Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 05/04/22

A wing and a prayer. Based on an uplifting true story, No Vacancy is a faith and family-friendly film that follows a jaded and recently demoted newspaper reporter (Sean Young) as she travels to a rural Florida community to cover the controversial story of an idealistic pastor (Dean Cain) seeking a way for his church to purchase a local motel with the intent of converting it into housing for the area’s rising homeless population. T.C. Stallings co-stars as a recovering drug addict befriended by both of them.
Writer-Producer Art Avris says “In a time of bitter division and acrimony in our country, our creative team thought it was an appropriate time to release a movie based on the true story of a community coming together in a literally miraculous way…The Orlando ABC affiliate had previously done eight feature stories plus M6 in France and Japan’s Nippon Television had all journeyed to Florida to do stories. We realized this was a story with appeal far beyond central Florida and needed to be told in a way that only a motion picture can communicate. Though the movie has a few fictional components and characters, it is closely based on the true story.” Ayris, BTW, also serves as the Executive Pastor at First Baptist Leesburg, the church at the center of the story and where he currently oversees ministry development, long range planning, legal, risk management, financial operations and serves as a trustee for the church.
The Fathom Event, produced by Florida-based Kingstone Studios and directed by Kyle Saylors, debuts in  over 700 theaters nationwide this Monday (5/9). You can find locations and buy tickets here. My review and a conversation with Dean Cain follows the trailer.

IMHO:  The 2007 economic and housing collapse in Central Florida serves as an apt backdrop for an inspiring story of faith and renewal as seen through the eyes of slightly cynical reporter (Young) dealing with a job demotion, a divorce and an alcoholic brother while also caring for their who mother suffers from  Alzheimer’s. When her editor sends her to cover the story of First Baptist Leesburg as it struggles to purchase a motel for homeless families amid intense public resistance she encounters Pastor Cliff Lea (Cain) and recovering drug addict Cecil Johnson (Stallings). Together, their stories of faith and redemption help renew her own resilience and sense of purpose. Her award-winning coverage eventually helps the church overcome the steep opposition and acquire the motel which today is known as The Samaritan Inn. The story was previously featured in the documentary Come Alive.
So, does it work as drama? In my view, yes – and it’s exactly the kind of movie we need right now. Aspirational and merciful idealism, as opposed to the condemnatory Woke standards of perfectionism, is not something that’s particularly in vogue right now in a culture that seems obsessed with reckonings and generally dismissive of the notion learning from mistakes so one can let go of the past and move forward. This film leans wholeheartedly into idealism and these day that’s very refreshing. Flawed characters – and a flawed church – both find redemption through forgiveness, perseverance, good works and hope. This movie will leave you feeling good about the essential goodness of people.
The script isn’t sappy and the direction is crisp and moves the story forward. As for the performances, no one hits a false note. T.C. Stallings is terrific as a man whose hard past is turned around and transformed into an opportunity to help others. Sean Young brings a lot of vulnerability to the role of the reporter whose cynicism is eventually melted. Regarding Dean Cain, in our conversation below he suggests that he might actually prefer playing villains to heroes. That may be so but there’s something nice about him that just comes through the camera. The former Superman is simply really good and believable at playing good guys and this movie is no exception.

Bottom line: No Vacancy is a highly recommended feel good movie.

Dean Cain on his new movie and the legacy of Superman.

JWK: You probably don’t remember but we met briefly at on one of those Variety Faith & Media Summits.

Dean Cain: Great! The one in Beverly Hills probably!

JWK: You were very nice.
DC: I appreciate that.JWK: I mentioned then – and it remains true – you’re my favorite Superman.

DC: I’ll take that! Thank you, sir!

JWK: I mean of all the versions – movies and television.

DC: I really appreciate that! Thank you! There have been some great ones! So, to be even listed in that group, I’m more than humbled.

JWK: I want to return to that later but getting down to business here, what attracted you to No Vacancy?

