"I remember going home and looking up the words and falling in love with Dr. King in a very personal way," Dirden recalled.
Now the actor has come full circle—portraying the famed civil rights leader in the upcoming Broadway play "All the Way."
"If my 12-year old self could see me now," Dirden said with a smile.
He's not the first to portray Dr. King on stage, and chances are won't be the last. Still, Dirden feels a strong connection.
Three years ago, Samuel L. Jackson played King alongside Angela Bassett in the 2011 play "The Mountaintop." Dirden pointed out the similarities between himself, Jackson and King.
"Sam Jackson was a Morehouse man like Dr. King, and I had the great honor of going to Morehouse College as well, so hopefully we can keep that tradition strong of Morehouse man playing Dr. King."
Besides King, "All the Way" features some of history's most dynamic figures of the civil rights era including J. Edgar Hoover, Gov. George Wallace, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.
"Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston, who plays President Johnson, impressed Dirden with his dedication to the role.
"'Breaking Bad' was showing its final episode when we were in production up in Boston. You would have never known that he was on one of the highest rated television shows in history that day."
"All the Way" begins previews Feb. 10 at the Neil Simon Theatre.
The reading of the historic speech in his adolescence has led Dirden on a journey he never imagined.
"You never know if seeds planted are going to become fruitful. I'd like to think that every step from middle school until now has been fertilization for the moment that I'm in now."
After thinking for a moment, he added: "To be able to take the greatest human to walk the Earth and put it on the greatest stage in the world, it's beyond a dream come true."
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