Interview: ‘The Middle’s’ Patricia Heaton on ‘Christian’ Movies, Conservatism, and What She’ll Say to Peter Boyle in Heaven

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Patricia Heaton is fun.

Maybe that’s because she’s more relaxed than your average celebrity interview, maybe because she doesn’t take herself too seriously, or maybe because she has a wicked sense of humor.

I’ve interviewed her several times and each time I’ll reach a point in the interview where I think to myself, “Gee, Self, I’m having a good time.”

This is not always the case interviewing Hollywood’s big names. They tend to be so focused on their image they forget to enjoy themselves.

In this particular interview, Heaton has the assembled press in stitches when she riffs on a loudspeaker announcement which interrupts her. “The voice of the Lord,” she quips, “Telling me to answer this question right.”

Underneath her fun demeanor, however, Heaton is all about the kind of professionalism that has won her respect, a part on primetime in The Middle, and two Emmy wins for Best Actress in her role as Deborah in Everybody Loves Raymond.

Heaton as Frankie Heck on ‘The Middle’

“My personal experience is that we’re all professionals on our set. The most important thing just as far as working goes is that you are a professional, that you show up on time, you are pleasant to work with, you know your lines, you ‘re good at what you do,” she says. That’s the bottom line. Religious or not, conservative or liberal.

This played out in her relationship with Peter Boyle, who played her obnoxious father-in-law on Everybody Loves Raymond and passed away in 2006. If she were to see him in Heaven, she says, “We’ll just probably continue our political discussions that we were having on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond where he’d call me sort of a right wing crazy wingnut and I’d call him a fascist commie pinko. But we’re both Catholics so we had a lot of fun together. He’s a great guy.”

The women of ‘Mom’s Night Out.’ Photo via Twitter

She’s proven herself both professional and hilarious. So why would she sign on to a overtly religious movie like Mom’s Night Out? What does she think of ‘Christian’ subculture movies in general? I”m going to put her entire, long reply here because it’s so well thought out. She said:

I don’t really see it as a Christian movie, I see it as a comedy.

I don’t see movies as Christian or non-Christian. I think CS Lewis …somebody asked him… how do you write books for children? And he said you never want to write a message. What you want to do is you want to let the characters come out of you and those characters will be naturally endowed with a certain spirituality.

There’s a movie out now called The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. There’s a lot of language in it but it’s a very Christian, it’s a movie about forgiveness. So it’s not a quote unquote Christian movie.

I think part of the problem we have in our culture is that there’s a divide where we say these things are Christian and these things are not. I think that’s what’s kept me away from participating in something that’s quote or quote Christian. Because I don’t like to put it in categories.

And I don’t think that God puts people in categories like that. We have no idea where people are in their walk. And so we cannot label. We can only have compassion for people and follow the walk that we know. And hopefully impact people in a positive way in their lives by our own walk.

I find that once they are labeled as something, it puts limits on you , I you label it as a Christian movie. And then often there is less expectation for quality. So that’s the other problem. So that’s why I had not been interested in pursuing something like that because it goes against my own feeling as…artist is a bit of a lofty word which I don’t like to use, I do TV COMEDY, you know, but just as an actor.

It’s sort of like you don’t want to be restricted by somebody else’s notion of what is Christian or not Christian. It’s not that I say anything goes and there’s’ some stuff that’s exploitative, and obviously it’s very apparent to me when that’s going on.

Heaton, who never pulls a punch as to her own faith (she’s a Catholic) or her conservative political beliefs, would prefer to not label cultural products at all.

Read the entire transcript of this interview, including Heaton’s thoughts on being conservative in Hollywood, here.

Interview: ‘Courageous’ and ‘Fireproof’ Director Alex Kendrick on Making Movies for God

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Alex Kendrick may not be the world’s best director, the most saavy scriptwriter, or the most accomplished actor. But if there is one thing he understands, deep in the core of his being, it’s the Evangelical Christian market.

And he’s taken that understanding all the way to the bank.

“Our distributors are happy,” he says, laughing, about his wildly successful – in profit terms – films Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.

Using actors from the church and a mostly volunteer crew, Facing the Giants cost a reported $100,000 to make, but raked in over $10 million at the box office. That’s peanuts in Hollywood terms, but the cost of production to profit ratio is one to grab the attention of a studio executive. Courageous scored almost $35 million and Fireproof, starring controversial outspoken Evangelical actor Kirk Cameron, over $33 million.

The real money in this market, however, is in home viewing. DVD sales numbers are hard to determine, but the profit would likely rival the boxoffice take.

