Oprah Winfrey Explains Why She Agreed to ‘Selma’ After Turning Down Role

“The reason I said yes to this role is because of the magnificence of Annie Lee Cooper,” TV titan says about the real-life Civil Rights activist she portrays

Last Updated: December 30, 2014 @ 3:40 PM

It took more than just pleas from “Selma” director Ava DuVernay to convince Oprah Winfrey to join the film’s cast. In fact, the TV mogul and actress said it was a story about the real-life Civil Rights activist she portrays that finally persuaded her to change her mind.

In a previous interview with TheWrap, DuVernay revealed Winfrey “did not want to do it” and had to be asked several times.

Winfrey explained in an E! video why she finally came around: “The reason I said yes to this role is because of the magnificence of Annie Lee Cooper,” she said. “And what her courage meant to an entire movement.”

In the film, Cooper’s voting registration is denied. She joins the tense marches alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) demanding voting rights for blacks in 1965 Alabama. In an incident Cooper is known for, she defends a fellow marcher by punching Selma Sheriff Jim Clark in the jaw.

“Having people look at you and not see you as a human being — she just got tired of it,” Winfrey said of Cooper. “You cannot know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”

Something else that concerned Winfrey was getting physical in yet another role; in 1985, she portrayed the hardened Sofia, who lands in jail after slugging the town’s mayor, in the “The Color Purple.”

But it was DuVernay’s persistence that got her to come around.

“Ava sent me [a story] from Google about the real Annie Lee Cooper that said she watched the Oprah show every day. Not only watched, but watched it with a tuna fish sandwich — which is exactly how I would want to watch it,” Winfrey revealed.

“Ava said, ‘What do you think it would mean to this woman who watched you every day?'” Winfrey continued. “She got me! She got me. So, it was like, ‘Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.'”

During TheWrap’s screening of “Selma” earlier this month, DuVernay credited Oyelowo with coaxing Winfrey to also act as a producer on the film. The TV titan and Oyelowo have a bit of  history together: He portrayed Winfrey’s son in Lee Daniels‘ film “The Butler” in 2013.

“Selma” recently earned four Golden Globe nominations including a best director nod for DuVernay, making her the first African-American woman ever nominated in the category.

The film is currently playing in limited release and expands nationwide Jan. 9, 2015.