'Woodlawn' Brings Faith to the Football Field

Actor Caleb Castille, who nabbed the role of legendary running back Tony Nathan, describes the call that changed his life and why the film might "change our culture."

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- Posted on Oct 15, 2015

Caleb Castille plays Tony Nathan in the new movie Woodlawn.

Hollywood newcomer Caleb Castille makes his acting debut when Woodlawn – the movie based on the true story of high school football standout Tony Nathan – hits theaters October 16th.

The role is one of a lifetime, especially since Castille was originally rejected for the part.

Just three days before production was to start on the faith-based film, directing brothers Jon and Andy Erwin woke Castille up with an early morning phone call. They asked if the actor – who originally auditioned for the role of Nathan and was then gearing up to play his stunt double – would be willing to be their lead.

The answer was a no-brainer.

“It’s a huge opportunity to portray someone who has such an incredible reputation,” Castille tells Guideposts.org. “I’m just excited for people to see his story.”

Tony Nathan’s story is widely-known in his native Birmingham, Alabama. The running back—who would later go on to win championships for the Crimson Tide and play in two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins -- arrived at Woodlawn High School in a time of extreme racial tension after  school desegregation.

Nathan and his fellow African-American teammates experienced racism on the field and off. It wasn’t until the team’s coach brought a chaplain into the locker room that the players were able to overcome their differences and embrace one another through faith.

Nathan played an integral part in unifying the team and eventually the town.

“In Tony’s life, his faith was the backbone of what helped him treat people the way he wanted to be treated. It kept him in a place where he could live by example,” Castille says of the man he portrays on screen.

The role of Nathan is one Castille has been prepping for his entire life.

Hailing from a football family dynasty – the actor’s father and two older brothers played for the University of Alabama before going on to the NFL – Castille decided on his career path at a young age.

The star was a wide receiver and defensive back for Birmingham’s prestigious Briarwood Christian High School before joining his family’s alma mater where he represented the Crimson Tide in two back-to-back national championships.

But in 2013 Castille decided to put down his cleats and pursue an entirely new path.

“[I] had so much success,” Castille says of his time on the field. “I grew up playing at a really good high school and then went to college and was winning national championships. When I decided to do [acting], it was just another challenge in life. It was something different, a chance to reach people in a different way.”

A man of faith, Castille knew that when the script for Woodlawn landed on his lap, he had to be a part of the project.

“Faith is my moral compass,” the actor says. “I really just want to do films that impact people and that are purposeful.”

The star hopes that Nathan’s story can bring clarity and, hopefully, answers to some of the racial problems our country is currently facing.

“You look at the film and you look at how love and hope and peace are able to break down the tension that people were feeling. If we can apply those same qualities and [solutions] to our own lives individually, I think it would begin to change our culture.”

Castille also hopes that as his career takes off, he’s able to be a part of films with an inspiring message – one’s like Woodlawn.

“I hope that after seeing this film, people leave the theater wanting to be a better person,” Castille says. “I hope that people leave the theater with questions and seeking different ways of living a better life, a more purposeful life. This movie can be a tool to bring a lot healing and hope to this country.”

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