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 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.

Review: ‘The Dictator’ Bravely Offends One and All

You can say this for Sacha Baron Cohen: he’s never been a coward.

His fearlessness in his latest work, The Dictator (opening Wednesday, May 16), is by far its greatest strength. He raises issues no one else touches and proclaims a passionate love song to democracy that would make George W. Bush proud. Fearlessness is also its greatest weakness as he takes the viewer down scatological roads that require no exploration.

Unlike Cohen’s prior films Bruno and Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, The Dictator has no ambush interviews nor pretend characters interacting with unsuspecting real people. Everyone in the film is an actor.

If you can call it acting.

Acting is about the level of a good Saturday Night Live sketch, the writing ad-hoc, the plot iffy, and the filming haphazard. There are scenes in which you wonder where the lookout sat while the crew ran into an unattended warehouse, hoping to finish the scene before being found by the night watchman.

The convoluted story follows Admiral General Aladeen (Cohen), the dictator of a fictional North African country called Wadyia, rich in oil wealth but cursed with Aladeen. He’s the kind of megalomaniac who stages his own Olympics and wins every event, who remakes Hollywood blockbusters with himself as the star, who insists nuclear bombs be pointy because they are scarier that way. The pesky UN starts making a fuss about his nuclear program, which even Aladeen can’t claim is for peaceful purposes with a straight face. Off to New York to appease the do-gooders, he’s betrayed and finds himself just another penniless immigrant in the Big Apple.

You can take the boy out of the dictatorship but you can’t take the dictator out of the boy.

His quest to reclaim his country collides with his growing affection for an unshaven neo-hippy named Zoe (Anna Farris), not always in ways that make sense.

None of the lack of professionalism really matters, at least not much, because Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t about trivial details like “good acting” and “plot progression” and “production values.”

Anyone can do that.

He’s about saying what nobody else is saying.  In a world in which regular reports come of attempted terrorism on American soil and actual terrorism overseas by radical elements of the Islamic faith, Hollywood tiptoes around Muslims in general and Muslim villains in particular.

Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t give a fig if you –or the entire Middle East – are offended, just as he had no problem with selling the nation of Kazakhstan down the river.

Except he’d say it in much more colorful language.

As Aladeen, he continually “goes there,” offering to throw a newborn baby girl into a trash can because girls are worthless, comparing educated women to trained animals, ordering assassinations for questioning him.

He also “goes there” in crude ways, with a long scene devoted to learning how to masturbate. One scene shows frontal male nudity. There’s also an elaborate setup of a pregnant woman going into labor, apparently just so Aladeen and Zoe can have their first blush of love as their hands touch romantically with both of them reaching inside the woman’s birth canal. Not only is it physically impossible, it’s not funny.

These crude scenes interrupt the flow of the funnier, edgier political material. It’s almost like Cohen felt obligated to include them, but sadly, none of it is anything we haven’t seen before. Truly, what’s left we haven’t seen before?

Much funnier, but equally intrinsic to earning the R rating, are the scenes which show Aladeen and a Chinese diplomat paying large sums of money to minor starlets for sexual favors (such as Megan Fox in what I suppose we must credit as a good natured role).

Because of this fearlessness, the movie is downright hilarious most of the time.

The Dictator nods in both plot and tone to Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator, in which the great comedian lampooned Hitler. When Chaplain’s film was in production, America and England still desired to appease the German Dictator. England even planned to ban the film from being shown, but history moved quickly and the nation was at war by the movie’s release. Chaplin, as a comic, said by mockery what politicians could not and would not say: that Hitler was a madman bent on world domination.

Cohen makes similar points about Middle Eastern sheiks and rulers. His critique is remarkably non-religious. The word “Allah” is not spoken in the film. No one prays or attends mosque, there is no discussion of sharia law or religious restrictions on women. His beef is with the Arab culture and with the corruption of power and wealth, not with Islam.

These kinds of distinctions, however, tend to be missed by fundamentalists of all stripes.

It must be said, Cohen is Jewish and spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel.

Nor does Cohen only lampoon Muslims. Laughably progressive do-gooders and bigoted xenophobic Americans also receive his ire. His final speech will be a rallying call for liberals, as he satirically points out perceived flaws with America, including that old boogyman the one percent, racial profiling, and supposedly stolen elections.

Yet, it ends with a triumphant and passionate statement of love to democracy, a message that, yes indeed, self-determination and civil rights are better than other ways of ruling and being ruled.

Where do we hear that in PC America anymore?

For all its left-leaning and R-rated content, the final product echoes George W Bush: Freedom is the right of every human being.

For that kind of courage, Sacha Baron Cohen should be commended.

Perhaps the rest of Hollywood can find some courage in his bravery as well. After all, it’s very sad when people have rights – including freedom of speech – but are too timid to use them.

Politics and ‘The Avengers:’ If Iron Man is Libertarian, what’s The Hulk?

Can the Avengers, lords of the boxoffice, show us the way to getting along a little better? Sometimes it takes a Superheroic effort to cut through the election year noise.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

Iron Man the Capitalist

A capitalist’s capitalist, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) could not be more unapologetic about  his success and his desire to make money. He doesn’t necessarily want to tell you how to live your life, and doesn’t want you to tell him either, but he cherishes the freedom to prosper and play, kind of like the old pursuit of happiness line. He’s pretty much a libertarian.

