God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness
The Franchise Continues with Big Questions Diverse Cast
In 2014 a little movie made about two-million dollars and took America by storm. It was a faith film about a college student who challenges his professor that God does exist. It was titled, God’s Not Dead and it brought in more than $64 million at the box office alone. Two years later another installment came out, God’s Not Dead 2, about a high school teacher that gets asked a question about Jesus in class and it ends up in the courtroom. This March, the third installment, God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness, will hit theatres and this time an unimaginable tragedy occurs leaving the question, Is God good all the time? David A.R. White returns as Pastor Dave and he is joined by newcomers to the franchise, John Corbett, Tatum O’Neal and Ted McGinley. Risen caught up with the cast on the set of the film while in Little Rock, Arkansas, to learn more about what makes these films so special.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine in Little Rock, Arkansas
Risen Magazine: David, where did the idea originate for God’s Not Dead, and then because of the success, a franchise has developed?
David A.R. White: That is the mystery of all ages. Pure Flix has been around since 2005. We’ve made a lot of different movies and we always wanted to make an apologetics film, that dealt with a lot of issues, that brought out conversations. When God’s Not Dead came around – obviously, the Newsboys song is one part of it, and the book by Rice Brooks is another part of it – we started meeting those guys early on. Then the script just came together with the apologetics at the perfect time, and that was really our first theatrical release. We felt that film was the one that we should take wide, and wider than anything that Pure Flix had ever done. So, that’s kind of what happened.
RM: For those who haven’t seen God’s Not Dead or God’s Not Dead 2, share a bit of the storyline and where this third film takes us?
DW: God’s Not Dead is about a college student who gets asked this question, “Does God exist?” His atheistic professor who wants to flunk everybody says God is dead. So, the student stands up and doesn’t agree with that, and then the debate happens. In part two, Melissa Joan Hart plays a teacher. A rumor spreads that she is trying to proselytize mainstream high schools, and in the process, becomes a court case. All of the films in this series are based on what is happening in our society right now. Also, if you watch the first two, you see all these court cases that were happening at the time. That’s our hope, that it is current and relevant.
RM: John, your career has spanned from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Sex and the City, and most recently All Saints, but this is your first entry into the God’s Not Dead franchise. What attracted you to this role?
John Corbett: The director, John Gunn, and I have a friend in common. [The mutual friend] sent me an email that said, “Listen, my good buddy is making a movie, and he’d really love you to give it a little extra consideration when you read it.” Because the way it works, is you get an offer, and they send it to your agent and your manager. I have both, and sometimes they’ll read it, and they’ll give their opinion first before I even get it. A movie like this is not a big budget movie, which means everybody’s working because they like the flick. Sometimes that won’t even make it to me to read. So, they were hoping that I would give it a legitimate read. I said, “Skip that, just send it to me [directly].” I read it, and I really, really liked it. I said, “Yeah, I’m in.”
RM: Tatum and Ted, what was the appeal for you two to be part of the franchise?
Tatum O’Neal: I just feel like we’re in a very difficult time in America where people are just fighting, and not agreeing. If you believe in one thing, you can’t believe in another thing. And, I do sort of think that Mark Zuckerberg is to blame for all of that, because of the algorithms that we get on Facebook; and we’re not really meeting anymore and we’re reading separate stuff. It’s less about talking at the market and meeting up and being able to communicate the way we used to. I just felt like this was a really good time to do something that’s based on something that’s loving and spiritual. Something different than what people would ever think I would ever do.
I just felt like this was a really good time to do something that’s based on something that’s loving and spiritual. Something different than what people would ever think I would ever do.
Ted McGinley: For me, I’ve probably done four movies for them [Pure Flix]. I love working for them; it’s just a great group of people. This came very quickly to us.
TON: The same day, I think we both heard about it.
TM: Wait… tomorrow? And, we were on planes.
RM: John, you play Pastor Dave’s brother and you are a public defender. What can you tell us about your character?
JC: Well, I’m the big brother and we’ve been estranged for a lot of years, because I had different beliefs. I’m living in Chicago now, and I’m a public defender. Our folks are gone. Dave’s living in the same house that we grew up in. I’ve moved on and I’ve cut the strings, really. Dave needs some help, and so he shows up and asks for help from a guy who would prefer that he didn’t show up that day. Through that, there’s a little bit of healing, and they come together, there’s also some fighting and some conflict.