Not only are the distributors happy, but they’re actively trying to find the deeply religious market Kendrick and his partner, brother Stephen, seemingly pulled from the woodwork as if by magic with their first film. “They are still learning to understand this arena and why certain audiences will support these types of films, but I think that they have shown respect enough to say it’s worth continuing. We have had a number of calls from people in Hollywood that have asked a lot of questions. Because I don’t know that we are following any formula that they have followed in the past – and not that we were trying to break a formula – We really just didn’t know any different. We really just had to figure it out on our own. Once we found something that worked, I think they were very curious and came asking a lot of questions.”

Alex Kendrick in Facing the Giants

Alex and Stephen are not motivated by profit, quite the opposite. They are motivated by the same impulse that sends middle class kids to Africa, drives men and women to seminary, and causes people to call out to passerbys at busy street corners- the desire to save souls.

At Sherewood Pictures, and at the brothers’ new company, Kendrick Brothers Productions, “We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord and a greater depth of faith with God,” says Kendrick.

For Kendrick, this means deeply involving God in the process of filmmaking from the first concept meeting.

We go through the better part of a year, saying, ‘Lord what do you want us to focus on, what do you want the plot be?’ It’s usually near the end of that year. It could be eight months, ten months, or a full year… it’s almost like he downloads something to us.

It’s almost like the Lord wants us to seek him, seek Him, seek Him, seek Him, seek Him, and then He says, “Ok, here’s the direction.’ And when the direction comes, it’s very clear. When I try to explain to people how that works, I can’t put my finger on it except to say it became real obvious to me and my brother and those working with us, all of a sudden our hearts turned in one direction. The Lord starts opening doors that only He can open. That’s confirmation to us.

We try to lay that groundwork of prayer first and then the Lord says, “Ok this is the direction to go.”

We pray for that theme and when we fill like the Lord said boom here it is here’s the target, then we start aiming at the target.

When I look back, I can remember, each of the movies we’ve done was not the movie I wanted to do next but the more we prayed about it, and the more the Lord would shut this door over here and open this over here and also all our hearts turned that way. It wasn’t something where we sat in a room and said ‘What do you want to do?’ We’ve never done that.

For the movie Fireproof, Kendrick says his team heard God give them a theme of marriage. For the movie Courageous, fatherhood. And so on. He speculates that upcoming themes may be military faith, motherhood, or teen issues, but says he won’t really know until God downloads.

In the meantime, Kendrick knows what he feels his calling to be:

I know that for my brother and I, we do feel specifically aimed, as if the Lord wants us to aim, at least the types of movies that we make, first of all for reminding the church to be the church.

For example, Fireproof talking about marriage based on Biblical principles, Courageous talking about the role of fatherhood… If the church is not doing what the Lord told us to do, then what impact are we going to make on the rest of the world?

Do we need movies that do that? Yes.

Do we also need movies that are aimed at a secular audience with this message of hope? Absolutely. I don’t know that we’ll be able to hit every target audience. So we’re focusing primarily on the the church knowing that there will be spillover. We’re not even trying to ride the line and please both audiences. We’re trying to say ‘Alright church, let’s remind you what the Lord says about this area or this area and then show you a picture of it.’

 

Interview Transcript: Patricia Heaton on Christian Movies, Hollywood, and Culture

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

This is a partial transcript of the interview with Patricia Heaton on the set of Mom’s Night Out in May 2013. To listen to the audio, click here.

Your reputation is set. You’ve won Emmies. For the most part, you’ve avoided faith-based films. What made you want to make a Christian movie?

I don’t really see it as a Christian movie, I see it as a comedy.

I don’t see movies as Christian or non-Christian. I think CS Lewis …somebody asked him… how do you write books for children? And he said you never want to write a message. What you want to do is you want to let the characters come out of you and those characters will be naturally endowed with a certain spirituality.

There’s a movie out now called The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. There’s a lot of language in it but it’s a very Christian, it’s a movie about forgiveness. So it’s not a quote unquote Christian movie.

I think part of the problem we have in our culture is that there’s a divide where we say these things are Christian and these things are not. I think that’s what’s kept me away from participating in something that’s quote or quote Christian. Because I don’t like to put it in categories.

And I don’t think that God puts people in categories like that. We have no idea where people are in their walk. And so we cannot label. We can only have compassion for people and follow the walk that we know. And hopefully impact people in a positive way in their lives by our own walk.

I find that once they are labeled as something, it puts limits on you , I you label it as a Christian movie. And then often there is less expectation for quality. So that’s the other problem. So that’s why I had not been interested in pursuing something like that because it goes against my own feeling as…artist is a bit of a lofty word which I don’t like to use, I do TV COMEDY, you know, but just as an actor.

It’s sort of like you don’t want to be restricted by somebody else’s notion of what is Christian or not Christian. It’s not that I say anything goes and there’s’ some stuff that’s exploitative, and obviously it’s very apparent to me when that’s going on.

