2016-06-30

Catherine HicksThe WB show "7th Heaven" is ending its 10-year run on Monday. The longest-running family drama in television history, the show is about a Protestant minister, the Rev. Eric Camden, his wife Annie, and their seven children. At times, it has tackled issues including discrimination against Muslims since 9/11, discrimination against women by the Taliban, interfaith marriage, single motherhood, teen sexuality, divorce, heart disease, and gun violence. Catherine Hicks, the actress who plays Annie Camden, spoke to Beliefnet about her faith life, her dedication as Catholic Relief Services' spokesperson on the Darfur crisis, her views on marriage and divorce, and why she's grateful the show isn't "embroidered in a doily."
Read the interview below, or listen to Hicks talk about:

Are people surprised to learn that you're a Catholic?
I find it sort of cute that I'm a minister's wife [on the show], and I'm Catholic. The fact that I have a practicing faith, meaning that you do it every week, it's like working out—I think it helps me play the role. Stephen [Collins, the actor who plays the Rev. Eric Camden], he's a practicing Anglican, which means that he actually goes on Sunday and does stuff. When we have the lines, it doesn't come through that we're acting, we know what we're saying. And I think an audience can feel that. I certainly can.

When you were preparing to play Annie Camden, did you learn anything new about the differences between Protestant and Catholic Christianity?
No, the thing we share is that the Camdens help people. Rev. Camden literally helps people that day. He gets involved and advises them and goes over, and we let people in the house. And that's certainly what Christianity is about. Christ talks about that all the time. The Good Samaritan. Stop what you're doing, and if someone asks you for a coat off your back, give them your house. Do more, you can't do enough for people in need. For a Catholic, it's interesting that a minister can be married and do that work. We're used to the priests and nuns doing it, and the lay people. So I think it's neat that Annie, the family gets involved.

What denomination is the Rev. Camden's church, anyway?

I think we're just sort of a big, gentle Protestant thing. It's not Southern Baptist. We're not defined, but it feels to me like Methodist or Presbyterian.

 

Is there still tension between Protestants and Catholics in America?

Historically, there's anti-Catholicism, just like there's anti-other things. But certainly our country is a Protestant nation. The Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants were always looked down upon by the Anglicans. So there's this great fear, and I find, lack of knowledge of Catholicism, just like I'm ignorant of other things. I think we should all visit each other's places of worship and get to know a priest, get to know a rabbi. It's not that scary. I think Scientology is scary, and I don't understand Jehovah's Witnesses, but I haven't spent time with them.

 

Do you think that when the show has talked about other religions, it's done enough to further interfaith understanding?

It's not the mission of the show to do that; it's basically entertainment. I know [series creator] Brenda [Hampton] doesn't want to be preachy, because she doesn't want to alienate people, but the fact that we have a faith, we act out on it, we say prayers, we thank God for the food at meals, I try to stick in "God bless" when I kiss the kids goodnight. Just any acknowledgement of a deity that created all this, and something to whom we should say thank you once in awhile, certainly every day, in my opinion, because we all have tons of blessings.

How well do you think the show has handled explicit religiosity? In the earlier years, it seems there was more of that, people praying, saying grace, thanking God. Then there would be whole stretches where there's be less of that.
I think it's up to the writers, when they feel it. I'm grateful when it exists but not alarmed when it doesn't. The show has never existed to be a religious role model.

Does that ring true for you, that there are times for those who have active faith lives when they don't demonstrate it as much?

Yes. Scripture even says, pray when the spirit moves you. It's like anything, there's a time. The soul is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised a little every day. Say a morning prayer just to say something. Certainly there are inspired times.

 

Do you think that spiritual or faith-based shows are on the rise?

