Caleb Castille stars in Woodlawn as Tony Nathan, the NFL player who got his start playing running back for the football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala.

Caleb Castille & Tony Nathan Video

Nathan attended Woodlawn in the early 70s, when racial tension was at its height due to government-mandated desegregation of schools. “In the beginning, it was frightening,” Nathan told uInterview in an exclusive interview. “You know, you’re just afraid of the unknown, trying to fit in as a youngster. It was nerve racking.”

Though playing on Woodlawn’s football team amid the race issues as one of the few African-American players proved hazardous in the beginning, Nathan had the support of coach Tandy Gerelds, who made it his mission to make the team a cohesive unit.

“The first couple of practices when you line up to go, you get an opportunity to carry the football and nobody would block for you,” Nathan explained. “Coach Gerelds stepped in and said, ‘Well if this is the way it’s going to be we might as well dissolve the football team because he’s going to be here and play.’ And from then on, a couple other players stepped up to the plate and started saying, ‘Hey, he’s human, give him a chance, let him do what he has to do, let’s see where he is,’ and things started to change.”

Castille had a somewhat unlikely journey to landing the part of Nathan in Woodlawn. Having played football in high school and then in college at the University of Alabama, he had been tapped to be the football-playing body double for the lead. When the lead dropped out, instead of combing back through the more seasoned actors who had auditioned for the role, the producers promoted Castille.

“Three days before production, they went back and said, ‘Hey, we think you have what it takes to be the lead.’ And I kind of stepped up to the plate,” said Castille. “It’s been an incredible experience so far.”

Part of Castille’s incredible experience was working alongside the likes of veteran actors Jon Voight, Sean Astin and Nic Bishop. “For me to be around those people, it just taught me a lot as a young actor of how to trust, how to listen,” said Castille. “Because acting is simply reacting.”

How did Nathan think Caleb did channeling his younger self? “You sit there and smile about it and you say, ‘Well, he did it. He nailed it.'”

Woodlawn, which opened in theaters back in October, is now on DVD, Blue-ray and Digital download.

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Q: Tony, what was your experience in Woodlawn in the early 70s. -

In the beginning, it was frightening. You know, you’re just afraid of the unknown, trying to fit in as a youngster. It was nerve racking. But, you know, you just had to be yourself, and, you know, just take care of yourself at the time. They put you on the edge. You’re trying to protect yourself and make sure that nobody hurts you and you definitely weren’t going to look to hurt nobody else so, there was a lot of tension.

Q: Did you experience any racial tension in school? -

The first couple of practices when you line up to go, you get an opportunity to carry the football and nobody would block for you. So you’re getting ten people up front just, you know, having their way with you, and Coach Gerelds stepped in and said, “Well if this is the way it’s going to be we might as well dissolve the football team because he’s going to be here and play.” And from then on, a couple other players stepped up to the plate and started saying, “Hey, he’s human, give him a chance, let him do what he has to do, let’s see where he is,” and things started to change.

Q: How do you feel about Caleb bringing your story to life? -

Tony: It’s amusing to see him do what he does and for him to bring out the character he did about myself, him playing the character. And you sit there and smile about it and you say, “Well he did it. He nailed it.” Caleb Castille: Well, I appreciate that.

Q: Caleb, is it true you only had a few days to prepare for the lead? -

Yes, that is very true. I was initially hired to be the body double because of my football experience. They just wanted a genuine football feel. And then, three days before production, they went back and said, “Hey, we think you have what it takes to be the lead.” And I kind of stepped up to the plate, and it’s been an incredible experience so far.

Q: Were you able to talk to Tony to prepare? -

Yeah, I think… Well, initially they gave me a lot of research to do and then the first time we got on set… So, I talked to him and kind of got a good feel of his character and you know, I was like, “Alright, I’m getting it. He doesn’t say a lot.” [Laughs] It was a great experience though. We were both very wide-eyed about the whole experience.

Q: Did you experience any racial tension while playing football in school? -

I think, yeah, I think so. I mean, more so against me, I would say. I had experiences where we would go and play other teams. You know, there are incidences in school that I can remember, but that’s all about what a lot of people are learning at the dinner table and just bringing it out of their home. You have to just understand that they’re narrow-minded, and you have to react in a way that’s positive.

Q: How was it working with Jon Voight and Sean Astin? -

For me, it was an incredible experience as a young artist stepping into this industry to have two great veteran actors. I worked closer, I would say, with Nic Bishop, who played Coach Gerelds and gave an incredible performance. But for me to be around those people, it just taught me a lot as a young actor of how to trust, how to listen, because acting is simply reacting.