It quickly becomes evident from talking to John Carter Cash, 35, the couple's only child together, that in making the film he was seeing through the final wishes of his parents, who died within four months of each other in 2003. Cash, who lives near Nashville and is a music producer, got Joaquin Phoenix to play his father and Reese Witherspoon to play his mother----just as his parents wanted. Cash spoke with Beliefnet about his parents' life together, especially about the unshakable faith that helped them through hard times and became the bedrock for their marriage--as well as his life.
Do you think it's a film a lot of people will enjoy?
Yes, I do. I think people will love it. My parents had a vision for a movie about this that, first of all, told the story of their love affair, their life together, and their early relationship--how they made it through their struggles, how they got together and stayed together. The film succeeds at that greatly. My father and mother both OKed Joaquin and Reese for the parts and were both very positive about Joaquin and Reese doing their own singing. I believe this film stays true to the vision that my parents had. It's a movie about their love and their life, and they set it all up. It was theirs all the way.
How much does the movie deal with their faith?
My mother's faith becomes very evident in watching the film--her strength in God. The film deals with my father growing up as a young man and his struggles. My father resoundingly professed his faith in God later. It becomes evident early in the film how my father wanted to have faith in the Gospel. But the major focus in the film is their love affair. It's not really a film about their faith. The point where the film stops off is the point where my father truly begins to seek out Christianity. The point where he started is where the film ends. My parents' number-one goal was to have a movie about their life, and how their love helped them come together. I believe we've done that.
There is not a lot of attention paid to his recovery from addiction. Was that on purpose?
Really, the movie ends where he's beginning to clear up. There isn't much focus on his recovery.
You have a strong faith. How much of that do you owe to your parents?
My father told me early on about having a life in God. Their faith was the light of their life. They always professed it--their faith and their relationship with Christ. I learned by example, from watching them get through their struggles. They'd always come back to their faith. My father and mother were together because of their faith.
Through all of my father's struggles--which are evident in the film--the audience can see that faith in God would help to provide him with truth, vision, and direction. So faith was always very important to me. I think early on in life maybe, as so many people do, I rebelled against one thing or another--whether it be music, whether it be the freedom that comes from the relationship with God. I had to go through my own struggles to find my relationship with God. That relationship that I've built has been a result of my own struggles. Sometimes, you find peace through misery. Having said that, what's most important for me to do now is to keep my peace. And the way I do that is through prayer and a life with God.
Well, what we have is a story about the formation of a relationship--a strong relationship. My father was a wildfire. Really. Nobody could save him from anything. His family turned away from him, and he broke up with his first wife. It just happened to be that when he was going to get back up on his feet, my mother was there. The movie is not about his relationship with Vivian [who died earlier this year]. That was never my father's intention, or my mother's, to have a movie about their life before they met. What they wanted was a movie about their love, about their life together with God. However anybody feels--how I feel, or how my sister feels or whatever--I still stand strong and true and firmly that this is the movie that my parents together would have made. That's all that matters to me.
You've produced an album, "Home to You," by the Peasall Sisters, the girls who became famous in the film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," singing the kind of music your mother loved. How did that all come about?
One of the girls, Leah, took fiddle lessons from my wife, Laura, for a long time. I got to know her and them through my wife's relationship. I got to be friends with all of them. Got together in the studio with them and did some demos and sought out a record deal with them. My mother--when she first saw "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"--she was exuberant when she heard those little girls. They were singing the songs that she was singing when she was a little girl with her sisters. And she said, "My God. That's me, Helen and Anita up there." She was very excited about their music. That's really when I first got to know them. I was connected with them in many ways early on through my mother's music and the songs that they'd sing. It made great sense to work together. It's very traditional music. It's the real thing.
Do you think there was a heightened interest in your mother's music, and bluegrass music in general, after "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
It reawakened people who were interested in "old-timey" music, the roots of bluegrass music. Where does bluegrass music come from? All the songs in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" are pre-bluegrass. There were a lot of bluegrass musicians out there starting their careers in the 1930s and 1940s who grew up listening to the Carter family. That's the roots of the music. There's a June Carter Cash box set on Legacy Records. There's a lot of music out there spanning her career. I'm glad her music is out there. It means a lot.
You're involved now with an album called "Voice of the Spirit." Is that music similar to your mother's?
"Voice of the Spirit" was a project I'd been talking about for a long time. It began as an Appalachian record. But it's a record of all pure Southern gospel. I got a bunch of different artists together and did all of it here in Nashville. Good friends making good music. They're all brand-new recordings, but they're old songs I've found in various places, including Carter Family songs.