But what’ I was happy to see in this movie is that this is the first comedy being done by this group of filmmakers. I think that people who prefer who go to movies where they know for sure what content is going to be, they deserve to have comedies. It doesn’t all have to be a heavy message movie. Comedies are just a great fun way to lift your spirit and when your spirit is lifted like that, it can be more open to receiving God in your life, and whatever he has for you.

So that’s what made me excited, I think, trying to get to that point where you don’t have to have some kind of separate category for a quote unquote Christian movie. To me it’s not a Christian movie, it’s a comedy about husbands and wives and families and the characters happen to be Christians. That’s what it is. It’s not a Christian movie.

I feel so blessed that this is what I get to do because it’s so much fun.

What would you say to Peter Boyle when you see him in Heaven?

Well, we’ll just probably continue our political discussions that we were having on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond where he’d call me sort of a right wing crazy wingnut and I’d call him a fascist commie pinko. But we’re both Catholics so we had a lot of fun together. He’s a great guy.

On being a mentor on the set of Mom’s Night Out:

I love this business so much and I love being able to make my living at it. Everybody is so nice too. I learn a lot myself. This was kind of a step for me. I’ve never been to Alabama and I’ve never worked with this crew before.

On parenting and the power of culture in kids’ lives:

It’s a little harder now than it was when I raised my boys because now I think little kids have their hands on, as young as four, know about phones and gaming where as when my oldest who’s now 19, 19 years ago, that wasn’t as prevalent, and you could hold off on all this stuff until they were like in 6th grade.

Now they’re using iPads at school. There’s no getting away from it. So you have to sort of embrace it on the one hand but be very clear…you have to guard them and put limits on things and really know what they’re looking at and seeing. I thankfully, teenage boys are heavy sleepers cuz I can go into their rooms and take their phones and read their text messages and look at what sites they’ve been on and then sneakily, like two days later, bring up a topic related to what they’ve been tweeting about. I think it’s hard. I think it’s really hard right now. You have to be super super vigilant as a parent.

On being Conservative in Hollywood and politics:

My personal experience is that we’re all professionals on our set. The most important thing just as far as working goes is that you are a professional, that you show up on time, you are pleasant to work with, you know your lines, you ‘re good at what you do.

As long as that’s happening, there are no issues. Everyone is very free. We don’t really talk about politics on the set. There was some of it because there was an election cycle this past year. And with those people whose politics I know and perhaps disagree with, because we love each other, we have very civil debates about things.

I think the issue… I think everyone wants the country to be a better place. Everyone wants the economy to be better. Everybody wants people to be able to afford health care. How do you achieve that is where the difference comes in. Really, our foundational issues are all the same. We all feel the same way. It’s about how do you implement those things. That’s where the difference comes in.

There are many media outlets set up purely to ferment disagreement. And ferment this kind of division between people. And that’s really sad. And it’s easy to get sucked into that because they tell…whichever side you’re on, they tell you what you want to hear and get you all riled up. It’s taken me a while to say that just doesn’t accomplish anything. I just don’t want to play that game anymore. So you wanna stand up for what you believe is right and that’s all you can do really.

Interview Transcript: Andrew Erwin on Filmmaking, October Baby, and Mom’s Night Out

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Andrew Erwin, May 29 2013, On set of Mom’s Night Out in Huntsville Alabama

Could you describe the movie and why you did it?

Yeah, absolutely. Moms Night Out..Jon and I, we directed and created October Baby, was our first full length feature. And we were trying to look for what our follow up project was going to be. Our good friend Kevin Downs, who’s an actor, producer, had stumbled onto a script that was for moms, just celebrating the beauty of being a mom, of parenting. But the thing that attracted it to us was this was a comedy. And this was something that was very relatable but something that we could kind of take a breath and laugh. And sometimes, including October Baby, there’s so many, you know, really intense serious films, that I think the Christian audience wants to laugh just as much as any other audience. They like to find things that are just lighthearted. But then I think that allows you to look at some really neat issues and messages that are important. But in a way that is a little bit more approachable and humorous, and so we fell in love with the idea and decided to sign on and take on the project and it has become much bigger than we ever anticipated.

What about this movie makes it a Christian movie?

