'The Mountaintop' Imagines MLK's Last Night On Earth

Feb 28, 2020

Actor John Christopher says he’s been preparing for his current stage role for years, starting long before he even auditioned. He’s starring as Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop, the 2009 play by Katori Hall that imagines a fictionalized vision of Dr. King’s last night on earth.

“Being able to carry the weight of such a significant figure in American history – world history, really – it’s an honor and it’s a burden,” Christopher says. "But it’s a burden I’m happy to carry, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”

Christopher says he’s spent a lot of time watching videos of speeches and interviews by Dr. King, but that didn’t start with his casting in The Mountaintop – it’s just long been a pastime of his.

“I just watched them because I knew someday that I would have an opportunity to do this,” he says. “You know, some people play video games. I watch stuff like this.”

To prepare for this role, Christopher says he focused more on interviews than on speeches because he wanted to understand Dr. King as a man and not just as an orator.

“It helped me a lot,” Christopher says. “Not just to play the character but also to understand him a little better.”

Co-director Rachelle Chery says that one of the reasons she likes Hall’s script is that it presents Dr. King as a human rather than an archetype. In the play, she says, “he tells about his fears [and] his hopes regarding the civil rights movement. And I think a lot of people are going to laugh, they’re going to cry, and I think also they’re going to feel inspired.”

Christopher says that it’s a good time to be bringing this play to an audience.

“Especially at a time like now, I think it’s really important for us to open up our perspective,” he says. “So I think this is a good opportunity to look at what it is that Dr. Martin Luther King was trying to do then and look at how it applies now. So for that reason, I hope people of all races, colors, creeds, or whatever come out and see the play. It’s not a black play for Black History Month. It really is something for all people to see.”

'The Mountaintop' is produced by Paradox Players and runs through Marrch 8 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.