Raising religious kids
I don't think there's enough to say they're on the rise. If it's existing, it's because there's such a starvation for it, such a lack of it, because it wasn't politically correct since the '60s, which was wonderful in so many ways but a lot got thrown out with the bathwater. I'm not talking about fundamentalism—I'm not a fundamentalist Christian. I don't believe any religion should be exclusive or feel superior in any way, or be judgmental. It should be a quiet, private thing. I don't think we should push it on other people too hard. But I know as a real parent that people are proud to say they're not raising their kids anything, as if that means they're not going to raise them to be in some sort of rigid, judgmental, hypocritical activities. I don't think they're really thinking it through. If you're a Jew, give them a tradition. They can reject it later, but give them something to reject. To just raise people in a secular void of consumerism, that's really ugly. That's as dangerous as too much of an organized religion. So I think if stuff is coming back, it's because I believe it's in our nature to want to have some other reality than just what's in front of us. I think we like to believe in a benevolent heaven.

Do you get asked for Annie's advice at the bank, grocery store?

Yes, sure.

 

Does that bother you?

Raising religious kids
She's definitely a role model. I guess she was voted the No. 1 TV role model years ago. I was like, "what?" I just do my job here. It's Brenda who writes it. I think "7th Heaven" came at a time, 10 years ago, when there'd been a lot of divorce in this country, and a lot of broken homes. And a broken home is a sad thing, and it's hard on the kids. It breaks their hearts. I think the show came at a time when people needed to see a family that stays together and works things out, where there aren't broken hearts. I think that's why they clung to it. And yes, I think the parenting that we do, which is slightly strict and very involved, is good for certainly my generation of parenting, which tries to be too lenient. We try to be popular with our kids. We're not strict enough. It's ok to be strict. Not mean, but in an effort to go against sort of how meanly we were raised, we've gone too much the other way. I think 7th Heaven gives parents permission to be strict, as the Camdens do it, and it's working, for the most part. 

 

 

So you're OK with being seen as a role model because your character is one?

Yes, if it's a positive thing. When I took the job, I was embarrassed that the character was an at-home mom. I kept saying to the writer, "Can't Annie go to night school?" But in society, in the real world, I'm a real mother, and I'm with real moms by day. And the professionals are choosing to stay home to do a good job. If we're not there for our kids, it all goes south. I know doctors and lawyers, women who have had their careers, done well, and now they're staying home. So to be an at-home mom is not the curse that it was 10 years ago. Now it's perceived as psychologically sound.

 

Are you a feminist?

Modern-day feminism
I think there's lots of brackets of feminism. It's a big word. I wonder where the feminist writers are now, with all the emphasis only on looks that young girls have. I mean, it's gone way, way too far. Where's the inspiration for girls being intelligent leaders and humanitarians? It's really weird how it's all about boobs and butts. So yes, I'm a feminist in that women should be smart and strong. But feminism doesn't preclude being an at-home mom. Feminism applies when you're growing and competing and building confidence so that in the workforce you know you're as good as anyone else and you deserve equal pay. I don't think women are suffering in the workforce. I think they're quite confident. But once you have a baby, and you give birth, that sort of puts you in the nursery for awhile. You can't deny that child, and go back with as much. It changes your life. You can't quite be the feminist you once were. You become a feminist mom.

Do you think Annie has struggled with that? There have been plenty of episodes where she defends her life as a mother and how she has prioritized her children. She is very strong in that identity.
I think she is a feminist in that she's strongly committed to what she's…she's a strong woman. And she encourages her daughters. I think actually women should relax on the feminism thing, because we've lost a little heart in the process. And I think we must be soft in some ways, and kind and gentle, and we can't kill that part of us in the effort to be strong. Then we're just like the crudeness of masculinity. If we overdevelop our masculine side, I think that's just as dangerous as under-developing the masculine side or overdeveloping the feminine sides.  I see at schools now—there's the "Queen Bee Wannabe" book, the "Mean Girls" movie. There's mean girls, and I think that's a result in a large part of too tough a mom who wants her daughters to be tough at any expense. And kindness is not a valued personality trait. That's not good. Mean is strong, too, but there's other ways that you can be nice and strong, kind and strong. That's the challenge. 

How, as an actress and as a woman, did you react to Annie's menopause storyline?

Were you consulted for your opinion?

I just wanted it to be funny. I love that it afforded me some comic opportunities, so the performer part of me kicked in there. I didn't care about whatever it meant. It was funny, so I jumped at it.

 

What do you think is the most powerful, most important big issue that the show has tackled?