I think our first goal, I mean Jon and I are unapologetically Christian, and our first goal when we take on a story is to tell a good story. To make sure it’s an entertaining movie because we are in the business of entertainment. And if we don’t entertain people, there’s no reason to put our message in there. But I think when we find a story that is entertaining,  nine times out of ten, we are attracted to stories that have our values just, you know, intrinsically in it. I think Mom’s Night Out number one, allows us to portray Christians in a positive light. You know, I think comedy allows us to be a little bit more approachable as Christians, especially to a secular audience. If we are able to laugh and kind of let our hair down a little bit, I think that takes a lot of the fear away of the unknown from an audience that doesn’t totally understand us. So it allows us to put good Christian role models out there. So Patricia Heaton plays the pastor’s wife and she does it in an amazing way. Alex Kendrick from Courageous is the pastor. Sarah Drew plays our lead character, the mom, and Sean Astin, her husband, portray a real Christian marriage, where they’re kind of struggling through tings and trying to figure out how to handle all these kids. So that’s first of all. Secondly, I think there’s a really sweet message in this movie, just about the beauty of motherhood, what God sees so special in this amazing position in the family. And then allows us to celebrate that. And also look at just maybe some of the pressures that our society puts on moms versus what God really expects.  and then just what it means to be a good parent. So it’s TI’s all in there and I think that really is something Christian audience will resonate with. And also this idea of parenting is something that’s very broad and hopefully will allow us to engage culture in a new way.

Is directing something you’ve always wanted to do or how did you get your start?

[Laughs] Jon and I kind of joined the circus when we were kids. So we’re kind of I guess maybe you’d call us homeschooler carnies. We..my dad was in the industry growing up and we were kind of studio rats and hung around and there was a small Christian camp up in upstate new york called word of life and we went up there and we had a little experience and they asked us to do a little short film for the kids. The best test audience you will ever have is 500 teenagers locked in a room because they will tell you if it’s good and they will tell you real quickly if it’s bad. So that allowed us to do these little films. We started like,  Knights of the Round Table and Star Wars and all these things. We watched how it engaged the kids. We fell in love. It was like…it was just…we got just hypnotized by it. This is something we’d love to do for the rest of our lives. We didn’t have a ton of experience beyond just hobby. There wasn’t really a film industry here in Alabama to speak of. So we just tried to figure out by trial and error. We moved on to doing music videos. Then documentaries. And then ultimately decided to just go ahead and make the jump to feature films. It’s been about…from when we were kids starting…it’s been about an 18 or 19 year process, but it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.

What was your first film that you did?

It was October Baby. And that was, you know, Jon and I had kind of taken a break on directing stuff together just for the summer. He really wanted to go do Courageous so he went and directed second unit for the Kendricks in Courageous and I stayed in music videos and did one for Casting Crowns and Montgomery Gentry. Jon while he was there, Alex and Steven pulled him aside and said, what’s your purpose for what you do? And Jon said, Well to get a paycheck. And they challenged him and said it’s time for you to step off the sidelines. So he’d been dabbling for this script for October Baby and he came home and put it in front of me and just said I think this is our first feature. I read it and fell in love with the story. It was risky. We decided to do it. Did it on a shoestring budget and the next thing you know it was on the front page of the New York Times. It found its audience and that led to this. So…(inaudible)

On Casting….

We’re a SAG film, so we cast some locals, but we did a lot of our casting out of LA and found some amazing actors, so pretty much every part that we went to cast, we got our first choice.

Can you talk a little bit about being a hybrid, working with LA and also doing your own thing? How does that work for you?

I love it. As a Christian, I really love engaging Hollywood. I don’t think…I think as I’ve seen it, you know, Hollywood is not necessarily intrinsically bad or evil. It’s a business. There’s people that use that for bad things and there’s people that use it for good things. I think as Christians sometimes we’ve been afraid to engage. While I was getting started with film ministry, I worked at ESPN for years, so I worked the secular side of things for a long time. So As a Christian, I really like engaging people that don’t necessary agree with me. I like having healthy conversations and I guess debunking some of the stereotype. Instead of interacting with them in fear, I like interacting with them with confidence and humility. So as we engage Hollywood, we’ve found there’s a lot of…I don’t require my actors to be Christians, I want the best person for the part, but I’ve been amazed at how many Christians there are in Hollywood and have the same values that work on big things. So the people who came around this project, surprised me, a lot of us have similar values. And on top of that, you get the best person for the role and you get somebody that brings it to life in a whole new way.

Talk a little bit about Soul Surfer. My secular colleagues were, you know, ok with it, some of them really liked it and some of them were ok with it, but they had a level of respect that I haven’t actually seen honestly for any other faith based movie. How does that make you feel? Were you happy with the acceptance that Soul Surfer had? How do you make movies that cross over that boundary?