DC: No Vacancy is a true story…It’s the story of Cecil Johnson and his rise from, basically, trying to kill himself, being a drug-addled guy with no education and no hope in life to someone who becomes a leader in the church. It’s an incredible story of hope, overcoming obstacles and faith. What attracted me was obviously that story in itself is wonderful. I play Pastor Cliff Lea who is trusting God and trying to expand the church into an area that was helping the people in the community, namely the homeless because the homeless problem at that time especially was very, very tough there. They were sorta the center of the homeless problem in the United States at the time. Of course that homeless problem is here in California now because we have half of the nation’s homeless here. What this pastor did is he decided to sort of trust God and try to arrange it so that the church could buy this hotel (to create) The Samaritan Inn to help the homeless who needed it horrifically badly.

JWK: What I like about the film is that, while the pastor is certainly a good guy, you can kinda see the point of view of the local citizens who opposed him.

DC: 100%. Citizens have businesses there. They don’t want to have even more homeless just sorta meandering around the area. I understand how they would feel like it would sort of lessen the value of their businesses and things of that nature. I 100% understand their plight and get that. No doubt.

But, you know, it’s funny because when you tell a single person’s story – like Cecil Johnson’s story – it touches everybody in the community. That’s what Sean Young’s character does – tells that story and tells the story of what the ministry is trying to do to help people. Then suddenly…regular citizens came out and supported it in such a great way. It’s very much like It’s a Wonderful Life, the way the community comes together. That’s the thing that’s so uplifting to me. Of course, I get the business problems of why the businesses might not want that homeless shelter there but, at the end of the day, when you’re walking around that area today, it’s lovely.

JWK: Obviously, the pastor is a really good guy – but you’ve played some bad guys too, right?

DC: Yes, I have. That’s what you do as an actor.

JWK: Which do you enjoy more – playing the good guys or the bad guys?

DC: Oh, I like playing them all! Bad guys are great fun because with bad guys it’s sort of a singularity of what you’re doing, the vision. You can do anything as long as it’s furthering your goal as a bad guy. As a good guy, it’s way more complicated. You have to have all these reasons for being good. It’s easy to be bad. It’s tough to be good. It’s more of a challenge I think to play good. It’s easier – and sometimes more fun – to play bad because there are things that you could do that you would never do – or might not ever do – in real life. Maybe you had the thought – you know, “I can’t even think that! That’s terrible!” But you can do that as a bad guy in a movie. And there are those types of people who are out there. So, I would never say that I’m going to play good guys in films because that would be very limiting. Storytelling requires bad guys. The story of good and evil – you gotta have somebody play the bad guy.

JWK: Of course you played one of the ultimate good guys in Lois & Clark. Like I said, I think that’s the best version of Superman due to your performance, the chemistry you had with Teri Hatcher and the way you played it with just the right level of seriousness. You didn’t take it too seriously but you took it seriously enough that people could lose themselves in the characters and the story. What are your recollections of that show?

DC: I look back at Lois & Clark with just fond recollections. I was young. I was 26 when I was cast. My son is almost 22 right now. To think about that is mind boggling. I think fondly about it. I was learning so much. There was so much going on at the time. Fortunately, our writers and producers did a really nice job with the characters and their arc and their romance. And Teri’s such a good actress. I think Teri’s the best Lois Lane to ever play the character. It was just fantastic. We did have great chemistry but it was driven mostly, I think, by her. She really drove the show and did a great job.

So, I look back at it as a lot of hard work. It’s something I suffered with time and energy for sure. So, I guess you appreciate those things that you suffer for more than others and I really do appreciate the time spent on that show. If you’re gonna be called something for the rest of your life, being called “Superman” that’s pretty good.

JWK: You have wandered into some controversy regarding comments about some of the newer iterations of Superman. Of course, there have also been fan controversies over not just Superman but iconic franchises like Marvel, Star Trek and Star Wars. A lot of people feel that the people who are running them now have taken the properties into darker territory, sometimes it seems almost anti-American territory.
DC: I’d say very often it seems anti-American territory, unfortunately.
JWK: You have taken this on. Would you care to elaborate? I know you have gotten a lot of blowback from the industry.

DC: Listen, I’m never afraid to speak my mind. When you’re doing business with certain people obviously you might stay a little more quiet while you’re doing the business because the business is important but, you know, when I played Superman it was “Truth, Justice and the American Way” and I believe in that through and through. I think there are a lot of people who have left DC Comics and places like that because they don’t agree with sort of the Woke agenda. I don’t mind there being gay characters or whatever the case happens to be…What I do mind is when they take a character who has existed for a long time and has a certain background and does things a certain way – like “Truth, Justice and the American Way” – and they change those characters over. I never liked that. I’ve never been a fan of that.

