Actor Interview: Stan Houston on his role in “Selma” and why he almost walked away from it

Stan Houston SelmaWritten by: Melody Charles

It’s rare to get a memorable acting part in a relatively new acting career, much less one with other certified superstars and singled-out early on for being worthy of an Academy Award, but that’s what STAN HOUSTON has accomplished. Atlanta, GA native with both independent and major project roles to his credit, Houston acted in network programming (FX, HBO’s “Eastbound and Down”), online series (Hulu’s “A Free Bird”) and an upcoming WeTV show (“South of Hell”) as well as 2013’s Devil’s Knot with Stephen Moyer and Reese Witherspoon.

Despite the acclaim he’s received for his eerily-accurate portrayal of pro-segregation, attack-dog instigating Sheriff Clark in the Oscar-nominated film SELMA, Mr. Houston made it clear that the part wasn’t his dream role. In fact, it was one of the most draining and debilitating roles he’d ever encountered. Also, as he shared with Knowshi by phone, he walked away multiple times before finally saying ‘yes’……

Knowshi: Wow Stan, it must be bittersweet to get props for emulating such a toxic person. What made you ultimately accept the part and how did you prepare for it? 

Stan – “Well, considering it was a pretty dark role and I still live [in Coffee County, AL] where he did, I was hesitant about how I’d [personally] be perceived. I actually rejected them twice.”

Stan Houston as Sheriff Jim Clark in SELMA

Stan Houston as Sheriff Jim Clark in SELMA

Knowshi: I can’t argue with you on that one, your portrayal practically bristled off the screen! Who—or what—did you think of to duplicate that rancor and rigidity so well?

Stan – “I like to study people, and I like to mimic them. When you see me doing these stern looks and gritting my teeth, I visualize that old general Jimmy Lee Jackson gripping the baton and commanding his troops. It kept me from going to that dark place.”

Knowshi: Very effective, no doubt. What was it like to work with such esteemed players, like director Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo?

Stan – “All of them are great people. Oprah was an incredible actress and Ava is the next [David] Spielberg: for not using Dr. King’s direct speeches, she was as historically accurate as she could be and investigated all the dialogue. And we shot the infamous scene on the bridge, she whispered to me, ‘use the same words Clark did—- ‘get that n woman,’ I really didn’t want to say and asked not to, but she insisted because those were the real words that he said when he was knocked down by Annie Clark.

And all that talk about how President Johnson was portrayed……[Ava] wasn’t trying to make him look bad, but Johnson wasn’t the freedom marcher, he was a politician and [Civil Rights] just wasn’t on his time table. The criticism is ridiculous.”

Knowshi: Those were pretty wrenching moments… did the cast handle everything? 

Stan – “It was the feel of family. We learned each other cultures, ate together, most of us still talk a couple of times a week. We also met the guys who were on the front line, the men and women who marched with King, which makes it real. Dr. King is not a statue, he’s not a holiday, he was a simple preacher who was forced to the forefront and then he became the voice of the movement.”

Knowshi: Incredible. We wish you all luck on Oscar night Stan, and before we let you go, what advice do you have for new actors who want to follow in your enviable footsteps?

Stan – “Find a good college with a good film and drama department.  Beginners should audition for student films, if they become ‘principal’ role players for those films, they can earn credit on the resume and up to $900 for just one movie, which ain’t too bad for a kid in college (laughs). Patience is a big thing too— you stand a bigger chance of winning the lottery than the Oscar, but if you got the talent you will be found.”

Stan Houston and SELMA cast

Stan Houston and SELMA cast


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