I think that the first thing you gotta do, is you can’t go to make a movie trying to make everybody happy because I think those are the movies that end up offending more people because you’re trying to..it’s not honest. And I think a lot of times a film audience they can smell a fake a mile away….A filmmaker that’s asking the audience to go on an emotional journey that they haven’t taken themselves. So I think the first thing you’ve got to do is find a story that resonates with you. And is your goal to be not to get a message across but to go just tell a good story. And if you tell it in a way that is honest… I think the other thing that is a philosophy that I have is that um my job is not, I’m not a preacher, I’m not a politician, I’m a filmmaker. I’m a storyteller. So I don’t really need to tell people what to think. I need to challenge people to think. A filmmaker that I really respect, Paul Haggis, said the best films don’t give answers, they ask the most penetrating questions. So I think you know, I think the ones that like Soul Surfer, and some of those movies that have had that crossover appeal, I think that they told a good story that was genuine and that’s not necessarily offensive. Your message is never going to resonate with everybody. There are going to be people that really don’t like it. But I think if you tell a good story and cause people to want to go on this vicarious emotional story that is a film, I think eventually the audience will buy in and they’ll will go wherever you want to go. You just gotta make sure that it’s worth the entertainment and they find it a genuine story.

You film a lot of your movies away from Hollywood, which Hollywood does too, they film all over. So coming to the south, is that an unusual thing? In LA, I talked to…what’s his name….anyway. the director of The Help.

Yes. Tate

Tate. That’s right. Tate Taylor.

I love his work.

Yeah. And he was saying, he wanted to film in Mississippi. He’s native and the story’s set in Mississippi. And that people in LA literally asked, can we get copy paper in Mississippi?

[Laughter.]

And he had to fight that. Have you run into that?

Yeah. Definitely. We’ll have meetings out in LA and the first question will be like, SO Alabama… let’s talk about that.

And I’ll be like [adopts hick accent], guys I swear I only wear my straw hat on Tuesday and my overalls are still in the car, so…

Especially, Alabama with the fledglings film industry are similar to what Tate experienced in Mississippi, still a work in progress. But I think because of people like Tyler Perry in Atlanta and everything that’s going on in New Orleans, Louisiana, I think it’s becoming more popular because of how economical it is to make a movie, how enthusiastic people are here to do the film industry, they’re not as jaded, by the… it still feels new, and then you’re able to make a movie for a lot cheaper than you can somewhere like LA. On a lot of fronts. I think there’s’ a lot of benefit to it. The other reason why we do it is just because I like being close to home. For some reason, this is where I feel most creative. I like the pace of life. I like being in a state where people really don’t know a whole lot about what I do so I can just be a regular person and just be creative and it’s the story, not all the chaos that goes around The Industry. So as long as I can, as long as it fits the narrative and it enhances the story, I’ll keep making movies here as long as I can.

Interview Transcript: Sarah Drew on Mom’s Night Out, Grey’s Anatomy and her Christian Faith

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Partial Transcription of the press roundtable for Sarah Drews May 28, 2013 on the set of Mom’s Night Out
What do you like about this project?

I like everything about this project. I was telling other people in these interviews that I was looking for a passion project and talking specifically to my agent/manager just the last year about what I wanted to tell, about the kind of story I wanted to tell. I would get up..I would be up at night and pull out a notebook and start journing ideas of things I wanted to tell..stories I wanted to tell. Cuz I became a new mom. My son is 16 months old. So when I became a new mom it completely was like “ooohh” what’s happening. So intense and so crazy and so terrifying and amazing and beautiful and magical and horribly terrifying. Um, all at the same time. And I wanted to actually, like, dive into, like, the depth of what that meant. So that was the one thing I wanted to tell. And the other thing I wanted to tell was I wanted to tell a  story about what if feels like to go through life feeling like you’re never enouh and feeling like you are not enough. You’re not a good enough wife, you’re not a good enough mom, you’re not a good enough person at work, you’re not a good enough friend, you’re not this, you’re not that. And I wanted to tell a story of coming to a place of recognizing and I can just breathe and just be and I am enough because I’m loved. Basically I read this script and those were the two things this story told, that my character got to walk through and journey through. I sarted crying when I read the script I was like please I want to do this so badly.

Tell us a little about your journey how you came to Hollywood.

I’ve been acting since before I can remember. It’s the only thing I wanted to do. I think my parents noticed something in me in my kindergarten graduation standing up on stage. And ever since that moment, I’ve been in community theater and plays and everything. I basically felt like this was the trajectory I was on. This was my joy, this was my passion, this was my gift and I’ve purused it my whole life. I went to college. My parents are both very educated. So they were like there’s no way you’re not going to college. It never even crossed my mind I wouldn’t go to college. So I went to college and I didn’t go to acting school but I majored in drama there at University of Virginia and I did a musical theater program the summer after my second year where a casting director saw me and started bringing me in for auditions. I was cast as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, reviewed by the New York Times and Variety and then kind of got to have my choice of agents after that. Then finished college, got married, moved to New Haven because my husband was going to Yale and then booked my first movie two months after graduation. So it’s been crazy.