Photos: Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man, Steve Jobs

Banner aka The Hulk the Progressive

When we meet Dr. Banner (aka The Hulk), he’s providing medical care to the extremely impoverished in slums somewhere in India. He is vitally aware of the danger and volatility of violence and eschews it completely. Better than anyone, he knows how a little anger and violence can get out of control. Can we say hippy- dippy?

Photos: Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Banner, Jon Stewart

Captain Amercia the Conservative

Captian America, well, he’s old school. Literally. Transported from the 1940s, he believes in country, sacrifice, and the American way. He’s a traditionalist in every sense of the word. He believes in one God, the Christian God, presumably. One pictures him probably 1940s style Episcopal, before they got all hippy too. In his mind, there’s a right way and a wrong way and, sadly, America’s changed a lot since his day. One thing is for sure: His stars and stripes don’t run.

Photos: Chris Evans as Captain America, Sean Hannity

Thor the Immigrant

Thor, well, he’s not from around here. First of all, he doesn’t buy into that one god thing. After all, he is a god, and not the one the good Captain means. He’s from a foreign land where things are done differently. He even talks funny. Some very basic things don’t translate well, like sarcasm or what it’s like at home. He’s an immigrant.

Photos: Chris Hemsworth as Thor, a Sikh-American

Black Widow the Post-Feminist

Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), she’s both an immigrant from some Russian roots and a woman. She’s pretty post-feminist. She knows what she’s good at (persuading people to do things they don’t want to do) and what she’s not (beating people like the Hulk in a physical contest). She works hard, fights hard, and keeps a mental ledger of whom she owes and who owes her. She doesn’t ask special favors, but she doesn’t give any away either.

Photos: Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow, Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP

Hawkeye the Millennial

Hawkeye, he’s the new kid. We don’t know much about him. He hasn’t figured it out himself yet. He even gets sucked in by Loki’s mesmerizing charm, but comes around in the end. One thing he does know. He wants to make a difference. That’s why he signed up  to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s Gen Y. The future is yet to be seen.

Photos: Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, soldiers in Afghanistan

Nick Fury the Survivor

Finally, we have Nick Fury, the leader of the troop. In the comics, he’s a World War II veteran as well (in some versions World War I), whose anti-aging serum gives him long life. Unlike the original comic character, who was white, he is African-American. For all African-Americans, he says hey, we’ve been here all along, contributing to this country.

Photos: Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, George Hickman, one of the Tuskegee Airmen

These seven heroes with widely ranging beliefs. They probably would not all vote the same way. They might not even get along at a party (in fact, they don’t get along in entertaining and spectacular ways in the movie).

But they have a few things in common: A abiding respect for human life, a love of freedom, and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for those beliefs.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Pluralism. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

For more, read our Avengers review.

Redstate Podcast: 21 Jump Street, Game Change, and Why We Still Love George Clooney

This week on the RedState Movie Mafia podcast:

Game Change – The HBO Sarah Palin movie – is it everything conservatives feared?

We don’t always agree with George Clooney, but we still like him. We’ll tell you why.

How funny is 21 Jump Street? Our panel reviews, plus all the other releases and DVD releases of the week.

Plus, each of us gives you a Movie Pick of the Week.

Listen Here.

Or subscribe on iTunes.

Thatcher on Thatcher: The Ten Most Rousing Quotes from ‘The Iron Lady’

The Margaret Thatcher biopic ‘The Iron Lady,‘ opening nationwide on Friday, contrasts the former British Prime Minister’s feeble elderly state with her powerful political presence. Because the makers respected their subject and let Thatcher be Thatcher, her unapologetic conservatism and sharp mind comes through, at times triumphantly.

Here are the best ten Thatcher quotes from the movie:

On politics: “It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.”

On Feelings versus Ideas: “What? What am I ‘bound to be feeling?’ People don’t think anymore. They feel. ‘How are you feeling? No, I don’t feel comfortable. I’m sorry, we as a group we’re feeling….’ One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.”

On the Role of Women: “I will never be one of those women, who stay silent and pretty on the arm of her husband. Or remote and alone in the kitchen doing the washing up for that matter. One’s life must matter, Denis, beyond all the cooking and the cleaning and the children. One’s life must mean more than that. I cannot die washing up a teacup.”

On Self-Reliance: “What I do think is a man should be encouraged to stand on his own two feet. Yes, we help people. Of course we help people, but for those who can do, they must just get up and do. And if something’s wrong, they shouldn’t just whine about it. They should get in there and do something about it. Change things.”

On Foreign Policy: “May I make plain my negotiating position? I will not negotiate with criminals or thugs.”

On Free Enterprise and Jobs: “You are the backbone of our nation. Small firms, like Ludley’s Ice Cream. I passionately believe that it’s the growth of small businesses into large ones that is critical for Britain’s future. And the only way we will produce jobs, real jobs, jobs that sustain.”

On Unpopular Government Spending Cuts: “Gentlemen, if we don’t cut spending we will be bankrupt. Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live. Should we withhold the medicine? No. We are not wrong. We did not seek election and win in order to manage the decline of a great nation.”

On Leading a Nation to War: “With all due respect, sir, I have done battle every single day of my life and many men have underestimated me before. This lot seem bound to do the same, but they will rue the day.”

On Principle: “We will stand on principle or we will not stand at all.”

Watch the movie to hear her views on unions (she fights ‘em),  America (she likes it), and her father’s rousing World War II speech about why small businessmen provide the strength of England that will beat Hitler. “We conservatives,” he says, “Believe in giving people the freedom and opportunity to fulfill their own potential.”

Read my full review and see why ‘The Iron Lady’ made second place on our list of the best films of 2011.