by Greg Wright - Contributing Writer
Kirk Cameron's latest film, Fireproof, features a frighteningly realistic depiction of a marriage in meltdown. "You know, the anger meter was way up in the red zone in some of these domestic violence scenes," he says of the relationship's portrayal. "And even though it might be disturbing for some of your kids, if they’ve been seeing that in your own house, it might just be upsetting to see because it rings true. It’s reality in far too many homes. And the beautiful thing is that you see this guy go from a guy who’s all about himself, this big macho man who’s a hero with everyone else except with his wife, and he realizes that unless you can be a hero to your wife before anyone else you’re not a real man. And the way to get there is by first humbling yourself, getting right with God, and then you can start to understand what love is and begin to win back your wife’s heart."
If you’ve ever read much of my work, you’re well aware that I’m highly skeptical about “Christian” film projects—in the same way that I’m skeptical of just about anything that claims the name of Christ for itself. That name has been mis- or poorly appropriated so much throughout history that, to a dying world, the appellation “Christian” is more often a cause of derision or fear than a recommendation.
Sadly, in the film world over the last couple of decades, “Christian” has come to mean either “family-friendly”—which Christianity, and particularly the Bible, is most certainly not—or “second-rate.” And it’s odd, because we’d never demean preaching the Gospel, for instance, as “Christian oratory” or the work of Mother Teresa as “Christian philanthropy.” Either you’re doing God’s work, or you’re not—and it’s easy to tell the real deal when you see it, and the real deal doesn’t need the label, “Christian.”
So when I heard that a church in Georgia had started making their own movies as an outreach ministry and showing them in theaters, my hackles went up. I managed to ignore Flywheel during its initial release, but when Facing the Giants came along, I figured I’d better see it and get myself informed. And in spite of myself, I found the film to be genuinely moving, well-scripted, and consistently entertaining—even if several of the performances were rather wooden, and the feel-good conclusion seemed just a little too neat.
When I later took a look at the “Director’s Cut” of Flywheel, generously spruced up by Sony after they had such success with the theatrical release of Facing the Giants, I was convinced that Alex and Stephen Kendrick have a unique insight into what it means to be a godly man in an ungodly world—and a rare, natural (if as yet unhoned) gift for cinematic storytelling.
Still, I’ve never been known to ride on bandwagons, and I know full well that even Orson Welles is capable of making a dog of a film. It’s a tough business, and it’s nearly impossible to keep a decent track record intact.
So I was more than pleasantly surprised last fall to find that Fireproof, the latest project of Sherwood Pictures, continues an upward trend for the Kendricks. This time out, they tell the tale of a couple whose marriage is disintegrating—despite the fact both of them are successful professionals with plenty of friends. Caleb Holt, however—played by Kirk Cameron—finds that it’s up to him, with God’s help and only through God’s help, to win back the love of his life.
The film, which met almost mind-boggling financial success in its theatrical release, is due to be released on DVD January 27.
Courtesy of a national publicist, I had a chance last fall to talk with Cameron over the phone for a few minutes.
So it’s got to be kind of interesting for you to be working on a film where we see things listed in the credits like “Baby Sitting” and “Food Donations.”
Kirk Cameron: Well, Fireproof was a very unique production in that there were over a thousand volunteers that made this movie happen. It was very inspiring to be around so many people who gave so much with very little in return—other than knowing that they were taking part in something that was going to help rescue marriages.
And that counts for you, too, as I understand it, considering that you worked for free on this project as well.
Kirk: Well, you know, all of Sherwood’s projects have had volunteer casts, from Flywheel to Facing the Giants—and they did such a good job with both of those movies that so many of us wanted to pitch in and do what we could to make the next one even better. And I think it was successful; I think people are going to go in there and watch this movie and go, “Wow! This is even a step up from Facing the Giants!” I’m thrilled that it’s going to be in theaters all over the country. I’m very, very excited.
Can you tell me a little bit about Camp Firefly, to which the producers are going to donate some of the proceeds?
Kirk: Sure! Camp Firefly is a camp for terminally-ill children and their families. It’s a camp that my wife Chelsea and I started about twenty years ago on the set of Growing Pains. We were meeting a lot of kids from the Make a Wish Foundation, and their wish was to meet the cast and see a taping and get an autograph.
Well, we were just so touched by these families and what they were going through that we wanted to do something more—so we started an all-expenses-paid weeklong vacation for these families so the kids could be together with their moms and dads, uninterrupted, with their brothers and sisters, and get away from hospitals, and doctors, and needles, and treatments: just be together, reconnect as a family, make memories together, have fun, and laugh… and get some rest. And then be around other families that really know what they’re going through. And together, they make friendships and memories that last them a lifetime. We call it “Camp Firefly” because we hope that, like fireflies, this camp will be a bright spot in a very dark chapter of life.
Well, it’s got to be great to be getting a little more attention for that project through your work on Fireproof.
KC: Yes, I’m excited about it. We’ve never turned it into a big celebrity event, but any chance we have to tell people about Camp Firefly and get involved, we’re happy to do that. You can visit our website and learn all about the camp and how you might be able to get involved if you’d like to.
That’s great. Now, in terms of playing Caleb Holt, this has got to be a little something of a switch-up for you. You’ve obviously played stand-alone characters before, but you’re most well-known for playing two long-running characters, Mike Seaver and Buck Williams in "Growing Pains" on TV and the Left Behind movies, respectively.