RM: What did you pull from personal experience or research to inform your character?
JC: I’m a believer. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, and I’m a Christian. I’m not going to say that my character is an atheist or not a believer, but for instance, there’s a line in the script where Dave’s getting ready to go to church, and he says, “Hey, do you want to go to church?” I’m packing some clothes, and I say, “Not one bit.” That’s very revealing of how he feels about going to mass on Sunday.
RM: Tatum, you’ve had such a complicated upbringing, what does faith look like to you now?
TON: I was scared for a long time because my mother had been brought up a Methodist Baptist, in rural Georgia, and she had a lot of tragedy in her life. Her entire family had been killed in a car accident when she was six. Her mother and father and little sister, Virginia. She got to Hollywood and they started changing her, and making her skinny, and then pills; this happened to a lot of actors back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. She ended up going towards an evangelist-type of thing. My brother and I got really scared. It was too much for us. We were little and it was, “We will save you”, and we were like, “What is this?!” And, then, years later as I was battling my own issues, I really did turn to faith and I don’t talk about it very much; but I do wear a cross, I do pray, and I am a believer.
RM: I think your backgrounds are a strength to the film. Tatum, with all you have gone through, and Ted even being on Married with Children, when audiences see two people that have lived life, taken a variety of projects and are involved in a faith film, it makes the movie feel more authentic.
TON: Ted has had a far more Christian life honey, than I’ve had, but that’s okay. We understand and love you Ted.
TM: I think it is interesting that you wouldn’t necessarily think that I am a believer, and I actually don’t want that moniker, because, I can’t live a perfect life. I’d like to, I just can’t. So, I do the best I can, and I mean what I say. It is funny though, because having done a few of these movies, it’s very interesting because you have people who are hired because we’re all just actors, and some are believers and some aren’t. But there is an amazing atmosphere by the end of the shoot. It’s kind of cool, and some more so than others, it just depends.
RM: What makes the atmosphere special?
TM: We’ll often start the day with a prayer. If David [White] is there, we’ll always start with a prayer. And if he’s not there, someone else will lead it. David always mentions your family, which is very important to me. He prays please take care of our families. And when you’re away for a long time it’s so nice, because these guys on the crew spend hours and hours here, and when they go home, they’re tired. And the families do suffer during those periods of time. It’s tough, so it’s really nice to have that brought up and to feel like, “Whoa okay, hold on, everything is already a little different.” It’s different, it’s just different.
I did one film in Alaska, and we went away in the wintertime. I was working with people and we were doing a scene and some of the people actually worked in the building, they weren’t even actors, they just asked them to read the lines and it was hysterical. It was like film camp. But, by the end it was cool. It was just fun. We went into a church there that I will never forget. It was spectacular in Seward, Alaska. There’s a church up there that is just magic. It was one of the most beautiful teeny little churches I’ve ever walked into, but it was so filled with God, it was amazing.
RM: The film has universal themes and one of them is, is God always good?
DW: Yeah. There are a couple of different questions that kind of creep up. In this one we tackle, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” It’s like the age-old questions that you always ask, but I think to answer the question organically and from truth, is hopefully what all of these movies have been about. We’re trying to bring these conversations out, and we’re trying to bring them out in a real, organic, truth.
JC: The movie starts with a tragedy, so there’s a lot of sadness in this movie, but there’s a few laughs. We’ve managed to put a lot of our humor into little scenes, and I think, even though we never met until this movie, I feel like now, just after a few days, that I’ve known David for many years. We’ve put some of that chemistry into our stuff, because all our scenes are together.
DW: What I hope audiences take away is obviously forgiveness. The film is about love, it’s about bringing to light the healing, which, as you look at the evening news, see there’s a lot of chaos going on in our society and in our country. There’s so much fighting, and there’s so much anger. You can’t watch the news and be happy. Not that you can ever, but more so now. I think this movie is relevant for that, and hopefully, both sides of the aisle can go and watch this story about two brothers that really don’t like each other–which could be the symbolism of America–and healing, forgiveness, hope and love are found. I want people to walk out of the theater encouraged.