Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 05/07/21

Two pros take a swing at bringing a beloved golf parable to the big screen. From the set of the upcoming film The Mulligan (based on the beloved novel The MulliganA Parable of Second Chances by Ken Blanchard & Wally Armstrong), Eric Close (Nashville, Without a Trace)  and Pat Boone (Miracle in the Valley, God’s Not Dead 2) told me why they chose to take on the story of Paul McAllister (Close), a successful international businessman whose personal life is falling apart when he suffers a complete emotional meltdown while playing in a pro-am charity golf tournament sponsored by his company. Boone plays Will Dunn, the “Old Pro” who gives him the inspiration he needs to reverse his downward spiral and experience his own personal “do-over.” Of course, his wisdom is about much more than the game of golf. We also talked about their personal faith, the mulligans they’ve received, the current state of the entertainment industry and the bond they’ve formed while shooting the movie. Our conversation follows the production video.

JWK: Tell me about The Mulligan, the roles you play and what drew you to the story.

Eric Close: It’s kind of an interesting story. I met one of the authors, Wally Armstrong, a number of years ago at a Christian golfing event. (He’s a) really great guy. We hit it off. I think he at the time was still playing professional golf. Ironically – well not ironically, it’s the way the Lord works. He orchestrated for us to connect about 20 years later. I found out they were doing the movie and they asked me to be a part of it.

My character, his name is Paul McAllister, is the CEO of an e-commerce company and he’s trying to be competitive globally. He’s a bit of a workaholic and has somewhat of a pride issue. In his mind his commitment to his work is justified but it’s at the expense of his family life. He’s estranged from his 20-year-old son and he’s been separated from his wife for almost five years. So, he goes to play in a Pro Am Golf tournament to connect with a guy from Asia to get into business with him. While he’s there, my character Paul behaves badly in the tournament and the professional golfer Tom Lehman who I’m playing with suggests that I go see the Old Pro played by Pat Boone.

Pat Boone: My (story) goes back even further. Wally Armstrong, when he was on the tour, and a lot of the other golfers used to have Bible study when they could and have ministers come speak to them. It was such a wonderful thing. My wife and I were having Bible studies when we could in our home for entertainers. Wally heard about it and asked if the golfers could come and be in our home a couple times – which they did. Little did we know (that) many, many, many more years would go by (and) he would write the book with a guy named Ken Blanchard (called) The Mulligan.

Then I got asked to play Will Dunn, the old retired and greatly respected pro. (Will) is mentoring young golfers who have temperament problems, emotional problems (and) personal problems (that) affect their golf. I try to help them straighten both of them out – their personal lives and then, of course, that will have a good effect on their golf as well. Eric’s character is very reluctant. He doesn’t think he needs anything like that.

EC: The thing about Paul is that while Paul has these issues with being a workaholic, etcetera, he’s also a pretty principled guy. He doesn’t drink. Even though he’s been separated from his wife, he’s not going out and seeing other women. He believes in working hard…but he doesn’t understand grace. In his life, he believes that taking a mulligan is cheating…What he learns through the Old Pro is that…our God is a God of grace and you can find forgiveness. While, yes, you need to play by the rules, when you mess up there is a chance – even if you have to pay the consequences for (bad) decisions – there is grace from our Heavenly Father.

JWK: You guys are obviously both people of faith. Does that affect the roles you choose to take?

PB: When I was a young actor at 20th Century Fox with a seven-year deal and a real hot shot – Elvis and I were matching each other record for record, movie for movie and doing very well in both – I was offered a film with Marilyn Monroe. She was under contract 20th as well. They wanted to (cast) me as this young kid having this illicit romance with this still-beautiful but slightly older singer traveling the country singing in clubs (who) comes back to her small town and (our characters) have an affair. They thought this would a sensational movie.

I said to the head of the studio “I can’t do this.” He said “What are you talking about!?” I said “I have millions of young fans and this movie seems to say that this kid could have an affair (and) it’s okay. He’ll get over it and maybe look back on it and feel like he was lucky to have had this affair. I said “I can’t do this because I’m having an influence on my fans.” Well, the head of the studio was livid (and) threatened to suspend me. I said “Look, you have to do what you have to do and I have to do what my conscience tells me. So, I can’t do it.”

The end of that story is they put me into a film called Journey to the Center of the Earth which became a huge cult classic and it helped save the studio from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, they made that other film with Joanne Woodward  and an actor named Richard Beymer and it was a terrible flop. They lost money. It was not a story that people wanted to see.