Kirk: That’s right. I really enjoyed both of those projects, and I’m really grateful to both of them, particularly Growing Pains, for giving me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
But Fireproof is pretty unique. Caleb was by far the most difficult role I’ve ever played, very challenging. Physically, I had to put on 15 pounds of muscle just to be able to cut it as a firefighter—pulling people out of burning buildings, and lifting cars, all kinds of things.
And the range of emotion that was necessary: the anger, and the rage and frustration, to the brokenness and emotion that’s involved in the marriage relationship. There’s everything from romance to anger to brokenness and humility, and all of those things are very difficult.
So when you watch this movie, bring the tissues with you, because you’re going to be on the edge of your seat with your heart pounding because of the fire/rescue scenes; you’re going to be swept up with the romance of the movie; but even more, you’re going to see yourself in the mirror. You’re going to say, “Wow. That looked like what happened in my house last week… and I need to have happen to me what’s happening to this guy.”
Yeah. You talk about character arc in scriptwriting, for this guy it’s something else entirely. I was actually pretty shocked at the intensity of the domestic dispute between Caleb and his wife at the beginning of the film.
Kirk: Yeah. Yeah, I was too. You know, the anger meter was way up in the red zone in some of these domestic violence scenes. And even though it might be disturbing for some of your kids, if they’ve been seeing that in your own house—
Well, that’s the thing.
Kirk: —it might just be upsetting to see because it rings true. It’s reality in far too many homes. And the beautiful thing is that you see this guy go from a guy who’s all about himself, this big macho man who’s a hero with everyone else except with his wife, and he realizes that unless you can be a hero to your wife before anyone else you’re not a real man. And the way to get there is by first humbling yourself, getting right with God, and then you can start to understand what love is and begin to win back your wife’s heart.
One of the traits that they wrote into your character—which is pretty brave to actually put up on the screen today, particularly when movies are headed more in a soft-porn direction—is that Caleb is a hard-core porn addict.
Kirk: Yeah; and you know, if you talk to marriage counselors today, you’ll find that pornography—particularly with the advent of the Internet—is just so available and so invasive into relationships that it’s just a huge, huge problem. So we deal with the pornography, but not in a way that’s overly graphic. Even with kids watching the movie, most of it will go over their heads—the young ones, at least. But it’s clear what’s going on, to the adults.
Kirk: And I particularly like the way that Caleb Holt deals with it once he realizes that it’s a parasite that’s sucking the life out of his marriage. He’s got a baseball bat and he knows how to use it.
Yeah. Yeah, that provided some nice comic relief, the way that was set up in the earlier scenes.
Kirk: The neighbors. That’s right.
Yeah. Now, I’ve had real personal experience with pornography addiction and know how damaging and destructive it can be. What was really great about the movie, I thought, was how it showed—although Caleb deals with it pretty quickly, this being a movie and all—that healthy marriages and healthy relationships are one of the keys to getting past that. Because I think that a lot of men continue to struggle with the pornography addiction because they aren’t fixing their relationships while trying to get rid of that.
Kirk: You can talk to different people on that issue. I think, biblically, it’s clear that there are two different kinds of problems. There are fruit problems—like pornography—and there are root problems, like pride and love of self. And I think that things like pornography, drug addition, or alcoholism are fruit problems. What you’ve got to do is chop the tree down at the root. You’ve got to get at the heart, and that ultimately is done on your knees at the foot of the cross.
Absolutely. Now, how do you go about choosing the projects you work on? Obviously, of late, you’ve been heavily investing in films associated with the Christian market. Is that something you’ve consciously gone after, or an accident of circumstances?
Kirk: I would say that, as an actor—and as a man, as a husband and a father—I want to make wise choices in everything that I do. And that includes the projects that I take as an actor. I want to do things that are good for my marriage, good for my family. I want to provide for my family, and not just financially but morally and spiritually. So to be able to do projects like Fireproof, or The Way of the Master TV program, is a win-win proposition, because this allows me to do things that I have experience doing in television and media: I get to act, I get to produce, I get to write. But I also get to do things that are feeding people spiritually. So those have been deliberate choices. Now, that’s not to say that I’m not interested in mainstream movies—Fireproof is one of those that happens to have a faith-based message to it. But yeah: I’m all about family entertainment, whether it’s fun or adventure or drama, or whatever. I’m an actor. I just like to be part of projects that have some genuinely positive, valuable, redeeming qualities to them.
So what do you have to say to critics—and there have been quite a few of them—who look at the Kendricks’ films and say, “Well, yeah, they pander to an audience; but artistically, they’re just coming up short”?
Kirk: They say that artistically they come up short?
Kirk: Oh, I disagree. I think that, artistically, they do a tremendous amount with the resources that they have. You have to understand that, today, we have films that are being shot for many, many tens of millions of dollars; and when you can make a movie for $100,000 and with an all-volunteer cast, as good as Facing the Giants was, and tell a story that resonates with people as deeply as that story did, you’re a really talented and gifted writer/director/producer. And Fireproof is a larger budget. Sony has decided to work together with Sherwood, and it’s coming out in theaters across the country; and artistically, I think it looks great. And the story is very powerful. We’ve had screenings all over the country and the response has been tremendous. I think people are going to be very pleasantly surprised.
Greg Wright is Managing Editor of both Past the Popcorn and Hollywood Jesus. An ordained pastor, Greg is the author of Tolkien In Perspective: Sifting the Gold from the Glitter (2003) and Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004). A widely-known lecturer on Tolkien, Lewis, film, and fantasy, Greg resides in the Seattle area with his precious wife Jenn and their two cats, Grynne and Bearrett.