|The Hollywood Insiders
The power and influence Hollywood holds is no
surprise. It directs fashion trends, makes or breaks political careers,
and has become the driving force for the morality of our society. What has
been a surprise, and a pleasant one at that, is the spiritual programming
that?s been hitting the screens lately ? both at home and in theaters.
John Lewis, a writer and director who works in both
the secular and Christian markets, believes the shift toward spiritual
programming is due to the desire for more personal programming ? filling
the void left in the wake of overwhelming special effects. ?I think
people want to get back to the basic story concept with programs that have
messages and meaning in the end,? Lewis says.
But perhaps the best explanation for the trend
toward spiritual programming is Christians working inside the industry.
Through their consistent influence and prayers, progress is being made in
the way Hollywood uses its power.
While the Hollywood insiders are up against some
large obstacles (dealing with how Christianity is perceived, being judged
by fellow believers, and struggling to making God-honoring decisions in
their lifestyles and careers), it?s encouraging to know there are a
number of Christians inside the industry who feel called to work in their
field. They encourage each other and network to provide opportunities to
expand their profession, their Christian message, and their influence on
positive programming. Here are just a few of those who are making a
Many people assume that Victoria Jackson must have
come to know the Lord after her years on ?Saturday Night Live.? After
all, the popular, late-night, sketch comedy series isn?t notorious for
being pro-Christian. But Victoria has been a believer since she was a
At a young age, all she wanted to do when she grew
up was be Maria in ?The Sound of Music.? Her dad said, ?It sounds
like you want to be an actress. That could be tough because you might be
tempted to compromise your Christian values in your career. But if that?s
what you want to be, then I?d give it 100 percent.?
Realizing the power of comedy during the college
years, Victoria moved to Hollywood and started getting roles in movies
like ?The Pick-Up Artist? and ?UHF.? Then she joined the cast of
?SNL? and worked with performers like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and
Chris Farley. Being a Christian, she was definitely a minority. ?Everybody
was very nice to me on ?Saturday Night Live.? They respected me for my
talent,? she says. ?But I was the only Christian in the whole cast.
That can be kind of scary. Sometimes you want to say, ?I?m not Jesus.
Don?t hold me up as a perfect role model.??
Still Victoria took advantage of the opportunities
she had to share her faith. Believing that it?s the small things that
make the biggest difference, Jackson would sign Bible verses on her 8x10s.
She remembers one fan told her: ?I?ll never forget when I sent you a
fan letter and you sent me back Luke 1:37.?
People on the show knew where she stood as well.
For Christmas one year, she bought an audiocassette version of the Bible
for the cast and crew. Another time, writer Al Franken asked Victoria why
she acted ditsy all the time when it was clear to him that she was an
intelligent woman. Her response was, ?Maybe I act lighthearted all the
time because I?m overcompensating for what I?m really thinking about,
which is that everyone?s dying and going to hell.?
Finding herself creatively stumped, Jackson wanted
to get back on the road doing stand-up comedy. She feels that the Lord
gave her an act. ?I thought, ?This is totally a waste of people?s
lives unless I tell the gospel in some way.? But it?s difficult to
tell the gospel in a comedy club. People want to laugh. So I end with a
bit about death and I include John 3:16,? she explains.
When she isn?t working on various projects in Los
Angeles, Victoria lives in Miami with her husband and two children.
John and Nancy Lewis
and Nancy Lewis have been married ? both to each other and to their
respective careers in entertainment ? for over 20 years. Twelve years
ago, Nancy joined the staff of NBC?s long-running hit ?Days of our
Lives? as a runner (or ?gopher?). Four years later, she was named
assistant to the executive producer, a job that makes her the liaison
between actors and their boss. She says that God has used her behind the
scenes, whether for a change in the script that made a stereotypical evil
priest character virtuous, or for bringing in her Baptist Hymnal to help
the Jewish musical director find hymns for a church scene (an espisode
that won the show an Emmy for music). Nancy, like her husband John, feels
that the biggest hurdles are within the church. ?People were really
putting me down for working here,? she laments. ?Instead of holding me
up in prayer, they were attacking me. I just felt like, ?This isn?t
worth it. I?m tired of having to defend where I work.? I thought we?re
supposed to be a light.?
