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07/09/2015 09:17 BST | Updated 07/09/2015 09:59 BST

Reese Witherspoon On The Lessons Of Her Film 'The Good Lie', And Why Co-Star Emmanual Jal Cried With Pride

There were many tears shed on the production of Reese Witherspoon's film, which could not explore a more timely subject.

'The Good Lie' tells the story of four young Sudanese refugees, helped by Carrie Davis (played by Reese Witherspoon), a brash American woman, after they win a lottery for relocation to the United States.

One of the actors, Emannual Jal, tells HuffPostUK that the story touched a raw nerve within himself as it veered so close to his own personal history.

the good lie

Emmanual Jal reveals many tears were shed during the making of 'The Good Lie'

Emmanual was a former child soldier in Sudan, before he escaped and was later adopted by British humanitarian and aid worker Emma McCune, who later died in a road accident. Her story is told in her mother's memoir 'Until the Sun Grows Cold', and Emmanual has previously paid tribute to her in song.

"It was very, very difficult to make this film," says Emmanual. "But it was also incredibly important. I wanted to do my country proud, all the family I left behind proud. There were so many difficult moments, times when memories came flooding back through the scenes, but I had to push through. I did cry sometimes, but they were tears of pride."

For Reese Witherspoon, a tour de force in Hollywood with an Oscar to her name and her own production company, it was equally important that the film balance the need to tell a story with getting the facts right, including the humour as well as paying tribute to all those who made it to the US, and the many more left behind...

"I read Margaret Nagle's script, and I was just so moved," says Reese. "And I enjoy that idea that... I remember when I met the director, the first thing he said to me was, "This movie isn't about you. And I just want to be really clear about that." And I've never had a director say that to me before. But it made me happy, because I didn't want to make a movie where it was just a white girl, an American girl, coming to save African people."

the good lie

Reese Witherspoon reveals how much she learned from her Sudanese co-star Ger Durany

With this film, as well as 'Inherent Vice', Reese has regained her spot on the list for Awards talk, after a few years away from the spotlight...

"It wasn't planned. I think for a few years, I was a little bit lost as an artist, not being able to find what I wanted to do. Not making choices I was ultimately very happy with. What kind of started this whole string of things I was doing, personally, was just getting back to wanting to playing interesting, dynamic female characters.

How does it feel to be back in Oscar buzz spotlight?

"It’s so nice it so sweet about it. I’m just excited that everybody’s liking the films I’ve been in lately."

What was the message of 'The Good Lie' that spoke to you, and made you want to do it?

"Margaret did such an incredible job, you could tell that there was so much research involved, because when I started watching documentaries, it was completely accurate. Every story you've heard, the Sudanese refugees told is somehow in the movie or in the script.

"I just felt that there were wonderful — there are so many times when you don't appreciate your life, until you see someone else's perspective on our privileges and the opportunities that we have, whether that's education, or health care, or just food and running water.

the good lie

'The Good Lie' tells how one unlikely American woman takes Sudanese refugees into her care

"One of my favorite scenes is when he's running his hands, turning the water on and off, after they'd walked through the desert, without water or food. I just thought it was a great message also for families. I think it's really great to take your kids to this movie. It brings up a lot of integral conversations that we should all be having. I'll take my kids!"

"And Ger (South Sudanese actor Ger Duany) would tell us about being a young boy, and walking all that way, and what it was like. It's hard to even conceive. And then at the very end of the film, we got to go to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. So I, even though I didn't shoot any scenes there, I didn't want to just do the part in Atlanta and be done and go home to my life. I really wanted to see what the experience was like, so I took my teenage daughter, and we went. It was really.... it was very emotional, seeing over 250,000 people displaced. Sleeping on concrete slabs, and just the sprawl of that many people living together. There were twelve different languages being spoken; seven different kinds of religions. There was very little health care, very little food.

It just really brought it all home to me — this is an opportunity to raise awareness, but it's also an opportunity to create change. Because as I was talking to Rick Warren, I don't know if you know him, the religious leader. And he said, 'Sometimes we assume because people are poor that they're not intelligent. That they don't have anything to offer to society.

'But these are people who are on top of their field. They're doctors. They're educators. They're community leaders, and they've essentially been displaced.' So it's amazing, through this process, to even two days go, be in D.C., and have all these wonderful men and women from the studio, and they're there, and they're doing incredible things. One of them is a war veteran, from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of them is a community leader. So, it's been really educational for me to learn about refugees, and their contribution to society, and how we hopefully lift more of them up out of those situations.

Why do you think it's hard for us, as Americans, to grasp what's going on, the persecutions that's going on in Sudan — how can this movie change that?

"I think there's not been a lot of media coverage. A lot of people are making comparison to 'Hotel Rwanda', but it wasn't a situation that a lot of people knew a lot about. Once they saw the film, it makes you want to go home and look it up and get more involved."

You mentioned that you brought your daughter to the refugee camp. I was just wondering, I'm assuming she hasn't experienced that sort of poverty before. So what was her experience like? How did it help her perspective on the world and why was it important for you to take her there?

"Well, she's a wonderful, socially-conscious girl. Even if you read a million books on a situation, you don't understand it until you see it yourself. I was very lucky that they organized for her to be there, because she is a little young to be off on these trips. It was... she didn't say a word, the whole day. And then she really didn't talk about it until a couple of days later. I think the memories of the thing... We saw women giving birth on metal tables, with their infant sitting there with no clothes on. Kids that were sick, and kids, babies like her brother's age, sitting on concrete slabs and sleeping with seven other brothers and sisters. But I think the conditions were worse.

"Seeing that is one thing, but the other remarkable thing was the joy and determination of these people, to rise above, and their determination to have a better life for their children. Their spirit was just incredible! They greet you with smiles and laughter and dancing. I think it's definitely going to affect her for a long time, as it did me. It was amazing. It was incredible to be there with Ger and his family — so many of his family members are there, at that very camp.

"I really like the part when Corey's character says in the movie, you know, he's so reticent to get involved. He's like, 'Let's not get involved. We're probably going to get sued.' Because, back to your point, one of the things that I think is so great about this story, is that you don't have to be a perfect person, to do something great for somebody else. You actually might, the imperfections in your life might be helped in the process of meeting and helping and creating community for people who are displaced. It's not just for the saints of the world. We can all make a difference."

You have always been involved with charities.

"I think there are some amazing people out there doing work with different organizations. There is also a wonderful organization called Service Nation, which is organizing an opportunity for people to give back through service work. I think that’s economical at these times and it’s a great way to get kids involved. They work with everything from ‘Habitat for Humanity’ and ‘Teach for America.’ Its not just about giving money, but its about giving time, energy, and effort."

'The Good Lie' is available on DVD now, courtesy of Entertainment One. Watch the trailer below...

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