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Oprah Winfrey's first day filming Selma was pretty intense. And it's not just because of the Civil Rights drama's heavy material.

Her longtime friend and mentor Dr. Maya Angelou died on that day.

"It was actually filming when all the marches got down on their knees and put their hands behind their heads and we were watching Jim Clark and actually the time she got into a tussle with [Selma sheriff] Jim Clark," Common, who plays activist James Bevel in the movie, told me the other day while promoting the film at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. "So it was a tough day and we knew that we wanted to pay homage to Dr. Angelou through the work that were doing."

Maya Angelou, Oprah

George Burns/Harpo Productions, Inc.

In the Ava DuVerney-directed film, which focuses on Martin Luther King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) and the voting rights marches in Selma and Montgomery in 1965, Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper, a real-life Alabama woman best known for punching Clark.

"I was researching even as we were filming, and when you read these books and you watch this footage, it's feeding you as a human being, like this is the type of film that you grow from as a person," Common said. "When I left this film, I felt like a better man. I felt like I had more to do, I had more work to do."

Common collaborated on a powerful song, "Glory," for the movie with John Legend.

Common

Courtesy: Isaac Brekken/WireImage

"I looked at the film and was like, 'Man, they did a masterful job at making this movie, you feel it in your heart, but it still feels like a big movie that will be timeless," Common said.

He and Legend want people to feel the same when they hear "Glory."

"What we ended up doing with the song was creating something that I wanted to feel like you felt me and John are right there with you…but then we have an orchestra, the symphony brings the bigness of this song," Common said. "I think that's definitely what the film is and we hope to do that with the song."