God’s Not Dead star talks acting, faith, family, and the state of America in original interview with SEVEN
by Rob Horsley
Grossing close to $60 million at the box office, God’s Not Dead, a Christian independent film from Pure Flix Entertainment, has been a huge commercial success. Telling the story of college freshman Josh Wheaton who decides to take a stand of faith against philosophy professor and vehement atheist Jeffrey Radisson through a series of in-class debates on whether God is, as the title suggests, dead. Despite several negative reviews from mainstream critics, the film has resonated deeply with the scores of Christian moviegoers who have trekked out to see it.
We sat down (over the phone) with God’s Not Dead star Kevin Sorbo (most famous for his role as the title character in “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and as Captain Dylan Hunt in the award-winning science-fiction series, “Andromeda”) to talk with him about onscreen achievements, career challenges and what being a family man looks like in the life of one of Hollywood’s most prominent Christian actors.
SEVEN: Tell us about your introduction to God’s Not Dead: What led you to take on this project?
Kevin Sorbo: I’ve worked with Pure Flix a number of times. I’ve done five movies with them through the years. I think my very first movie I shot with them was probably about four and a half or five years ago, called What If…. I think that What If… is an even better movie than God’s Not Dead. But at the time, they just didn’t have the game plan, the power, the money, or whatever it was to really get it out there. I think (God’s Not Dead) is just a really good movie…it’s a great family movie.
They came to me with it, and said, “Hey, this is going to create a little controversy,” but I read the script and I jumped on board right away. I said, “This is a great story.”
We need to create a discussion out there. It’s a $2 million movie…and it’s grossing $60 million in America alone at the box office. It’s incredible. I think, dollar for dollar, it’s probably the most successful faith-based movie ever done. They’ve just done a great job. It all starts with a great script—that’s what it comes down to and it comes from a tremendously strong word of mouth from people who’ve gone to the theatres to see it.
Why do you think God’s Not Dead has been so meaningful to the audiences that have received it so well?
I think it’s just very smartly written. You get the atheist point of view, or the scientific view, so to speak, and you also get the Christian point of view. It was a great way to sort of attack the atheist world that’s just so angry and crazed [in] their attack on anybody who wants to be a Christian.
I don’t get it when I’m turning on the cable station and I’m watching some atheist CEO of this ‘Atheists-R-Us’ company, just going crazy. I’m looking at the veins bulging out of the guy’s neck and I look at my wife and every time I say, “why are they so angry about something they don’t believe in?!” It’s amazing to me.
To me, the anger stems from the fact that they do believe, but they just don’t like the fact that there could potentially be something that’s there watching them and judging how they live their lives…they just can’t stand the fact that there might be somebody out there that’s actually keeping tabs on what they do.
God’s Not Dead definitely captures what a lot of Christians are feeling in some of the more secular parts of Western culture, universities being a prime example: How helpful do you think a movie like God’s Not Dead is to the ongoing dialogue that Christians are having with “mainstream culture”?
Pure Flix is great at…getting it out there and talking to pastors all across the country and saying, “Look, this is kind of what we want made, what do you think?” And they actually do put their input into what they believe would be a good discussion type of movie, and that’s what happened. I’ve got atheist friends that went to it and actually enjoyed it; I’ve got agnostic friends that actually said, “You know what? I believe in God now.”
And, [the movie is] shot well. The biggest problem, I think, for Christian movies is—and it’s gotten better over the last five or six years, but prior to that—all the cheesy storylines, preaching the choir. People don’t want to have that to happen to them.
In today’s media-television, magazines, movies, the press, everything-there is so much negativity, so much brainwashing so to speak. So I think you’ve got go after it in a way, as a Christian, to sit there and go, “Okay. What do we need to do get ourselves involved with more people that are just sort of out there saying, ‘maybe, maybe not’?” I think this is the type of movie that does it.
The technology, more than anything, has gotten cheaper… they’re able to shoot movies now at a lower budget that look just as good as a $50 million Hollywood movie.
How helpful do you think the types of intellectual conversations that take place between characters like Josh Wheaton and Jeffrey Radisson are for Christians in the real world?
I think it strengthens their faith. That’s what I’m getting from people on the Twitter and Facebook feed. People stop me every day I go out…somebody walks up to me and says, “Thanks for doing that movie. I appreciate it.” In some way or form they come up and say, “I saw the movie…wow. It’s amazing.” It’s pretty cool to see people’s response.
When you look at a movie like that compared to a movie like Noah, which they [made for] close to $200 million…and I don’t think it made $100 million in the States. I think they made their money back, but it was a disappointment to so many people. I looked at my wife halfway through and I said, “This is Waterworld meets Transformers.” Such a strange movie… I think the direction they went with that movie was just an odd choice…I didn’t know that Noah was a psychotic alcoholic that wanted to kill all of mankind (laughs).
It’s my understanding that you grew up in a Christian home, specifically a Lutheran home.
I did, it was a Lutheran household. St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mound, Minnesota, a little town of about 10,000 people, about 30 miles west of Minneapolis.
What was your family like?
