You've talked about drifting from the church for a while and coming back. What did you do when you were drifting? Were you trying out other faiths?

Trying out other things--Eastern philosophies, and you name it. But, yeah, just Eastern philosophies, reading the Qur'an, and sometimes not doing anything.

And what brought you back to Christianity?

God. I can't say "this" or a particular event. I just slowly worked my way back. The church I go to, West Angeles, a buddy of mine--I don't know if you know the actor and director, Robert Townsend--he had moved out to Los Angeles before me. And I got out here in about 1979. And he was attending West Angeles. And I started going with him. And been going ever since.

And did you take anything with you from the searching in other religions as you came back? Is there some part of you that was changed by it?

That's a good question. I think, even then, it was the search, it was the desire to find a--not to say just the meaning of life but some personal meaning and peace, inner peace. And I think all of those things led me right back to where I am.

You play, in so many of your movies, these very inspirational figures. And then, in others, of course, you play the bad guy. To what extent do your faith and values play a role in choosing parts?

Even in a role like "Training Day," the first thing I wrote on the script was, "The wages of sin is death." And it was important, actually, for me in making that film. They actually wanted the guy to live at the end. And I said no. I think the only way I could justify him living such an awful life, or living in the worst way, was for him to die in the worst way. I'm always looking for that--for some kind of a message. And sometimes I just choose not to do certain films.

Because of the message it sends?

Yes, or the lack thereof.

Being in such a public position and getting the honors you get, do you feel a certain responsibility to be a role model?

I think it's more of a personal decision. I think it's more of looking in the mirror. Can you live with yourself? "Role model" is something that's tossed around. And I do think it's important to try and lead a decent life, and a good life and set a good example.

At the same time, I think this word "role model" is thrown around loosely, when I think it really starts in your home. Your role model should be your mother and father. And hopefully, they're both there. And people in your community or people in your church or people in whatever organizations you go to that you can talk to. The people that I saw on television or in movies when I was young, maybe, in some way, influenced me. But it was more about the people that are around me.

But, at the same time, having said that, you never know how a person influences you. When I sign autographs, I always put "God bless" on that. And I remember watching the "Red Skelton Show." Red Skelton used to always say "Good luck" or he'd say "Good night and God bless." And I always liked that. And I don't know how many thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of autographs I've signed. So, in that regard, a small thing like that can influence you.

"The Great Debaters" not only tells the story of the Wiley College debate team, it puts the story in the context of the racist, often violent, Jim Crow South. Why was that important to you?

For me, it wasn't so much about [hostility between] the races, and even though that's obvious in the '30s and sometimes even now, but how you overcome it, how you get through it. What's the saying? "There's no testimony without a test." We all have tests and challenges that we have to get through, personal, spiritual, racial, a test that we have to overcome. The bottom line is that these young kids fought their way through it and ultimately were winners. And that's the message, that you don't have to give up. And you don't have to give in.

What inspires you to overcome challenges in your life?

'My Career Is My Ministry'
I remember a couple years back, I was up for an Academy Award. I could see a lot of the politics and the things involved in it. And I just remember my mother saying, "Just remember, man gives the award. But God gives the reward." So I understand that what I've been blessed to do is a part of God's plan. And as long as I please Him, then I'm pleased.