Where was it where you were growing up?

I grew up in New York, Long Island.

Did you feel like the church supported you in acting or was it somethingodd and strange?

My dad is a minister and was our pastor so all I got was complete and total support.

What denomination?

He’s Presbyterian.

How does this compare to the tv series you’ve done? Everwood and Grey’s Anatomy How would you contrast?

It’s totally different. It’s different doing a movie versus doing television. I love the freedom that we have on this set to kind of find moments and find beats and change lines and it’s sort of like here…It’s so great here, there’s not an ego anywhere which is amazing. It’s sort of like the best idea wins. So it feels very collaborative and it feels like I’m part of the creative processes in creating actually how the story’s going to be told whereas TV, it’s a machine you know. We just finisthed our ninth season so it’s a very well oiled machine. Everybody knows exactly their place and what you’re  doing so you go and you say your lines and you make sure that those lines are each heard. I feel like on Grey’s it’s been amazing. I’ve had a lot of input for my character on that show and they’ve been incredibly open and warm to receiving that but there something exciting about going somewhere for a few weeks and telling one arc, you know, taking one journey that has a beginning, middle, and end whereas on TV you have so many twists and turns you don’t know where your character is going to go, you don’t know who your character is going to wind up with, you don’t know know what’s going to happen. I love my job on Grey’s and I have loved doing this completely.

I have to say as a mom, I lierally teared up watching the clip of you in the closet. Have you had moments like that?

Yes.

I actually had a moment like that with my husband this Friday, this past Friday, I just had this …it was…you know this has been a really exciting, amazing opportunity and so I have a lot of, kind of, going on and I’m working way more than I ever work on Grey’s and so the hours have been longer than what I’m used to, cuz I have a lot of time off doing Grey’s and just sort of, you know, there’s pressure to feel like you’re doing a good job and telling the story well and I have my son with me and my nanny with me and my husband’s been teaching at Dartmouth so it’s sort of been…talk about mommy guilt, oh man. Ok well, I did get in at 4 am but I should wake up with him at 7 because I’m physically in the apartment and then it’s like no you have to sleep and then I feel guilty for sleeping. Whatever. Every mom knows what that feels like which is why we’re telling this story. I had a lot of that building up and I just started crying and it happened to be in the walk in closet in the apartment and he’s holding me and I’m shaking and he’s kind of like this is like that scene. It was so funny.

Abut being a Christian in Hollywood

Yeah. You know what’s wonderful is [Grey's Anatomy writers and director Shonda Rhimes are] just really excited to tell whatever story they want to tell well. So when they decided to make my character Christian, Shonda sat me down and said we want to tell this story well and authentically so you just tell us whenever something doesn’t feel right, so I’ve had an incredible voice in the direction of the character which has been just wonderful and so fun and um I’ve had a lot of those kind of moments. So it’s been fun, you know, I think that there are ..all those guys on that show they just are all about wanting to tell a story well. So I love that. I love that they have the kind of humility to go you tell us.. .I had a prayer. I said a prayer in a surgery two episodes…The second to last episode. And basically the writer.. I was like, yeah, I don’t think I..and he was like, just do it. Pray when you’re on camera. And I did. I just think that’s been cool. It’s been really cool.

Do you feel there are other people that have your voice too or do you feel like …Do you feel like there are inroads being made that there are other actors or writers or directors who are cognizant of Christianity, are Christians or is it pretty secular?

I’ve met Christians everywhere I go, I’ve met Christians on every set I’ve been on, in the crew, the cast, everywhere. I’ve met producers who are Christians and are producing secular shows. So much beauty and truth can be found in every, in every different show that’s there. It might not be appropriate for children, for people of all ages, but I do think that, um, that that truth is a beautiful truth that people want, stories people want to tell. I’ve found it everywhere. I have.

Do you find prejudices against you for being a Christian?

I have have been only warmly received and welcomed. I’ve had moments early in my career that didn’t feel that way as much, but I have found that, especially on the show I’m on right now, people are enthusiastically interested in whatever it is that you love, you know, that’s how I have found the people that I work with. They’re just excited to hear about whatever I’m excited to talk about. That’s kind of the way that we all relate to one another.

Favorite scripture?

Psalm 139

Which is?

You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

That’s good.

You know…You know me. You know when I sit and when I arise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You observe my going out and my coming down. You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is out my breath, you know it completely. You hem me in behind and before.

Too bad you don’t really know it.

I know. [laughing] This is one I go back to when I’m feeling particularly beaten down and not enough

What advice would you give if there was a high schooler/college age kid who just really felt like something in production, perhaps acting, was something God had created them to do?