I think Henry Cavill did a great job in the film – Superman v. Batman, I think it was, or one of the Superman films – but he’s fighting with General Zod and they’re throwing each other through buildings and stuff. All I could think about was how many people were dying. I was like, wow, because Superman would stop everything to save a life. That his weakness. It’s his inherent goodness. So, when they’re changing characters I don’t love that.

If people want to make new characters go ahead. I just don’t like them changing characters and going “This is so brave to make Jonathan Kent – Superman and Lois’ child – gay.” Not in this day and age (when) every other superhero is gay. I didn’t think just making him gay was groundbreaking. If they want to make that character gay great but don’t jump up and down about and go “How brave of them!” In 2022 that’s not brave. It’s bandwagoning. It’s jumping on the bandwagon of that Woke agenda. I’m not a fan.

JWK: It seems to me that these people in charge of these iconic franchises and characters – like Superman, which they didn’t create – sort of turn them inside out to almost the opposite of what they originally stood for which is something, in my opinion, they don’t really have a right to do.

DC: I agree with that 100%. I wish they wouldn’t. If they want to create a new character, by all means, I would support it.  I don’t care what that character’s about. If I find them interesting I’ll read about them. If they’re not then let the free market decide but taking established characters and turning them into something else (is something) I’ve never been a big fan of.

JWK: I went to your IMDB page. You’re a very busy working actor. How do you keep so many projects in the hopper?

DC: I like to be busy. Busy for me is a good thing. Being idle has never really been who I am. I’m physical. I like to exercise. I like to run around. I like to get outdoors. I love being around my kid. I’m a police officer in two different departments. I’m a sheriff’s deputy in Frederick County, Virginia. I’m a reserve police officer in Pocatello, Idaho. I like to do a lot of different things. I’m shooting a project in Florida again. I just want to be busy and doing a lot of different things. I think work begets work. I take my time down as well but I love doing projects. I try to say “Yes” as often as I can as opposed to just turning everything down and saying “No. No. No. No.” If it’s a kids movie – the next movie I’m going to make is a kids movie – if it’s a faith-based movie, like No Vacancy, I want to be a part of it if I can fit it in. I want to try to say “Yes” as often as I can.

JWK: Do the values of the movies presented to you affect your decisions about what to take on?

DC: Of course the values of a film make a difference but sometimes I’ll do a film that doesn’t work with my values or I’ll play a character, like I did in God’s Not Dead, where it’s somebody who is completely unlike me who, you know, breaks up with his girlfriend because she has cancer. That’s not something I would do but playing those characters is great. And being in films that don’t have that message is OK too. Not everything I make is going to be a faith-based or family movie but when I can choose to be in those movies – especially if they’re really small ones like I do with JC Films – I’ll try to be in them whenever I can. Especially if I love the message, I’ll try to promote that.

JWK: I certainly understand that every movie you do isn’t necessarily going fit neatly into the faith-based category but I’m wondering if you’ve ever turned down a movie because you really didn’t like the message it was promoting.

DC: There was one that I came across where I didn’t like the message and I just said “You know what? I don’t even want to be considered for it.” That was not that long ago.

JWK: Would you ever do another TV series?

DC: When you decide to do a TV series – if it’s 22-episodes and you’re the lead character on a one-hour – your life is over. What I mean is your personal time doesn’t exist anymore. Would I do it? Maybe for a couple of years. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. It’s just so all-encompassing. You don’t get to live life. You don’t get to spend time with your family. You get a lot of money but you’re kinda trapped. So, if it was the right situation where I was one of the lead characters and there was some time off or if I had a four-day week or something like that certainly – but to work 18 hours day, five days a week, nine-and-a-half months a year, yeesh! There’s more to life, I think, than that. So, we’d have to negotiate that, my friend.

JWK: Finally, getting back to No Vacancy, what do you hope people take from the film?

DC: I hope people watch No Vacancy and have just sort of have their heart opened. When you look at the story of Cecil Johnson – what he went through and what he became – (know) there are lot more Cecil Johnsons out there. Maybe by doing something – helping somebody out or helping a ministry out – they could help change lives. That’s what I would like people to take away from it.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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