Before he was the best-known clergyman in America and a spiritual adviser to Presidents, Billy Graham was a young man struggling with doubt and searching for a way to be of service. This sensitive and respectful film about Billy Graham’s early years stars Armie Hammer as Graham.
I spoke to Hammer about the challenges of taking on the role of a man people know so well.
How did you come to this project?
One day my agent called and said, “I have your next movie. That’s all you need to know.” I fell madly in love with it, knew i had to do it. The next thing I knew, I was in Billy Graham world.
it was the approach i responded do. i knew who he was the way every one else on the planet knows, but this was the human, how he found his faith, how his faith was shaken, how the love of his life was given and almost taken away. We start at the beginning and end when Billy Graham the preacher eclipse Billy Graham the person.
What are the challenges and pitfalls of portraying a real person who has inspired so much respect and affection?
You want to be so careful and pay respect to the Grahams, make something they like and love, and give them the most honest and real portrayal so they can say, “I remember that, I said that.”
I studied his autobiography, Just As I Am. It was an amazing tool for me to use. I also used the internet where you can see private, personal videos that show how he was when he was not preaching. His preaching was his signature enthusiasm but I wanted to see what he was like when he was just talking, where you see his personality.
What made Graham so special?
It was definitely his blind faith — the fact that he whole-heartedly without question or doubt at all found his beliefs and did not waver. He was so human and could take the gospel and make it accessible. He would not say he was the smartest person in the world but he had the gift of faith. In this story, he and Templeton go through a crisis of faith but react differently.
His approachability and simplicity was what made him so good at communicating with people. He is the most honest and good human being that ever walked this planet. He never had a scandal because he did not have a scandalous bone in his body. He created the Modesto manifesto to make sure that he and his men could withstand temptation. He called them together and said, “Ministers are falling to the left and right. What we have to say is too important. Go to your room for an hour and think about what it is that is the cause of these ministers’ downfall.” They all had the same things on the list — sex, money, pride, lying. He said, “Here is what we will do. We will have an outside firm to do the money, none of us will ever be alone in a room with a woman, we will never lie about our numbers of followers or criticize others.” Those are the kinds of decisions that made him unique.