I would tell them to go for it in the same way as if they felt a passion to go be an accountant somewhere. You know what I mean? I think sometimes we put too much of a gravity on what it is that we do. I think that I have…my husband has been great about reminding me Sarah this is a job. It’s a job. Everybody goes to work. Everybody has coworkers. You’re not on this other eschelon of humanity because you happen to be onscreen. And thank the Lord in heaven I have a husband who tells me that and who reminds me that and in the same breath telling me that I am loved and extraordinary and all of those things. But yeah, I just think you go out into the world and if the door is open pursue with excellence whatever it is that you feel you are called to pursue.

Interview Transcript: Sean Astin on Family, Patty Duke, and Lutheranism, Buddhism, and Catholicism

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

May 29 on the set of Mom’s Night Out, partial transcript of group press interview with Sean Astin. Most of the questions are not mine.

What attracted you to this movie? 

I think in my life and my family, I think we very directly relate to the circumstance of this movie. Basically the reason I did this part was because it’s like me. This movie is like my family. The situations in the film are very like the situations we face. As recently as yesterday.

What happened yesterday?

I can’t say.

Um. Well we this weekend was chock full….I haven’t been spending much time at home, I’ve been all over the world, really. I came home. Next thing you know, I’m at the..

I can’t say. I don’t want to betray the trust of my kids. But basically everything from nine different people sleeping on the couches who we aren’t related to swimming pool antics to high school plays, you know it’s just a full on normal weekend. And at one point my wife looked at me and said, ‘Are you ok with all this, it’s a lot of activity.’ And I think I must have looked a little shell shocked. And I said no this is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way I was raised. Tons of activity and people around. It’s like a revolving door on the front door. It’s how my wife was raised. For several years, we were kind of a little bit more middle of the road people but that’s gone.

It’s better than being bored.

Oh, there’s no boredom. And there’s pets. So many pets.

Does [a love of animals] come from your Christian belief system?

I had a couple experiences as a kid with animals where I hurt them kind of unintentionally and when I saw a human being could hurt an animal it really affected me.

Tell me what you hope moms walk away from this film experiencing.

I hope, I know, I don’t even hope I know, that moms will take away from this movie a little sense of permission to take it just a little easier on themselves than they did before.

One of the cool things about this Christian movie is that it has a strong female and she’s going through an experience, usually I see it’s a guy going through the experience. So her self doubt and anxieties and everything else they pale in comparision to what you know people that are depicted in crisis situations have, but it’s real. It’s very real. So I think women will appreciate that some filmmakers have identified the fact that what women go through is complex and funny and worthy of consideration.

So you are a Presbyterian…

Lutheran, technically, I think, but in this room I can be a Presbyterian. [Laughing]

My Christianity takes a long time to unpack, but basically if you want to cut right to the judgement of it all, we were all baptized in my wife’s Lutheran church in Indiana.

I understand you studied Buddhism at one point?

My dad was a Buddhist when I was young, so when I was begging to become a Catholic he was saying no and imparting Buddhist precepts.

Are you talking about John Astin?

Yes. He’s my father. He’s not my gentetic father, but he’s my father.

Your genetic father is Jewish, isn’t he?

He is. Yeah. He said something interesting to me though, at one point. When we were living a somewhat agnostic existence, he just said you know, pick something. We said what do you mean? There’s a lot of Jewish people in our community. My daughter when she was 13, she went through the bat mitzvah circuit which is the most extraordinary thing in the world and I assumed he meant pick Judaism.  He said Judaism, Christianity, Hindu, Muslim… you need community. Just pick something and stick with it. So I think we arrived at a Christian posture.

Is [Sean Astin's mother] Patty Duke a Catholic?

Depends when you ask her…. I know when my sister died, she insisted that, there’s this group of nuns that live in a convent near her, she insisted they be there. So when you talk about self-identifying verus how people practice versus their culture, I think my mom feels very comfortable with Catholicism.

Did your biological dad give you good advice? Was it good advice?

Yeah. I think it’s good advice. I don’t think you should pick something just for the sake of picking it like he was saying but I took his point. Religion is most noticeable when someone dies. We all seem to experience a lot of death. Different generations, different tragedies, cancers, things. I think it snaps us back, always, to a keep appreciation for what formal religion can do to bolster families and communities.

The rest of the time, we like to pray, we like church, we don’t get to church enough, my daughter goes to a Christian school, that she picked. She wanted to go there. We went there.. Even thought I’m a Christian, I was very worried about a heavy handed religious pedagogy but what we’ve found is a place that has seamlessly interwoven Christianity with a secular values, I guess you could say. It’s all about academic excellence, creativity, leadership, by the way the foundation for all those things is being a good relationship with the church.

She comes home all the time with scripture we need to know.

