Once upon on a time way back in the last millennium, actor Kevin Sorbo visited many a living room weekly via his popular action-adventure series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. These days, though, he’s often in movies that focus on another kind of adventure—a spiritual one.
Sorbo’s latest faith-based film, Let There Be Light, lands in theaters today. And I had the chance to talk to him earlier this week about his own professional and spiritual journey.
Adam Holz: Your latest film, Let There Be Light, tells the story of a famous atheist who has to rethink everything after a near-death experience. What drew you to be involved with this particular story?
Kevin Sorbo: Well, it actually came from my wife, Sam. You know, I’ve been doing a lot of family-friendly movies. You look at my series—I mean, even Hercules was pretty family-friendly and [the sci-fi drama] Andromeda as well. I’ve shot over 50 movies in the last 12 years, and I would say more than half of those are family-type movies.
So my wife just said, “I’ve got a great idea for a movie.” I said, “Well, then, write it!” Then she starts writing it. She reached out to a good friend of ours, Dan Gordon, who is a big-time writer in Hollywood. He was up for an Academy Award for Original Screenplay for The Hurricane with Denzel Washington. He wrote Wyatt Earp, which starred Kevin Costner. He came on board to brush up on the script.
And once it was done, and I read it, three days later I got a call from [Fox News personality] Sean Hannity. He said, “You know, Kevin, I really like your movies. I really want to do something with you that’s something in the faith world or the family-friendly world. I said, “We’ve got the script.” We flew to New York, we pitched him, he wrote a check. Within four months we were in Birmingham, Ala., filming. Now we’ve got a [finished] product, and it opens this Friday. It’s unbelievable for it to happen this quickly. Because most movies, from an idea to the movie screen, usually take about three to five years. And here we are about 16, 17 months in. We’re on 350 screens and growing right now.
Holz: You mentioned your wife, Sam. She not only wrote the script and had the idea, but she also plays your ex-wife in the film. And two of your sons are in the movie as well? Is that correct?
Sorbo: Yeah, it was a family affair. I directed it as well. I started directing back in my Hercules years, so I’ve been DGA [Directors Guild of America] for 21 years. But this was my first feature film. And it was really Dan Gordon’s idea for my wife to be in it, because she never really planned on it. And he said, “You ought to put your kids in there, too.” Since they’ve been growing up on movie sets their whole lives and taking acting classes the last four years, we just said, “Why not?” I don’t think we’re the first ones to ever put family members in a movie in Hollywood. They did a great job. They actually steal it in the comedy department and the lighter side of the movie. But there’s certainly a lot of heavy elements and dramatic elements that we want to point out, and say that there’s hope and redemption in all the negative parts of life.
Holz: Kevin, you’ve had kind of a paradoxical career. You showed up on the map with Hercules and Andromeda. But more recently, I wonder if it’s fair to say you’re better known for the faith-oriented films you’ve done. And you’ve done a bunch of them, God’s Not Dead and Soul Surfer being two of the bigger ones more recently. What’s it like to be someone who has “crossed over,” if I can use that phrase, from being well known in the mainstream to perhaps being better known these days for making predominantly faith-oriented films?
Sorbo: Well, you know, you hit it right on the nail. I travel a lot. I’m on the road a lot. I do a lot of speaking events for Youth for Christ and for pro-life [groups] and motivational speeches based off of my book, True Strength. And when I go through airports, when I’m in restaurants in other cities, it used to be, “Hey, I love Hercules. I love Andromeda. But 80% of the time [now], it’s, “Please make more movies like God’s Not Dead, like Avenging Angel, like Soul Surfer, like What If … .
What If … was really the first faith-based movie I did back in 2010. And it’s from the same writers that did God’s Not Dead. I think it’s a better movie, they just didn’t do a great job of publicizing it. And I don’t blame them. I mean, it’s tough when you have lower-budget movies. God’s Not Dead was just one of those amazing things: A $2 million budget, and it makes $70 million in America alone. That’s unheard of. And that’s the thing with my movie right now: I think this is the best movie I’ve ever been a part of. Sure, I’m partial to it. But it’s a wonderful movie. We’ve been screen-testing it across the states. And people’s responses have been absolutely amazing. So, you’re right. It’s an avenue I never thought I’d be going down. But here I am, and I’m loving the road that I’m on.
