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‘I’m Always Trying to Go to the Trenches’: ‘Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia’ Star Rob Demery Talks Locking Himself In Bathroom to Prepare for His Role as Martin Luther King Jr.

“Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” star Rob Demery revealed the emotional moments as he got in character for his role as Martin Luther King Jr. on Lifetime’s upcoming biopic of “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson. The film, which stars “Orange is the New Black” star Danielle Brooks in the title role, is a retelling of some of the icon’s behind-the-scenes moments as an activist and dear friend of Martin Luther King Jr.

In keeping with COVID-19 protocol, the cast was required to quarantine before filming, which is where he said he did a lot of preparation for the role.

“I think a lot of it started with me during quarantine. We were in Canada filming — two weeks in the hotel room, and I’d never been locked down like that,” Demery said. “So my preparation for Dr. King was to listen to all of his sermons, which I did hour after hour — that’s all I was doing.”

But Demery, who says he’s never been arrested or locked up before, says he wanted to find a way to truly get to King’s experience — the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner was arrested some 29 times over the years of his campaign for civil rights.

“I decided the last day of my quarantine I wanted to lock myself in the restroom for 24 hours just to see how it’d feel,” he revealed. “I found my hearing getting bigger. I could hear the cars outside, I was getting really, really cold, I was turning on the shower trying to get heat, I was starving.” Demery admitted he lasted 17 hours under the circumstances. “I found myself getting pretty sick and I came out,” he said. 

Demery said the experience helped him to tap into what he imagined King’s thoughts might have been like during his times in jails. “That was emotional to me because no matter what character I’m playing, I’m always trying to go to the trenches with the character. I’m trying to find the darkest moments — the things that people probably don’t see,” Demery said. “Everyone knows who Dr. King is on a certain level, but do we know him when the cameras are off when he’s with his family? So that’s what I was really trying to capture, and during those moments I felt horrible because he had been locked up so many times fighting for our rights and things of that nature, so that was the moment for me that kinda made me a little bit sad,” he said.

The gospel biopic “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia” premieres Saturday, April 3, on Lifetime and is directed by Tony-winning director Kenny Leon. 

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