John Lewis has written a little bit of everything
? from films like Hallmark?s ?Anabell?s Wish? to the pirate
stunt show at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He has felt the same lack of support
from the church. ?Christians judge why we?re here. Someone once asked
me, ?What are you doing in Hollywood?? I replied, ?Having lunch with
Zacchaeus.? I think there?s such a misconception that this industry is
any different than any other industry.?
John is interested in writing films that will
impact the world but doesn?t think impact will happen until he gets the
backing of the church. ?You?ve got big denominational organizations
who have budgets of three or four hundred million dollars a year, and they
won?t give a penny to make a great film. ?If I was given the money
right now, I could make a phone call tonight and assemble a top-notch team
of Christians who are working in this industry. They would bail on the
studios and come to make good films, but all we hear are the complaints.?
The good news is that God is using the Lewises
right where they are. John feels that his mission is not in Hollywood, but
in educating people on the need for higher standards in church
productions. Nancy is encouraged by the weekly Bible study being held at
NBC. She says that revival is taking place on the set of ?Days of our
Lives.? Actors Bryan Dattilo, Julianne Morris, Jamie Lyn Bauer, and
Austin Peck are four stars who have given their lives to Christ. It?s
gotten to the point where other staff members are nicknaming them the ?Born-Against?.
What can those outside the industry do to make a
difference? Besides praying for Christian brothers and sisters in
Hollywood, write a letter of thanks when you see something you like. ?Every
letter gets read,? says Nancy. ?A synopsis is sent to the network and
producers. They figure that for every letter, there?s probably 10
thousand others who feel that way.?
Studios paid for John Kersey?s seminary education. He worked the swing
shift in the set department from 2:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., then went to
seminary during the rest of the morning to prepare for three years on the
mission field in Japan. When he returned to the States, he eventually
picked up his career in Hollywood where he had left off.
In the past 25 years, Kersey has climbed his way to
being the set director on numerous TV shows and movies (such as ?Independence
As the boss, being ethical and fair is one way John
earns the admiration of his crew. However, when a national paper quoted
him saying, ?I accepted Christ as my Savior in September 1966 and I?m
proud of that,? his employees did take shots at his faith, even asking
him if he could perform weddings and funerals on the set.
It?s easy to see how an actor can make a
difference on-screen, but what can a set director do to send a visible,
spiritual message to the mass audience? Currently, John is working on the
NBC drama ?Providence.? The series required an old church that
functions as a medical clinic. After installing the arched doorways and
stained glass windows, the producers felt that something was missing in
capturing the look of a church. John suggested they paint Scripture verses
on the upper trim to give the set authenticity. The writers loved the idea
but wondered if he would have trouble locating a Bible. When he assured
them he could find one, their only request was that he keep the verses
generic. That?s how passages like ?The Father has sent His Son to be
the Savior of the world? (1 John 4:14) came to grace the walls of a
John also witnesses to his crew by inviting them to
church during special events when he may be singing or speaking. ?We
were having a Christmas special and 20 members of my crew came to see me.
One of the guys who came has since accepted Christ as his Savior. Then his
wife became a Christian,? John enthusiastically relates. ?I didn?t
throw it down their throats. I didn?t force Christ on them. I was there
At times, some churches settle for less when it
comes to the technical aspects of their Christmas or Easter productions.
But John, who has written and built the set for a long-running passion
play, thinks that the church can do better. ?I think they should be
higher in their vision because we?re reaching a crowd for a higher cause
? the cause of Christ. If we had the quality that was done in the
(Hollywood) industry, it?s unimaginable what we could do for Christ.?
son-in-law Bryan MacKenzie in the blockbuster film ?Father of the Bride?
pigeonholed actor George Newbern into nice guy roles. Not that niceness
isn?t a good quality ? the man is nice. After all, most people wouldn?t
invite me over to their house on a Sunday afternoon following a sleepless
night with their new baby. George?s wife, actress Marietta DePrima who
stars in ?The Hughleys,? even offered me some apple juice. Let?s
face it: this is a nice family.