Holz: If you’re willing to talk about it, I’m curious whether there was a moment in your life when your faith began to play a more prominent role in the way you thought about acting, maybe the way you thought about your career. It seems like there was a shift in there somewhere, at least from my perspective.
Sorbo: Well back in 1997, I certainly had a big shift in my life. At the end of Season 5 of Hercules, I had an aneurysm in my left shoulder that exploded into my body and sent hundreds of clots down into my left arm, which almost had to be amputated. But three clots went into my brain, and I suffered three strokes. And I write about this in my book, True Strength. The studio kept it very quiet. It’s becoming more and more well-known now, because my book came out in 2012.
But, you know, I’ve always had faith. I’ve always been a Christian. I’ve always been a guy who believed. But I never really needed faith until this happened to me. And I certainly went through my wrestling with God, you know, the “Why me?” and pointing fingers at the world, when the reality was, “Just look in the mirror, that’s where the problem is.” I had to find a way, through God and prayer and certainly through tough love from my wife, to say, “This happened. What are you gonna do about it now? You can’t go back to the way you were.” I’ve always been a strong-willed person, so I fought through that.
I don’t think it was a purposeful effort to say, “OK, I’m going to do faith-based movies now.” But when What If … came to me through Dallas Jenkins, who directed it (and his father, Jerry Jenkins, from the Left Behind world financed it), it certainly opened my eyes to realizing, “You know, there’s an audience out there that’s being totally neglected, that Hollywood and New York City.” You know, they love to call [this region the] “flyover states.” Well, there’s millions and millions of people out there that want moral and high-value type movies, that speak a good message, and not necessarily preach to the choir. But movies that just have more positive messages than the negative stuff that Hollywood just pumps out over and over again.
I mean, my kids, you know, they watch Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show and shows that I grew up with, because there’s so much crap on TV, so much negative messages celebrating the dark side of life and celebrating the antihero. I don’t know what happened to Hollywood and what happened to our culture, but that’s the world we live in now.
Holz: That brings me to my next question. We often hear that Hollywood is antagonistic to the Christian faith. What is your “boots on the ground” perspective of what Hollywood thinks of Christians these days?
Sorbo: Well, all you’ve got to do is look at movies like Exodus and Noah. They hired atheist directors, for crying out loud. You know, Hollywood’s still a pretty much predominantly Jewish community, and they hired atheist directors to direct books from the Old Testament? Really? And those movies dropped 60% and 62% from week one to week two because it totally turned off the faith-based world. They went to it and said, “Well this isn’t the Old Testament. This is somebody’s point of view.” And they seemed not to get or to want to get it.
And is there a backlash? Sure there is. I’m a Christian conservative in Hollywood. Look, I have atheist friends. I have agnostic friends. We have great debates. We still part as friends. But I don’t understand the anger, the hate that comes from the Left, that comes from Hollywood, that comes from people who are atheists. I don’t get it. Why are you so angry about something you don’t believe in? What is it that Christians have done that have made people so angry when most of the stuff that Christians have done in this world—you know, that’s where our laws came from, that’s where the churches and schools that used to be good came from.
And the Bible used to be the main thing in schools. The Bible is given to prisoners. That’s what they give prisoners to read. But we’ve taken it out of our schools? Really? It’s weird to me. I tell my atheist friends, “The Ten Commandments, guys. I mean, you don’t have to believe in God, but they’re still pretty good rules to live by.” “Thou shalt not kill”? I mean, that’s pretty good, isn’t it? It’s a battle, and it’s interesting to me. I don’t have a hate for people who disagree with [me]. But the hate emails I get through Facebook and Twitter, it makes me sad, it makes me laugh at the same time. There’s so much anger, so much divisiveness in our country right now.
Holz: On the other hand, it seems like more and more mainstream or A-list actors are willing to participate in faith-based films. We’ve seen Greg Kinnear, Renee Zellwager, Jennifer Garner, Sam Worthington, just to name a few. Why do you think some of these actors want to get involved with making films that have a strong faith component when this message itself is often unpopular in Hollywood?
