LOS ANGELES, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- In The Day Shall Come, the FBI tries to turn a viral street preacher into a wanted terrorist so agents can arrest him. Márchant Davis plays Moses Al Shabaz in the film, in theaters Friday.
Writer/director Chris Morris's follow-up to his jihad satire Four Lions is inspired by the Liberty City Seven in Miami. The Seven were convicted of conspiring to bomb the Sears Tower for Al Qaeda. One was acquitted and one found innocent at trial. The defense argued that an FBI informant offered them $50,000 for their services, a case of entrapment.
"Chris says it's based on 100 true stories and I think that's pretty accurate," Davis said. "I think Chris saw something in the news and just ran with it."
Moses makes videos in which he rants against the U.S. government, but he's just trying to make money to provide for his family. FBI agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) pursues Moses to impress her boss, Andy Mudd (Denis O'Hare), but soon realizes she's gotten an innocent showman on the terrorist watch list.
For his part, Moses believes he can manage the FBI.
"Moses is a character that doesn't know failure," Davis said. "He loves his family and he will do anything for them. I love my family. I mean, who doesn't? For me, I thought about the people that I love and what lengths would I go to defend the people that I love."
Confronted with any situation, Moses has a philosophical answer at the tip of his tongue. Presented with the opportunity to buy weapons, he decides to buy guns to build a fence with them because a gun without bullets is just a stick.
"If it can't fire anything, it does nobody no harm," Davis said. "Back in the '60s and '70s, the Black Panther Party would have guns without bullets in them."
Morris gave Davis some homework. Together, Davis said they watched documentaries like Let The Fire Burn and (T)ERROR. The books Morris assigned helped Davis understand Morris's perspective.
"He gave me this book called How White Folks Got to Be So Rich," Davis said. "It was very informative. I think when he gave me that, I was like, 'Oh, this is what you're reading in order to come up with this stuff. All right, I think we're going to be on the same page here.'"
The idea for Moses to ride a horse up to the FBI's Miami headquarters came after Davis already had signed up for the film.
"I remember when Chris first decided to put that in there, he looked at me and said as he was sipping his tea, 'Uh, I had this idea that Moses rides in on a horse. What do you think?'" Davis said. "I was like, 'Lucky for you, I rode horses for eight years.'"
Those eight years of horseback riding lessons came over a period of eight summers Davis spent at camp. He got back on the horse for The Day Shall Come.
"I like to be 100 percent prepared and ready for anything so they let me ride every day when I was down there with the animal wrangler," Davis said. "It came pretty quickly. It's like muscle memory."
The Day Shall Come is Davis' first movie. Filmed in 2017, it took less than a year since his 2016 New York University Graduate Acting School. Davis said he may have had 100 auditions before landing The Day Shall Come.
"You know the life of an actor," Davis said. "You get told 100 'no's' just to get one 'yes.'"
One-hundred no's were fine with Davis, though, because he believes he was meant to play Moses Al Shabaz.
"What's meant for you is meant for you," Davis said. "When it's yours, it's undeniably yours because no one else has it. So those things were theirs and what's meant for me will come to me as it comes."
Before NYU, Davis studied acting as a Boston Conservatory undergraduate.
"In undergrad, I learned a lot of life lessons, especially being one of the only students of color there," Davis said. "In grad school, one of the things that always sticks with me is tools, not rules. You do all these things, and if it serves you, then great. If it doesn't, throw it away. So tools, not rules."
Davis has been acting on stage since he graduated from high school. He was on stage earlier this year in Ain't No Mo, and is in previews for The Great Society, which opens Oct. 1. Tuesday at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York.
"I got my Equity card when I was 17 or 18 doing summer stock and things like that," Davis said. "Theater sharpens your tools. I think I have a long way to go in this career, and I know that it's a marathon and not a sprint. I want to keep learning and I think theater is a great way to do that."
Davis may be in the Actors' Equity Union for theater, but The Day Shall Come did not get him a Screen Actors Guild card.
"I don't know how that happened," Davis said. "Maybe because it's a British production company. I've done a few films now and I do not have my SAG card. I'm not mad about it, though. Like I say, it'll happen when it happens."
The Great Society is Robert Schenkkan's follow-up to All the Way, which depicted Lyndon B. Johnson's year in office following President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Bryan Cranston played Johnson in an HBO film adaptation.
The Great Society depicts Johnson's four-year second term in office. Brian Cox plays Johnson, and Davis has the role of civil rights activist Stokley Carmichael. Davis once again did his homework for the role.
"I'm going to do anything I can to help me get in the world of the piece, whether that be watch a documentary [or] read a book," Davis said. "It's very different when you're doing a piece based on the actual truth. Moses is a fictional character based loosely off other characters, but Stokely Carmichael was a living, breathing human being who was pretty well-known."
The Day Shall Come is in theaters Friday.