Oprah Winfrey almost turned down the chance to star in civil rights movie Selma after learning her character would have to lash out at a policeman – because she refused to become known as “the slapping actress”.
The media mogul-turned-movie star earned an Oscar nomination in 1986 for her debut acting role as an outspoken but abused woman in The Color Purple, in which she hits out at the mayor after being slapped, while Winfrey won praise again last year for her part in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which included a confrontational scene with her onscreen son, played by David Oyelowo.
Winfrey reveals the two film experiences turned her off the idea of portraying real life civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper as the role called for another hand-to-face action.
She explains, “When they first asked me to do the role, I didn’t want to do it, because she (Cooper) ends up having to slap the sheriff, and I didn’t want to do it.
“I thought, ‘What am I? Am I the slapping actress?’ I slap people (in every movie). Is that what I do…? Typecast as a slapping actress! We will see.”
She adds, “But that did happen to her (Cooper), because she went to register to vote five times, and each time she was turned away. And finally she had an encounter with the sheriff, where the sheriff tried to take her down, and she hit him. She had to hit him; that actually did happen.”
Selma, which has emerged as an awards season favorite, features Winfrey’s The Butler co-star Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1965 voting reform marches in Alabama.
Winfrey also serves as the film’s co-producer.