I found myself counseling one of her friends. He said he was an atheist, I’m an atheist. Ok. You’re an atheiset. He was so upset with what he was being taught in Bible class. I said ok do this, study it as though it is absolutely factual 100 percent and at the end of it, you’ll know what that is, and you’ll have an informed viewpoint. But if you fight it the whole way through, then you’re not getting anything. He did great.

Bryan Cranston Talked About the End of Breaking Bad: What is Justice for Walt?

Back in October 2012, I spoke with Bryan Cranston while he was on the press tour for Argo. I just remembered that, as a huge Breaking Bad fan, I cornered him after the film interview and asked him about the show. He was very gracious and took a few minutes to chat with me. He was also so affable and friendly that it was hard to imagine him as the ruthless Heisenberg.

At the time, the ending hadn’t been filmed yet and Cranston did not know what the ending would be.

Here is our exchange:

(me) Well I am a huge Breaking Bad Fan

Well, thank you. 

So it’s really wonderful to be talking to you.

Thank you very much.

I am curious what you think justice would be for Walt. 

It’s hard to say because you have well… perhaps justice… Some people ask me is it possible that Breaking Bad could end well. And I say perhaps him dying in a firey gun battle is “well” because he’s so toxic himself and sort of brought upon this, this environment on his own and maybe that’s the true ending.

I don’t know the real ending.

Right.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.

And even if you did you couldn’t tell me.

No, I couldn’t, because I don’t know. 

Well, good luck with…

But it’s going to be fun, going to be a fun ride.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Interview: Ronald Maxwell Details His New Civil War Movie ‘Copperhead’

If you’re tired of men in tights and things exploding this summer, you might want to check out Copperhead, a new movie delving into issues of the Civil War. This is the third film about the Recent Unpleasantness directed by Ronald Maxwell. 1993′s Gettysburg told the story of the seminal battle while 2003′s Gods and Generals attempts to explain the viewpoint of the South. I have not yet seen Copperhead, which is set in the North and explores the effects of the war on those who stayed behind.

I spoke with Maxwell via phone about his new project:

“Basically, when I was making the other two movies, what I came to understand over those decades was that those two movies together became an exploration of why good, ethical, moral men choose go to war. That’s a big question. My father was one of those men. He enlisted and chose to go to WWII. I’ve never met a more ethical man than my father. Over the decades, when I was grappling with that, the men that I chose to follow were really honorable men. I wasn’t exploring the base morals of why people go to war. ….bad stuff goes on in any war. But I was concerned with why the good men were in the war. That’s what makes it tragic, that really good men were involved in this.”

Copperhead, however, is concerned with the other side of the coin: “Why good decent, moral, ethical men choose not to go to war that other good men did decide to go in. As we know, there were people on both sides of the Mason Dixon line who thought the war was a tragic mistake.”

“Copperhead was a term of contempt, insult and division that was hurled at people who were against the war in the North.”

Set in rural New York, the leading character Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) is a copperhead, or at least accused of being a copperhead.

Maxwell sees the questions of the Civil War as still being explored today: “The issues that the Civil Was was supposed to have settled, it may have settled them legally, slavery was abolished. But the underlying issues are still there: Free speech.International sovereignty.”

We say we are for free speech. “It’s something that we revere in our society. It’s protected in the Constitution. Speech is protected. But when we’re suddenly confronted with it, some people don’t find it easy to accept.”

“The Civil War is the kind of crystalizing, huge tragic event that explefies this tension.”

Copperhead also explores issues of faith.

“Abner Beach has Biblical foundations for his views. He says to congregation, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers. Is that still in the Bible?’”

But the faith issues go even deeper. “In 1862, this was an entirely Christian community of believers. They go to the same church. But they interpret their duty as Christians differently.”

How citizens of the same nation, readers of the same Bible, and followers of the same God so differently interpreted Scripture and holiness that the only recourse was gruesome war is one of the great puzzles of our shared history.

If you see Copperhead, let me know what you think. It’s rated PG-13 “for a disturbing sequence” and opens June 28.

Interview: Sean Astin on Who Told Him “Every Human Interaction is Sacred”

Sean Astin has acted in some of the most beloved and successful films of all time. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he played Samwise Gamgee, has generated worldwide grosses in the billions. So finding him at at a Birmingham bowling alley, shaking hands and signing autographs, after a long day’s shoot on a Christian movie set is more than a little challenging to anyone who might have too rigid stereotypes about what Hollywood movie stars are all about. [Read more...]

Interview Video Clip: Bling Ring’s Israel Broussard on Fame and Twitter

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring tells the true story of a group of teens so caught up in celebrity culture that they merged with it – by breaking into celebrities’ houses, partying in their empty rooms, and helping themselves to their belongings. I caught up with Israel Broussard, star of the movie, and asked him what it all means.

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