George appeared in films life ?Adventures in
Babysitting? and ?Switching Channels? before the big Steve Martin
film made his face famous. ?It?s pretty rare to have a job where you?re
fulfilled creatively, it?s a success, and a good experience. All of
those elements don?t usually come into play,? he says of ?Father of
the Bride.? After the movie, he did the sequel and continued the
character in Hallmark commercials, a decision that was made with his
children?s college education in mind.
Millions more saw his face grace their TV screens
last fall when he played the object of Jenifer Aniston?s affection on
NBC?s ?Friend.? That was fun. It?s a great cast ? very friendly,?
Do people in Hollywood know about his Christian
faith? ?It seems that in every job, I get into a conversation about God,?
he explains. ?Once you?re talking about God, you can start to talk
about Jesus.? He says that people?s reaction to his faith includes
pausing for a moment, glazing over a bit, then saying, ?OK? with some
skepticism in their voice. He can see them processing it, thinking, ?Well,
he doesn?t have a big pompadour haircut. He isn?t wearing shiny white
shoes. He doesn?t live in a neo-gothic living room like they do on
religious television.? He explains, ?That orange crushed velvet carpet
stereotype that gets beamed out to the world is really looked down on in
The Newberns have a lot of Christian friends in the
industry like Patricia Heaton (?Everybody Loves Raymond?) and her
husband David Hunt (?Eyes Wide Shut?). When they get together, they
discuss how difficult it is to be in the world, doing good work within
your craft, yet not alienating people who dislike your beliefs. ?The
culture out here is anti-Christian,? he says. ?It?s not like they
say, ?We hate Christians.? It?s just that everything that gets made
has to have an edge, some sense of betrayal, danger, or deceit. But living
within that culture can be like waling across hot coals.?
With most of the available roles involving the dark
side of human nature, George admits that he has chosen jobs that may have
compromised what he stands for. About a year ago, he did a small,
independent feature with Robert Downey Jr. and Stephen Baldwin that was
questionable. His reason for taking the role was that his character wasn?t
involved in some of the darker stuff, but after viewing the finished
product, he and his wife groaned. ?There are times that I?ve
definitely screwed up, and there are things I shouldn?t have taken, but
I do try. I really do try.? In other words, not every role is going to
be Moses. Until there are more films like ?The Apostle? and ?Shadowlands,?
Christian actors like George Newbern will keep trying.
isn?t impressed with me being on ?Days of our Lives.? He isn?t
impressed with the success that I may have in Hollywood. It makes it
easier to know that if things don?t pan out the way that I want them to,
it?s OK. If it?s in His will, that?s what I want for my life,? So
begins my conversation with Austin Peck, a man whose face is familiar from
his show, his calendar, and stories in fan magazines.
Four years ago, Austin was working as a model in
New York City. As he walked up 10th Street, he said, ?God, if
you want me to be a successful actor, I will. I give my life to You. My
life is Yours.? But it felt as if God was replying, ?I see your heart,
Austin, but you don?t know My Son. You have no power in your life, no
covering ? you don?t have that hedge.?
A few years later, his mom called to tell him that
his sister was born-again. At the time, he questioned his sister?s
loyalty to the faith, thinking, She?s gone from silk-screening
T-shirts to car washing to wanting to be a masseuse and now she?s a
born-again Christian? But the convicting of the Holy Spirit was so
strong during conversations with his sister, he?d hang up the phone and
pinch himself to make sure he wasn?t imagining things.
Meanwhile, Austin was trying to fix his bad habits
by his own will power, which clearly wasn?t working. Finally, it was the
passage in Matthew 6 that says you can either serve God or be a slave to
the devil that hit home.
