get some lunch,’ OK!" And within about five steps, we discovered that David's grandfather was converted by English missionaries in Nigeria and that my grandparents were missionaries in China. We had this weird connection over our grandparents. I don't know how we discovered that so quickly. It was like, "What do you want for lunch? Also, what did your grandparents do and when did they get saved?"
Law: How did "The Water Man" come about?
David: We now have four kids. I say now, but our eldest is 19, so we've had them for a while. They're 19, 16, 13, and 9. We love watching movies together and I just found that some of the movies that I loved growing up, films like "E.T.," "Stand By Me," The Goonies," "Gremlins," "Willow," "NeverEnding Story" — we had to revisit those films in order to share films of that nature with our kids.
It got me thinking, why are there not more films like this? Films with magic and meaning; films that have reality and fantasy together but they're actually about something, they elicit a conversation. You see the story through the eyes of a child but you're not speaking down to children. I loved those films growing up and films that have those themes that really resonate with us as Christians.
I remember seeing "E.T." and looking at this family that were dealing with the fact that the father had left and the mother was coping with that, and the kids are now having to deal with that as well. Kids go through tough stuff as well. So when "The Water Man" came our way, it felt like a throwback to those kinds of films. That's why I wanted to jump into it.
Also, our kids are mixed race and when I grew up, I never saw myself represented in those kinds of films. And we're always looking for films that we can make that make them feel like they are represented in stories as central characters. So that was partly why we jumped on board with this as well.
Law: There's a quote in the film that asks, "Where do we go when we die?" If you had to answer that, what would you say?
Jessica: Wow, well, Heaven! In the film, Rosario's character has to give an answer and it's a tough question to ask in a movie where you're appealing to a wide audience, but she gives a really great answer.
What we believe personally is that we live once, we die once, we're judged once, if we're with Jesus [then] Heaven is the only place we can be. He is the key, He is the way, He is the truth, He is the life! There is no way to the Father except through Him.
It's not necessarily that Heaven is the only space that the Father inhabits. But the way to the Father's heart, the way to be one with Him, as Jesus prayed for us in John 17, is Jesus. It's to be one with Him, to abide with Him, that we may be one with the Father. That was Jesus' desire for us — that we would be one with the Father, that for eternity is what we get to be.
David: That's also one of the themes of the film, which Gunner, as a young kid, he doesn't have these revelations yet. So of course, with the possible loss of his mom, he's prepared to go and look for the Water Man who supposedly has the key to immortality. But he's looking in the wrong place for that immortality. And not only for that, he's looking in the wrong place to really be able to appreciate the love in his life.
One of the gifts in life, one of the reasons why love here on Earth is so precious, is because it's finite. Our life here is not forever, but this is a blip in time in relation to eternity. The idea is to enjoy every day, especially if you are around people you love. And for us personally, knowing that there is an eternal relationship with the Father, an eternal relationship with each other that is going to transcend anything and everything we can experience here.
Law: Jessica, you lent your voice to this film in a song titled, "What Love Does." In the film, we see the sacrificial love that the son showed to try and save his mother’s life. Can you talk about the inspiration of the song?
Jessica: The song is about that powerful, sacrificial love. That when you truly love someone it's not about what you're going to get from them, is what you can give to them. Lonnie's character in the movie is willing to give everything, the way Jesus gave everything for us.
What love does is, it doesn't seek its own. It's 1 Corinthians 13 and there are many references in the song to that beautiful chapter from the Bible. But that's exactly it. The key theme of the film is sacrificial love, seeing what Gunner will do for his mother. The song is purely a reflection of that, it's an expansion of that, giving it words, giving it melody, and giving it visuals too.
Law: David, in the film we see your character struggling with grief as he cares for his dying wife. What would you say is a good way to handle grief or difficult situations like that?
David: During the course of making this film, my mom became ill and eventually passed away. She passed away four years ago just as this film was coming into our lives. And then my dad actually passed away last September. So in the last four or five years, we lost both of my parents and they were very close to us, very close to my kids as well.
Jessica: They lived with us, so they were very close family.
David: I would say one of the things I have learned through that personal experience is to be kind to yourself, to be good to yourself, to be patient with yourself because you just don't know how grief is going to hit you. As the eldest son, as the head of my home in my household, I felt the need to push aside my grief, especially with my mom. I don't think I grieved as healthily because I felt I needed to be strong for my brothers, for my dad, for my own family, for my kids.
The other thing that got affected is my relationship with God. Not in a faith way, but in my attitude toward prayer. Because my mom had this aneurism and she was in a vegetative state for three years. So every time I prayed it would be about wanting a miracle of my mom being brought back. So prayer equaled pain for me. Prayer equaled hope deferred for me.
It took a while for me to be able to recalibrate that and come back to the fact that prayer is about relationship. Prayer is about the fact that I can still have joy, even when I'm not happy and it being a joy that surpasses my own understanding. So that was something that helped me when my dad passed away.
There's almost a maturation in grief as well, weirdly enough. But my dad hit me differently. And ... [it] would come at unexpected times. There's no easy way to walk the grief walk. I would just say, be kind to yourself and be patient with yourself.
Law: Despite the illness, the mother in the film prays to God and shows gratitude for the everyday blessings. What can we learn from that?
David: I think we've all, as a global community, just gone through an event that really highlights how tough life can be, but yet how amazing life also is. The fact that we are alive is a mathematical miracle in itself, when you think about the probability of even being alive.
Yes, life can be fraught with suffering. But if you happen to be one of the blessed ones who have either love in your life, where you have connected with God, and you feel His love, or you have a family that loves you, friends that love you, you know what love feels like. You are literally the richest of people here on planet Earth. There is no greater feeling, no greater attribute, no greater circumstance to find yourself in than to be loving someone and be loved, and that is something to consistently be grateful for. And that's basically what she prays in the film, and that's the revelation Gunner's character has in the course of the story.
Law: Is there something, in particular, you want audiences to take from watching “The Water Man”?
David: My hope is that families will watch this together, that they'll have a great time watching it, but it'll also elicit a conversation. I hope that parents appreciate that kid's emotional intelligence more and I hope that kids are a bit more patient with their parents because we get it wrong too.
“The Water Man” is now in theaters.