I applaud them all. I think every topic has an audience and people who suffer with it. I know the one that surprised me, that first made me realize that what we were doing was important. Early on in the seasons, one or two years into the show, we did a thing on cutting, where girls cut themselves. And lo and behold, there was a huge response from many girls who were practicing that. They were in such pain that they cut themselves. There's so much pain, that at least they can pinpoint it in a cut. Enormously sad things like that, that surprised me. It's all surprising, and I'm just glad that someone in the audience for an hour can feel that someone else is dealing with it.

 

Of all the Camden kids who are married or about to be married, none of them seems to have a relationship that is a perfect imitation of their parents. But I'm wondering which one you think has the best relationship?
Obviously, Matt and Sarah, and Lucy and Kevin. Ruthie will be fine, and Simon will be fine. Mary's divorce. They had to deal with an actress leaving—so did Barry [Watson, who plays Matt Camden]. Their contracts were up, so you deal with an absent character. I feel like the Mary thing is sad. I think it seems like we've lost a daughter. We talk about her, but it's not this rosy picture. But again, people are grateful that the show isn't embroidered in a doily. It does reflect reality, and it's not perfect.

 

What do you think makes the best kind of marriage? Is it what the Camdens have?

Why married couples should "stick it out"
I think the decision that it is "till death do you part." That the vows really are like a blood trust pact. Because then you tough it out, unless there's severe abuse or cheating, or major, horrid problems, then you stick it out. And once you have children, it should be a bigger deal to split up. It should be more shameful again. It should be embarrassing, it should be something not politically correct. It should be right up there with caffeinated coffee and whatever the heck we're so worried about. Divorce is really, really very damaging, and should be done with great hesitation.

 

Do you feel that faith informs everything that you do, within and outside of your career, or is it more compartmentalized?

It's everything. You just plug into that. We're all going to die, and you don't want to wait until you're on your deathbed, or in some horrible situation, and then you're panicking and turn to God and beg for help. I think that's cheap. Get the relationship going sooner, so that in times of need you'd have a right to say, we're close here.

 

Of course, faith also has to be connected with how you treat your fellow human beings. That's where it's really hard—if someone cuts you off to not curse at them. To forgive every aspect of life. I get so mad at people—I just hate them. And the last thing I want to do is forgive them, and the last thing I want to do is love them. Christ says love your enemies. Well, it's really horribly hard. So it's a constant struggle.

 

What role does faith play in your activism on the Darfur issue?

Any God people have certainly believes in love. And love is action, or it's meaningless. There's always someone to help. Certainly in this country, we have so many things, and we have a lot of money, and we have a lot of food. I just think that if people could make it part of their lives where part of their budget is giving something, just a little bit. Certainly Africa—I work with Catholic Relief Services because the starvation is so intense, and right now genocide is a no-contest for what's the worst thing on the planet, and that's what's happening in Darfur.

 

What first inspired you to get involved with Darfur?

Way back in Kosovo, I sort of woke up in the middle of the night, and that was again genocide, in Yugoslavia. I called Catholic Relief Services in the middle of the night, and this nun answered in Baltimore, and I just wanted to find out how I could give some of my "7th Heaven" money. After that, Rwanda happened, and again, they were right there on the ground with the relief stuff. Then the movie comes out 10 years later, and people are horrified. But for Darfur now, I'm like, let's not wait 10 years until they make a movie about the slaughtering in Darfur. We can do something right today. People can give just $30, which feeds a family of 6 for a whole month. Thirty bucks!

 

Do you have a favorite prayer?

Her favorite prayer
Christ did say one prayer. He said, when you pray—that's a quote— say this. And that is the Our Father. I would probably just quote Christ in that. That is a beautiful prayer, and you can think about it. You can meditate on it a long time, just every little part of it. Ok, "Our father." That means we have a father. Christ is saying you can call God "father." "Who art in heaven." Ok, so he's up in heaven. "Hallowed be your name." He wants some respect. "Give us this day our daily bread" Be happy with what you have. "Forgive us." We can be forgiven by this loving father, but also we are expected to forgive others. "Lead us not into temptation," that means that there is temptation, and "deliver us from evil." Amen. It pretty much covers it all. It's not original, but….

 

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.