Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Continuing our countdown to Friday’s theatrical premiere of God’s Not Dead (3/21). Yesterday, Shane Harper (Disney’s Good Luck Charlie) talked about his role as the earnest young college student forced to defend his faith through classroom debates that pit him against his atheist philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo). He said his own faith helped him relate to his character he portrays in the film. Kevin Sorbo, on the other hand, is a believer playing an adamant disbeliever.
I’ve interviewed Kevin twice before — once when he was promoting his 2012 UP TV film Christmas Angel and once for the 2012 release of the faith-themed Abel’s Field. He remains one the busiest actors I know. Since his days starring as TV’s Hercules in the nineties and as Captain Dylan Hunt in 110 episodes of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda from 2000 to 2005, he has starred and/or appeared in several films — some of which may have run against Hollywood’s politically-correct grain. As a result, he has proven popular with audiences but, perhaps, a bit controversial within the entertainment industry bubble.
In 2005, he played the title role in the ABC sports bar sitcom pilot Bobby Cannon (penned by Barry Kemp of Coach and Newhart fame). The pilot reportedly went through the roof in audience testing yet the network passed on it. I actually saw it and can attest that it was laugh-out-loud funny with appealing and believable characters. One can only speculate why the network didn’t pick the show up.
But that’s all water under the bridge now as the actor is probably more in demand than ever with no less than 18 films in various phases of development, plus a possible project with Mark Burnett and a mystery series pilot for Hallmark tentatively called Can’t Get Arrested.
JWK: What attracted you to the role of the atheistic Professor Raddison in God’s Not Dead?
KEVIN SORBO: I get a lot of scripts that come in and I read them and I give them 20 pages. If they don’t hold my interest in those 20 pages, I just say no. This one I just loved right from the start. I loved all the characters. I loved the plot line. I loved the different stories going on and (how) they meet at the very end. I kind of look at this like a family-friendly, faith-based movie version of the movie Crash that came out a few years ago and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The character’s interesting for me. You know, I’m not an atheist so playing an atheist was kinda fun. We’re actors and it’s interesting to play different roles and parts. I’ve got plenty of experience studying that sort of world because I have a lot of atheist friends and I actually had some atheist college professors…The movie had a great message in it…I love doing faith-based movies but I don’t want (them) to be preaching to the choir. You already have the choir. They’re the people who believe in God, who believe in Jesus. Movies like this are for those fence sitters, those independent voters, so to speak.
JWK: What’s it like playing such an arrogant SOB. I know you’ve played even killers in the past — but you’re known for playing good guys and heroes. Which do you actually prefer to play?
KS: I think every actor likes to play a villain every now and then because it’s just kinda fun. In the end, you hope the villain gets his just desserts. But I still prefer the Hercules, the Captain Dylan Hunt, the hero guy. I kinda still like that guy because I still have faith that good’s gonna triumph over evil even though evil’s making a lot of ground over these last few years in the world. But I’m still hoping that ultimately most people want to see good things happen to the world and not bad things.
JWK: Your character in God’s Not Dead sort of reminded me of one of those murderers played by some big guest star on Columbo. He had that sort of arrogance.
KS: He does have a bit of an attitude about himself, no question.
JWK: As a believer, is it hard to play a nonbeliever — and to play it so strongly?
KS: It was in the words. It was a well-written script. It was on the page. So, for me, it was just committing to that and going along with the flow. I mean I know I’m acting…As an actor, it’s fun to do and try different things. (You don’t want) to play the same person all the time. As much as I love (the characters I played) on my two TV series, I was ready to move on and do other things, as well.
JWK: What do you hope people take from this particular film?
KS: I hope it makes them think. You know, it’s very strange. We live in a world right now…where it’s open season on people who believe in God (and) who (are) Christian and…believe in Christ. I’ve actually seen polls (saying that) 80 to 90 percent of people in America believe in God or believe in something that started all this — that there’s a Supreme Being…I find it strange that there’s a huge backlash. You know, (we’re told) to embrace Muslims but you can’t embrace Christians. It’s very strange what’s going on in our country right now. I haven’t figured what it is and why it is this is going on. People scream for tolerance yet they have none. They scream for freedom of speech yet they want to curtail other people that want to have their freedom of speech exercised. I’m in a weird place right now (as to) what’s going on in our country. I can’t quite figure out why it’s going in the direction that it’s going in.
JWK: Have you experienced any backlash in Hollywood for your views?
KS: Oh, sure. I mean I’m an independent in Hollywood. I’ve voted Democratic in my live, I’ve voted Republican in my life. I’m one of the few people I think in Hollywood who actually comes out and says “Hey, you know what, I vote for who I think is the best person, period.” I’m not a party guy. There are people on both sides of the political fence that I don’t agree with. To me, I look to see who I honestly think is going to be the best person. So, that, in itself, is enough to get me blacklisted in Hollywood…They scream for tolerance, They scream for freedom of speech but it you disagree at all with what they’re saying then they can blacklist you. They have the power to do that.
