I was watching the pilot for Doc last night (I know, I watch too much TV!). Doc was a popular show on PAX, and it starred country-singer Billy Ray Cyrus of “Achy Breaky Heart” fame. Billy Ray plays Clint Cassidy, a small-town, Montana doctor who goes to New York City to work for an HMO. He brings his home-spun, Christian values with him, and it’s funny to see how those interact with New York City’s cold sophistication!
I remember reading about Doc on a Christian web site, and it said that Billy Ray Cyrus often led the cast and crew in prayer before the show (see here). Not surprisingly, Doc is popular among a lot of evangelicals. It has absolutely no sex. Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman played on an episode. Focus on the Family sings its praises. It is a decent, wholesome show that the entire family can enjoy.
But what was weird was something I read in wikipedia’s article about Billy Ray Cyrus (see here). It stated that Cyrus “had a small part in David Lynch‘s 2001 film Mulholland Drive as Gene, a pool cleaner who had been having an affair with the wife of Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux).”
I’m not sure when Billy Ray became a Christian, so maybe he wasn’t one when he depicted an adulterer. But reading that got me thinking about Christian actors and the roles that they play.
There are many devoutly Christian actors who play in not-so-Christian roles. Ultra-conservative Catholic Mel Gibson has depicted characters who have pre-marital sex. Liam Neeson is a Catholic, and, while he certainly did well as the Christ-like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, he also played Dr. Alfred Kinsey, whose ideas on sex were not exactly Christian (to put it charitably).
I recently read Kirk Cameron’s autobiography, Still Growing. Kirk Cameron played Mike Seaver on the popular ABC sitcom, Growing Pains. When he became a Christian, he alienated much of the cast and crew. He refused to play roles where there was the slightest implication that his character used drugs or had pre-marital sex. He thought he needed to set a good example as a celebrity and a Christian. And he continues to hold many of the same standards. For example, he will not kiss anyone other than his wife when he plays a role. One time, when he had to do a kissing scene for a movie, the director brought in Kirk’s wife and gave her a wig so she’d look like the actress Kirk was supposed to kiss. Kirk takes his beliefs pretty seriously!
Kirk’s little sister Candace played on Full House, which was another popular ABC sitcom. And she has the same moral standards as her brother: she will not play in sexually immoral roles. She brings her Christianity into the workplace. The same goes for Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. As a devout Catholic, Caviezel refused to do sex scenes with Jennifer Lopez in Angel Eyes.
One thing that interested me when I read Kirk’s book was that a lot of non-Christians work on Christian movies–as part of their casts and crews. When the movie Left Behind was being made, Kirk was one of the few Christians on the set. Some of the other believers kept their faith a secret because they feared ridicule. And this was a Christian movie! What went through Kirk’s mind when he met those closet Christians was Mark 8:38: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (NRSV).
So I guess that Billy Ray was pretty brave when he lead the cast and crew of Doc in prayer! At least he was being open about his faith. I remember reading in TV Guide that Danny Glover didn’t even know Mel Gibson was religious, and the two of them worked together on who knows how many Lethal Weapon movies!
It’s so easy for a Christian actor to give in to the popular, morally decadent culture of Hollywood. And that’s why it’s great that there are some actors who truly are salt and light for Christ: they stand for Christian values in a community that continually scorns them, even as it spiritually searches. Some of the actors give in to the world totally. Some give in at times, while at other times they make a bold stand for Christ (Mel Gibson). And some are thoroughly consistent, almost to the point of zealotry.