Sorbo: Well, as for Jennifer Garner, she came out as a Christian. She kind of reawakened her faith. At least she was open about it. As for Greg Kinnear, I know Greg, I don’t know him well. We do a lot of charity celebrity golf events together. He’s always been a great guy, nice guy. I don’t know where he stands with his faith. Maybe he realizes, “I’ve got a great career going,” but he sees the way I do, you know? There’s an audience out there. There’s an audience that enjoys these kinds of messages, that don’t want to go to most of the fare that Hollywood puts out there. …
I just find it interesting that when Hollywood screams—they love to throw their labels at people, “You’re anti-this and anti-that.” They say, “You’re filled with hate.” But I look at them and go, “But you’re the ones filled with hate. You’re the ones attacking me. You’re the ones who scream for tolerance yet have zero tolerance. You’re the ones who scream for free speech, but that’s also a one-way street.” So, to me, it’s like, let’s have open dialogue. Without getting angry about it, why can’t we just have a discussion about it and agree to disagree?
Holz: Kevin, there was a time when Christian films were known for being sub-par, for being perhaps too sentimental. But I think that’s changing. What’s your perspective overall on the quality of Christian films coming out these days?
Sorbo: I think overall it’s gotten much better. … [Take the Kendricks.] They have their audience. They put out great movies. But they’re not willing to take a step in a different direction with what they want to do. And that’s fine. They’ve gotten very successful, and the movies they put out are very, very good.
But I like to try to reach across the aisle a little bit. I want agnostics to go to see my movies. I want atheists to go see [them]. I’ve had people come up to me that said, “Look, I don’t agree with your faith, I don’t believe in God. But I saw your movie because a friend took me to the movie theater, and I was like, You know what, there’s a couple things in there that speak to me, that made sense to me.” So that’s all I ask for. It’s just, once again, it opens that dialogue.
Hollywood is very good at making the big-budget movies. That’s what they like to do. But when you do low-budget movies like ours—it’s a $3 million budget—we need people to come out and support them. They keep telling me they want more movies like this. They need to go to their local theater and say, “Hey, we’ve got a number of local churches that want to do a bunch of pre-ticket sales. And we’re going to get involved and bring this movie here.”
And that’s what’s been happening with my movie, but we need more. We don’t have $100 million to promote this movie. We just have my voice, my wife’s voice and Sean Hannity’s voice. And I’ve just got a message that said the president has seen this movie, and he’s going to put it on Twitter. That’s 80 million followers, and you can’t beat that kind of advertising. So I think it’s fantastic. That’s what you need. You need that kind of support because independent movies are only independent to a certain degree. We need people to say, “We’re going to fill up your theater.” It’s show business, right? It’s a business.
Holz: Kevin, we often hear that a movie’s first weekend in theaters is the most important. But our readers may not be familiar with why that is. Can you say a bit more about why that is the case?
Sorbo: Because if you don’t fill it up—that’s any movie—you’ve seen this summer a lot of movies that have just died a quick and sudden death. It’s been one of the worst [box office] summers on record. I think that’s also a message to Hollywood, saying, “We’re tired of this. We want something that’s got some meaning.” And these kinds of movies need a big opening. God’s Not Dead opened on 700 screens. By the third weekend, it was on 2,000 screens. That was all word of mouth. That was completely people saying, “You’ve got to see this movie.” That’s what we need with this one. … Actually, I want people to go to lettherebelightmovie.com. They can get all kinds of information on there and get it to the churches, get it to the theaters. They really need to storm the theaters and say, “This is what we want.”
Holz: What do you hope viewers take away from Let There Be Light after they see it?
Sorbo: Hope. Faith. That there is something. Ultimately this is a love story. And there’s a lot of different things going on in it. It deals with fathers, how important it is for them to be there for the kids. This movie really is about redemption and just finding a new road in your life when you think there’s no other way out.
We get down, and we point fingers, and we blame everybody else for our problems. But the reality is, it is that “man in the mirror” thing. You gotta look in there and say, “OK, what am I going to do to make my life better?” Some people think everything’s overwhelming. And life does get overwhelming. You know, we all have a story. And everyone’s got a roadblock they need to get past. Whether it’s an illness, or losing a job, or a divorce, or a death in the family. Whatever it may be. But you have to find a way to find hope and faith in your life.