I mean Hollywood doesn’t owe me anything. I get it. I understand that but, on the same side, it’s like “Okay, why can’t I have an opinion? Why does that cost me jobs?” I mean there’s so much anger…in Hollywood. It’s weird. Their arguments aren’t logical. They aren’t based on fact. If you hit people up with facts, they just say you’re wrong and they don’t give reasons why you’re wrong. Their whole idea is that they say they care so much more. What do you mean you care so much more? Here’s the reality. Here are the statistics that will back me up with the things I’m saying. They don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to see it. They don’t care. They just have an anger.
JWK: Yet you remain a very busy and in-demand actor. I checked your IMDB page and you’re booked solid with projects.
KS: I’m busy, I knock on wood. I don’t think my manager likes that I take so many of these smaller movies. He thinks if I take these small movies it will hurt my career. So, I shouldn’t work? And then Hollywood will want to use me? If I don’t do anything for three years all of a sudden they’ll come knocking at my door? I don’t look at it that way. To me, it’s like if I like a project (I’ll do it). Are they all winners? No. But, you know what, I’m proud of about 90 percent of those movies I’ve shot in those nine years since Andromeda finished. The other ten percent? Yeah, there are five in there that were just stupid. You know, they didn’t turn out the way I thought they were gonna turn out, it’s embarrassing, blah, blah, blah. But most of them, yeah, I think they’re good movies. When people do like you did and go on IMDB and then check What If… or Soul Surfer they go “Yeah, that was a good movie!”
KS:…You know, it’s weird. You meet people and they haven’t seen me since Andromeda or even Hercules and they go “Are you retired?” and I go “No, I’m not retired. I shot eight movies last year!” Unless you’re in a major studio movie or you’re on a network or a huge HBO TV series, it’s hard to get people to turn those channels and check other things. But that’s just the way we are.
JWK: I remember the first time I spoke with you was about the UP movie Christmas Angel. I thought that was actually quite good.
KS: It was a great little film. I’m actually talking with that director right now. He’s got a very funny movie about relationships.
JWK: I’m impressed by how you move from genre to genre. You do adventures, dramas, romantic comedies, mysteries. Tell me about some of your upcoming projects.
KS: I mix it up. Mythica is very much in the vein of Lord of the Rings. (In the Hallmark TV pilot Can’t Get Arrested) I play a private eye. The Secret Handshake is a movie I’m shooting in Nashville. It’s a very funny film by Howie Klausner. Howie was the guy who wrote the wonderful movie Space Cowboys with Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood and James Garner.
JWK: Speaking of comedy, I caught Bobby Cannon, your 2005 ABC sitcom pilot on YouTube. I can honestly tell you that I thought it was really good. I’m amazed it wasn’t picked up. I’m actually a big fan of the writer, Barry Kemp.
KS: The president of ABC at the time didn’t want to do it even though it tested very, very highly for them and it would have been an eight-year hit. Berry Kemp is a great writer. He has a great track record with Taxi, Newhart and Coach with Craig T. Nelson. You can never figure it out. People have no idea how many great TV pilots are shot and are never shown just because of the (individual whims) of the people in Hollywood. It’s already nine years ago and it’s still a thorn in my side. It’s very disappointing because I was really looking forward to that.
JWK: That Hallmark Channel pilot sounds interesting. TV could use a good private eye show. The network seems like it would be a good fit for you. They’re really connecting with a large swath of the audience the broadcast networks seem to have abandoned.
KS: They are. They’re doing quite well. They’ve got a good track record going already. I think they’ve got three (weekly dramas) on the air so we hope they say “yes” to us.
JWK: What kind of role would you consider to be ideal for you?
KS: I love sitcoms! I love comedies! I think we put a lot of comedy elements in Hercules and Andromeda and a number of the movies I’ve shot over the last (nine) years.
JWK: Do you think the pendulum is swinging back from darker storytelling and more toward the inspirational?
KS: Here’s the thing. There’s a huge amount of people in this country that would love to see family-friendly movies. Hopefully, we’re doing them well. I think there are a lot of good movies we’ve been shooting but they don’t get the big buzz because they don’t have the money to promote them but if people could just search a little bit more and look around they can find them — and (use) word of mouth. Trust me, Hollywood will make more movies that are family friendly if they see a movie like God’s Not Dead. It was shot for two-million dollars. Well, the buzz on it’s been unbelievable. We’re getting as many hits as these big Hollywood movies are getting on YouTube. So, if they get the word out, trust me, Hollywood will make more of those. It’s called show business. They want to make the money. They can’t be happy with the 107-million dollar loss they had on a movie like The Lone Ranger with big-name stars.
Note: For more on Kevin Sorbo, check out his website or his book True Strength which relates his personal struggle to recover from three strokes (caused by a shoulder aneurysm) that happened at the height of popularity of his Hercules TV series.
And, just for the fun of it, here’s the Bobby Cannon pilot that ABC passed on in 2005. See if you don’t agree with me that that was a bad call.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11