I was the fourth of the five kids and [I remember] going to church every week. Our church got to be pretty big, so that Sunday school became a Wednesday night [thing]…and then of course, we were at church every Sunday. So it was just a part of life.
I was about 11 years old, you know when you start to get a little bit older, a little bit more mature [and] you ask more questions. I remember my pastor was a very ‘fire and brimstone’ kind of guy, and I just looked at my parents finally…and I said, “You know, I don’t think God is that angry…I think He wants us all to be good people. That was sort of a turning point with me—not turning away, just sort of questioning.
I don’t [really] consider myself reborn. I mean, yes I’ve done things in my life and sinned—I’m certainly not a perfect person whatsoever, but I’ve never stopped believing in God, I’ve never stopped believing in Jesus; I know they’re part of my life.
I try to pray every day. I’m sure that I don’t, but I mean, I pray anytime, anywhere. On the golf course, in my car, walking down the street with my eight-year-old daughter, wherever…I think most of the time I do more of a grateful prayer. I’m grateful for a beautiful sunny day, I’m grateful to have running water, I’m grateful to have three great kids…a lot of the things that people take for granted. All the time I try to remind myself that I’ve been blessed.
You’ve been quoted as saying you feel as though your acting career has been limited by Hollywood based on your political and religious beliefs. Would you say that’s accurate?
Oh, there’s no question. It’s pretty old news, but Hollywood screams for tolerance yet they have none whatsoever. They stand for freedom of speech—but only if you agree with what they say. It’s sad to me. I don’t have a problem with people’s politics if they’re different from mine. I don’t mind getting into debates and discussions, but I don’t get angry about it—if anything I might get more sad about it (laughs).
I ask because, as I watched God’s Not Dead, I began drawing several parallels in my mind between what was taking place in the classroom scenes and what you’ve been quoted as saying has been the case in your career. How much did you personally identify with that concept of being limited or held back in your career aspirations, and was that at all a factor in your decision to be involved with this film?
Yeah, I came out of the conservative closet, so to speak, years ago. It’s known in Hollywood, for anyone who gives a hoot, that I’m not a far left liberal—I’m just not. So I knew when I started being a little bit more vocal that it would hurt my career. I mean, I shot “Hercules” for seven years and “Andromeda” for five years, so I was very busy. [Between] 1993 and 2005 I was always shooting my TV series, but after that I saw a very quick drop off in studios wanting to see me for movies or for TV series.
This year I read for one. One! Between all the cable networks, there are probably 70 or 80 new shows that they were casting and I got to go and read for one. I’ve shot about 50 independent movies in six or eight years on the heels of God’s Not Dead, which was a huge success, but it’s a faith-based movie, so Hollywood doesn’t want to deal with that—they don’t like that; they don’t even give me any credit at all being in that movie.
It’s a drag, it’s a bummer, it makes me sad, but I’m still making a living doing these independent movies… I’ve seen it cut into my career, there’s no doubt about it. If you interviewed Hollywood people in front of a camera, they would totally deny it…but behind doors they definitely have their darts out. They’re throwing at pictures of people that are opposite of what they believe in…I don’t get it. I don’t understand where the anger comes from. But, it happens.
Outside of your film and TV career, what are the things you’re most proud of? How do those things compare to your onscreen achievements?
Well obviously, it’s my family, first and foremost. My kids are the most important things to me. We homeschooled, so I travel a lot; they travel with me. I’ve shot five movies over here this year, (laughs) all of them independent films, nothing to do with Hollywood…so the kids get to travel a lot with me there.
Pretty much my only private vice is golf. I love to golf—that’s sort of church in a way to me because I love being out there on God’s green earth. Trust me, I thank Him pretty much every time I’m on the golf course, for being able to enjoy the grass, the trees, the blue sky, all those wonderful things that we have.
How do you find the balance between work and family? For you, does being a family man mean making sacrifices career-wise?
Yeah, it does. Because there are times when I’ve had to take a job that’s [being] shot way over here, or way over there that they couldn’t travel because of personal things they had going on, whether it was football, basketball, or whatever sports they [happened to be] involved in, school groups, and dance…and I just said, “You know, I’m not going to take the job.” I’ve already done that this year! There were three jobs that I turned down because it didn’t match up with the things we had planned as family. So, my career is very important to me—I love to work, I love to be on the set, I love to be able to provide for my family— but, it’s important to be able to hang with them and be with them whenever I can as well. My wife is quite a pillar. She runs the household; I think most wives do (laughs).
We need to juggle it all; you do what you can. I always try to have one-on-one time. There are weekend trips…I’ll take one child with me at one time, and then three months later I’ll take the other ones just so they get to fly with me, hang with me, be at the hotel with me. That for me is a lot of fun, I love doing that.
Why did you decide to become involved in the A World Fit For Kids organization? Why was that particular project something you were passionate about?
“Hercules” started shooting in 1993, by 1996 we were the most-watched TV show in the world. We passed “Baywatch.” And when that gets out publicly, all of a sudden you get hit up with a lot of different people coming at you—foundations saying, “Hey, he’s famous; he’s popular around the world. Let’s get him to do this, or do that.”
