Actor Sean Astin (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) has no desire to preach to audiences, but he does hope his newest faith-based film “Woodlawn” will open the minds of people who have never considered Christianity a belief system that could bring positive results. The film was just release on DVD/Blu-ray Jan. 19.
In “Woodlawn,” Astin’s fourth faith-based film of his career (his others are “Amazing Love,” “Moms’ Night Out,” and “Do You Believe?”), he stars as Hank Erwin, the real-life father of the film’s two directors, Andrew and Jon Erwin. The film tells the story of Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973 when the school became racially integrated and incited violence amongst the students.
During this time, Hank, a former Republican State Senator from Alabama, was a chaplain. He travelled to Birmingham to help reduce the tension between the students on the football team by offering them a spiritual change.
“[Andy and Jon] made this movie as a tribute to their father because he told them this story when they were children growing up,” Astin, 44, told me during a phone interview a few weeks ago. “[Hank] was deeply affected by the evangelical surge in the late 60s and early 70s with Billy Graham and others. He came away from his conversion and decided God was telling him he was supposed to go and find people to help.”
Bringing religion into a public school, especially without permission from any of the students’ parent, was as controversial in 1973 as it would be today. Astin, however, understands why the chaplain did it.
“There was no system in place to help the students learn how to bridge a lot of the conflict of racial animus they had with each other,” Astin explained. “He brought his message of Christ to them and they respond really well. This movie is about what that year was like when a team decided to lead with their faith and what the positive and negative reactions were to that and how it affected their school, families, and rivals.”
Astin, who considers himself a Christian, doesn’t want potential movie watchers to think “Woodlawn” is some heavy-handed film that is trying to force religion onto them.
“It’s not about imposing a worldview on the public,” he said. “These filmmakers are sharing their experience. In this particular case, I think these Christians have a take on the world that is really noble and good. I’m proud to be a part of their project.”
Choosing to be a part of these faith-based projects happens because Astin said he is compelled with the storytelling. The same thing could happen if he was asked to star in a really good movie about another religion or topic.
“As a professional actor, I’m more than happy to evaluate any part that comes to me – an atheist piece or a horror film or any genre,” he said. “My mind is open to all of them, including Christian films. I’m not afraid to do a movie or a part that perpetuates a worldview if I think there’s value to it or merit to it. I’m an actor and I’m willing to do all kinds of parts that may or may not go against Christian teachings. My responsibility is to my craft as an actor.”
Still, Astin believes Christians have been extremely underrepresented in films and is happy be making movies that could change that. Astin admits he doesn’t necessarily think he is the right person to speak on Christianity at length, but he’s willing to share his thoughts on religion and politics if someone is genuinely interested in his opinion.
“I don’t feel called by God to preach the gospel,” he said. “I am not an expert on the gospel. What I am comfortable with in Christianity are the ideas of peace and love and forgiveness. The rest of it, I’ll leave for other people.”