So, yes, I’ve had to spurn some things that would be good for me, it seemed, but was not something spiritually or conscientiously I could do. I feel like that did hamper my career. I became known as something of a square and many producers and directors would not think of me for roles that I might have been very good in – but good ones came along. Journey to the Center of the Earth was huge, State Fair was huge and other good movies. So, God took care of me. Even if I turned down roles that, perhaps, I could have done, he always let me get something as good or better.

JWK: How about you, Eric? Has your faith affected the roles you’ve chosen?

EC: I’m pretty particular about what I do. I pray about every role. I also look for something in the story that I find to be redemptive or where justice might be served. I may be a little different than Pat in that I’ve played…some pretty nefarious characters. I look for in those roles (whether) the characters learns something or if justice is served. Like, if I play a person that’s a criminal, do they get caught? I don’t like material that glorifies violence, explicit sexuality or the occult.

I also believe that you have to stay true to your principles. I also feel that there are times where God brings me on to (something). There may be someone He wants me to meet and be able to share the Gospel with them or His love. There is certain material that I shy away from. Unfortunately, I will say that in this present day that the envelope just gets pushed more and more. Pat and I, we’ve talked about this. Things have become more and more gratuitous.

PB: Hollywood is not interested in good moral stories most of the time. That’s a big failing because it used to be that…we were the envy of the world because of lives we presented in film. Everybody wanted to be like us. The stories had happy endings and moral endings and the good guys always won.

And, of course, the other answer to that is to do the story of Jesus somebody’s got to play Judas. I have said I would play Judas if I was asked to. I would try to make him some kind of a rational character – though he was wrong, of course, and went out and hanged himself when he realized (what) he had done. Still, somebody has to play that role. In the context of the film, if there is somehow a moral in it, there sometimes has to be people playing the tough roles, the bad roles.

EC: I believe personally that God called me to be an actor and I want to do the best job I can as an actor to portray the characters that I play. I think that honors God because I’m working hard at what my job is. Like, if you’re a surgeon, you’re gonna work hard. It doesn’t matter who you’re working on. If you’re a surgeon you might be working on somebody who just killed ten people but you’re called to do your job.

PB: And I will say this. In this movie, if another actor was playing the character that Eric plays (but) in a sort of one-dimensional way – as just sort of a bad guy, an egotist, self-absorbed, bad to his wife, non-caring of his kid -he could have been a real nasty character. But what Eric has done is study the man and try to feel out why he is like he is and give him humanity. You can believe it when he finally comes around and is presented with the truth…He gives the character a dimension that makes you care for him and want to see him come around and want to see him eventually be saved.

EC: In regards to Pat’s character, Will Dunn or the Old Pro, what’s interesting is that he has actually suffered quite a bit more in his life than my character has. He’s endured even more hardship than (Paul has). I’m not diminishing what Paul’s experienced…but Old Pro/Will Dunn has experienced some hardship in his life and yet he shows to Paul how God has given him a second chance and that mulligan. It’s a real eye-opener to Paul when he hears Old Pro’s story. That, I think, is a big turning point in the story.

PB: I think the name The Mulligan is so crucial because there a millions and millions of people who may not be particularly moral or care about spirituality or things like that but they know golf and they know what a mulligan is. A mulligan is a second chance. A mulligan is a do over.

JWK: When you look at the continuing decline in the Academy Award ratings – with this year’s show being to lowest rated in history – do you think that’s an indication that the industry is paying a price for largely turning away from movies that inspire and lift people up?

PB: It doesn’t surprise me. Not just because of COVID. It was beautifully produced. It was lovely but most of the people that were getting awards, most viewers never saw their film.  They weren’t those that they, in many cases, would want to see. They weren’t popular films. Hollywood is, I think, trying to commit suicide…Most people just don’t want to go and spend two or three hours, and as much money as it takes, to come home feeling miserable about being a human being. They’d like to come home inspired and uplifted. That’s how Hollywood really grew to be the greatest industry but now all these degrading, corrupt stories – that critics all seem to love – are just turning moviegoers away.

JWK: Turning to television, Eric, you’ve had your share of hit series with shows like Without a Trace and Nashville. My favorite show of yours is actually one that didn’t enjoy a long run. It was called CHAOS. I found it to be a refreshingly good action show with a lot of humor and likable heroes who saw themselves as cynics but, in the end, really weren’t cynics. It was underrated. With a good time slot and some decent promotion, it could have been a big hit. Just curious about your thoughts on that – because I hate to see solid shows killed off too soon by poor programming decisions.