I found my manager and I told her, “I want to work with kids. I want to do some kind of after-school program. See what’s going on in L.A.” And what’s funny is that she got a call before she even got a chance to look into it by a woman that was running, at the time what was called “L.A. Fit For Kids.”
She said, “I want to meet with Kevin Sorbo [about] my after-school program because my kids watch his show, they love his show and we are looking for a celebrity.” So I met with [CEO] Normandie Nigh and I loved what they did. We changed the name to “A World Fit For Kids” back in 1997. We’ve grown now about 12,000 students that we work with every year. We’re the number one after-school program in the state of California in one of the worst school districts in all of America.
What kinds of change have you seen through the work of the organization?
We have a 98 per cent graduation rate, compared to a 54 per cent drop out rate [for L.A. unified], and we have a 57 per cent higher G.P.A. It’s amazing to me that the backlash you get even from the school board there. We’re embarrassing them— we do a better job than what they do with our three hours in the afternoon with each one of these kids. I’ve gone to Washington, D.C. every year since then, met with congress members, shown them all the numbers, shown them the stats, try to get them to budget us to a place that would not only increase the 12,000 [kids] we take in, but I want to put the program into every school district across America. All I get in D.C. on both sides of the political aisle is a pat on the back and [hear them] say “You’re doing a great job.”
Here we are seven years later and we’re still in L.A., and our education keeps getting worse and worse and worse. The only deduction I can come up with from that is that there’s a purposeful dumbing down of our kids, with this whole celebration of mediocrity…controlling them through education. We have this whole celebration of just not letting kids get ahead of other kids because it makes other kids feel bad. It’s just like sports—every kid gets a trophy now just for participating (laughs).
I tell my kids, “No. Your baseball team was 2-11. You didn’t earn a trophy. You want to earn a trophy? Let’s go throw the baseball every day, let’s hit the ball more, let’s practice grounders.” They understand that now. I’ve done my own brainwashing. I tell them that the way to succeed is to keep trying. Not to just hang out and get a trophy because [they] went to practice—and that’s what we do.
When [kids] get in the real world at 22 and they want to get that Mercedes, [they’re told] “No, you’ve got to work hard for it.” Why can’t I just have it?” It’s a real eye-opener for this last generation and the one coming up now. That’s why we’re creating so many lazy people.
Where does that sense of purpose and hard-working values come from in your life?
I grew up in a very competitive household of four boys and one girl in the middle. We were in a dead-end neighbourhood with about 25 kids and we were playing sports all the time. My dad was a hardworking, blue-collar Democrat, he was a teacher to seventh and eighth graders…but the one thing he said was pretty much what conservatives preached—my dad always preached hard work. You work hard, you don’t expect handouts from people—if you can work, you work. I saw how hard my mom worked raising five kids. And my dad: not only was he teaching at school, but [in] the seven months out of the year that you can golf in Minnesota he was working on the golf course… he just had to make ends meet.
By nine years old I had a paper route…I was getting up six days a week at 4:30 in the morning, delivering 80 papers in the rain, snow, 40 below windchill in January and February in Minnesota (laughs), 12 months a year for seven years. And I learned the value of a buck and the value of hard work at a very young age and my dad instilled that into me.
As far as sports go, I was playing sports every day. I probably shot hoops every day, didn’t matter if it was 20 below outside— we’d chip the ice off the driveway. Baseball, football…I played them all and I loved them all and I was motivated by better athletes than me to make myself better. I remember when Tiger Woods came up, first thing that Phil Mickelson said was, “He’s going to make all of us better.” There’s your lesson about how good competition is. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and then Michael Jordan, and now LeBron James…these guys come along and motivate other people when they’re eight, nine, 10, 12 years old to bust their butts and become better.
What’s next for you? What can we expect to see from Kevin Sorbo in the months ahead?
I’ve shot five movies already this year; I’ve got one that I just love, it’s called The Secret Handshake, by Howie Klausner… one of his biggest hits was Space Cowboys years ago with Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones and James Garner. And this is a very funny family movie; you don’t even have to have kids to love this film, but it’s a great comedy. We’re hoping to get it out in theatres by October, hopefully.
I sold a show to the Hallmark Channel. We’re going to shoot in August up in Vancouver…it’s called “Can’t Get Arrested.” For those older people out there like me, it’s sort of in the vein of “Moonlighting,” which was Bruce Willis’ big start with Cybil Shepherd. It was a very funny one-hour comedy/drama back in the 80s.
I’m staying busy. I’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements. Since God’s Not Dead has come out, I’ve been hit up a lot more speaking at churches and at hospitals, a little bit off God’s Not Dead, but mostly [for] my book, True Strength.
I think the movie has just touched so many people’s lives, and I think they just want to hear my account of what it was like to be on it. People like meeting people within the industry that have a life vision that they have. It’s fun for them to hear because I think the press dominates so much of the news that they just get one side of the story from Hollywood—you don’t get the other side very often.
People appreciate it, and I get that from people walking up to me all the time.
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