Becoming a Christian didn?t solve the problem of
temptation. He had little problem ignoring drugs and alcohol, but things
like pride, vanity, and lust still present a daily struggle. Once he
realized he could have a relationship with God instead of a religious act,
Austin began asking for help. ?Lord, I?m a stupid man. Help me out. I
don?t want the devil laughing at my Jesus.? He says that when a
Christian sins, it?s as if the devil is standing and sneering before the
When someone becomes a popular soap actor, he is
presented with many additional offers for work. So how does an actor who?s
a Christian choose roles? ?If it involves blasphemy, I?m not going to
say it,? Austin explains. ?I?m not going to take the Lord?s name
in vain. It?s like cussing out my Father. I believe that if I stand with
Him, God will guide me protect me. Besides, ?Stronger is He that is in
you than He that is in the world.??
It sounds as if he may have an alternate calling as
an evangelist. But for now, Austin Peck is being used as an actor. ?I
believe in being an artist,? Peck says. ?I believe in going after the
passion God?s given you. If I bless someone?s day, it blesses my day.
If I can minister, I?m doing what God wants me to do. He has blessed me
with the boldness and the platform as an actor to speak to a multitude of
people?to go on national TV, to say what I believe in, to let my fruit
on the set of ?E.R.,? television?s No. 1 drama, feels like entering
a parallel universe. From a sunny, 75 degree California afternoon on the
spacious Warner Brothers lot, you step into a dimly lit, familiar Chicago
hospital that comes to our screens every Thursday night. You follow the
NBC publicist around empty gurneys and (thankfully) empty bedpans to meet
Deezer D, the actor who stars as Malik McGrath. When he isn?t acting, he
visits churches and schools around the country, performing songs from his
rap album Livin? Up in a Down World (available in Christian
During his childhood and adolescence, Deezer?s
relatives got together to drink. ?My parents told me not to drink or do
drugs. But when I started doing it, it wasn?t really a big deal,? he
remembers. For a while, sports kept him out of trouble. Then he was kicked
off the basketball team. That?s when the heavy drinking started.
Years later, his bad habits weren?t kicked when
he developed an interest in acting. One of his friends was making decent
money being an extra in films. Deezer D got his SAG (Screen Actors Guild)
card and started working. After a role on ?China Beach,? he told John
Wells, the show?s casting director, ?If you ever need an actor or
something, call me. I don?t have to be the star as long as I work.? A
couple of years later, John Wells came up with a script called ?E.R.?
He was putting the nurse?s names down and included a role intended for
At that point, Deezer had quit acting. He was
working as an intern in a rehab clinic and sobering up when his agent
called and said, ?You got the part.?
?What part? I haven?t auditioned for anything.?
?You know a guy named John Wells? He thought you
should know that you?ll be playing a nurse named Malik.?
Since that call, Deezer has appeared in the
majority of ?E.R.? episodes, as well as in films like ?CB4? and
Romy and Michele?s High School Reunion.?
A few years ago, he met some friends who were fun
and loved the Lord. They took him to church, and he asked Christ to come
into his life. Now everyone on the set sees the change in his life and
knows that he attributes it to his faith.
He has a great relationship with his ?E.R.?
co-stars. ?It?s like another family. I?ve probably been to everybody?s
house. I go to Eric (La Salle)?s house to watch the fights. I used to go
over to George (Clooney)?s house after church every Sunday. I think he
went to Bible school when he was a kid because he leaves some crazy
Scriptures on my answering machine, mixin? them up into his own style,
telling me to come over to play basketball,? Deezer says, laughing.
What?s the biggest mistake for a Christian to
make in the entertainment industry? Deezer D says, ?I think people get
born again and then come to work slapping people upside the head with the
Bible, passing out tracts ? I mean, you have to be the tract. You gotta
Some celebrity interviews taken from the video ?Hollywood
Lights?, available to order by calling toll free 1-877-WVINSTITUTE.