EC: Early on in my career I ended up playing a lot of characters that were flawed but they were heroic in the sense that they were still willing to sacrifice for the good of other people. I love those kinds of stories. The characters cared about each other. They weren’t perfect by any means. I was drawn to those kinds of shows. That’s what I liked about Without a Trace. We were trying to help people who were either lost or missing, the people that didn’t have a voice.

I found the same with CHAOS.  What I liked about CHAOS was that there was a good sense of humor to the show. While it was the CIA and there was drama, (the creator) Tom Spezialy wrote in some wonderful comedy. It was a shame that it didn’t last longer. I felt like the show was sort of doomed before it even got on the air just because of all the goings on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, that happens a lot.

I think one of the issues in television today is, because there are so many outlets, people are trying to get people to talk about their show at the proverbial water cooler…So, what ends up happening is a lot of these television shows are pushing the envelope. They’re trying to be as extreme as possible so people will talk about them…but I just don’t think that it needs to be the way. I think you just need to tell good stories that have good values and that have great characters. People will find those (shows) because people fall in love with the characters. You’ll see that a lot of these television shows will be, as Pat said (about the movies), critically acclaimed but they’re very short lived. People will get really excited about them, the critics will say they’re wonderful and then they basically did everything they could do in the first season. Then they run out of ideas and it gets old. It’s a trick. And then it’s just gone. It doesn’t sustain. I think you need good stories and characters that sustain and go for a long time. I don’t think, personally, you have to shock the audience to keep them.

JWK: Getting back to The Mulligan, are there any mulligans that you guy have gotten in your lives that you’re grateful for?

EC: Too many to count!

PB: Oh, yeah! Over and over and over again, yes. Not going into detail but I needed mulligans to save my wonderful marriage to my wonderful wife when I got so involved with my career. I was gone half the time and I wasn’t paying enough attention (to my family) – though I loved my kids and I loved her…I’ve had so many mulligans in my life. God has repaired my marriage to my wife (and) has helped me to be a better father. I think he’s helped me in my acting at times when I thought my career was finished because there was not a place in show business for a goody-goody and for a square like me but then there’d be a TV show that came my way or another movie or some hit songs. They were mulligans from God giving me the fuel to keep going and keep trying to live for Him in spite of being in a pretty treacherous business.

JWK: How about you, Eric?

EC: I would say clearly I’ve been given a lot of mulligans in my life…Just being introduced to Christ through a school that I was going to. I would say, later in life, as a father and a husband, I would agree with Pat that it’s tough in this day and age to be a parent. I’ve got a couple of daughters. The Bible says “Fathers, don’t provoke your kids to anger.” So, I think there are times when I’ve done that and I’ve gotten a mulligan. Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my kids despite myself. I’ve gotten those mulligans. I think I also got a mulligan because God brought a wonderful woman into my life through my wife. She’s amazing! She’s a great partner and I’m so grateful for her. I’m thankful for them. I’m thankful that they’re in grace. I also feel that I’ve gotten mulligans by the people that I’m surrounded with – my friends. I’ve got great friends and accountability partners. I’m thankful for that, as well.

PB: I’m hoping that everybody who sees this film – and I trust there will be millions – will realize they need and want mulligans in their lives. And that they are readily available from one source – the Creator of the Game of Life. He can grant us second chances so we can start over and we can be repaired and renewed. And that’s what the film is.

JWK: I was just about to ask what you hope people take from the film – and that’s a pretty good answer. How about you, Eric?

EC: I just hope that people know that even though they may have messed up in life…that there is redemption…I think a lot of people live their life in shame and they feel like “Oh, I could never measure up” and so they find things life that they think will help them feel whole but they never feel whole or complete. It doesn’t mean we all walk around like a bunch of clones. I mean Pat and I are very different personalities but we have one thing in common. We’ve found we have a lot of things in common but the most important thing is our relationship with Christ. We’re brothers for life – and for eternity. I just hope people find that they can continue to be who they are. God’s created all of us uniquely. We have unique personalities and talents but I also hope that people see that they can be released from their shame and the bad decisions they may have made in life.

JWK: Sounds like you guys might like to work together again.

EC: Oh, yeah.

PB: He’s stuck with me!
___

Clip of the Week. Netflix’s R-rated legal drama Monster (dropping today) tells the story of Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a seventeen-year-old honor film student whose world comes crashing down around him when he is charged with felony murder. The film follows his dramatic journey from a smart, likeable film student from Harlem attending an elite high school through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison. Talk about needing a mulligan.

As this clip shows, the movie touches on the subject of faith as Steve’s mother (Jennifer Hudson) calls on Psalm 28 to equip him with the  hope, purpose and encouragement he’ll need to get through his trial. Powerful and worth checking out.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

 

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