Seven of the most influential Christians in Hollywood
Hollywood has a secret. In among all the stories of gossip, scandal and bad behaviour among the super-rich, are others that we rarely hear. Actors, directors and producers who have chosen to live a different way while they pursue their film-making passions. They're not afraid to talk about their Christian faith – often to the bewilderment of the media – and they frequently choose their roles and projects based on alignment with their beliefs. Christian Today uncovers just seven of the many Christians working in Hollywood today, and learns a little more about what makes each of them tick.
1) Mark Wahlberg
A regular attendee of a Los Angeles Catholic church, tough guy actor and former rapper Wahlberg told Piers Morgan that "my faith has allowed me to overcome a lot of things." He even claims to attend church every day – calling his faith the most important element in his life, and the reason he has found restoration after an early life involving a drug addiction, gang involvement and prison time. He credits his old Parish Priest, Father James Flavin, with turning his life around: "He was the one person who never gave up on me," Wahlberg told the Daily Mail. "He was always there for me, through the good times and the bad. Back then there were more bad times than good. But he always had faith that I could change my ways."
2) Tyler Perry
Actor, director, writer, author and gospel songwriter (among other things) Tyler Perry is an American phenomenon, with a string of entertainment smashes behind him, including a series of eponymous films (Tyler Perry's Why did I Get Married, etc), plays and TV shows. He's a brand, and a precociously talented man, but he's also an advocate for family values and a strong Christian. Churchgoing isn't easy for Perry though, because he's instantly recognised as soon as he attends. He told American website Beliefnet in 2009: "The last time I was in church was maybe New Year's and I was down on my knees – what we do at New Year's is we pray. And there are people slipping notes in my hands as I'm praying. It's so difficult now because I miss it. It's not the same for me because when I go to some churches, the sermons become about me and they're mentioning me and talking. I just want to just go to church."
3) David Oyelowo
An RSC star who was one of the original stars of hit TV show Spooks (MI5 in the USA) Oyelowo took the leap of faith of moving his family to Los Angeles in the pursuit of film stardom. It duly followed, first with roles in The Last King of Scotland and George Lucas' Red Tails, then parts in more significant films including Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Lincoln and The Butler. Now he's filming the biggest role of his career – as Martin Luther King in Lee Daniels' biopic Selma. Oyelowo is a strong and committed Christian – he told The Independent about his personal discovery of faith: "I literally heard God speak to me about how much He loved me. That voice never abated. Like any relationship, it becomes deeper. It's a hard thing to explain – it's like explaining love to someone who has never fallen in love."
4) Kristin Chenoweth
A Broadway star before Glee thrust her into the Hollywood limelight, Chenoweth is perhaps best known as a founding lead cast member of the Wizard of Oz musical Wicked. She described herself to the New York Times as a "non-judgemental, liberal Christian" and has courted controversy due to her support of gay rights, and also her participation in GCB (Good Christian Belles), a TV comedy/drama about nominal Christianity in Texas. Defending herself, she told ABC News: "The Bible tells us that we're not supposed to judge, and people shouldn't judge before seeing the show. I'm a Christian, I think that's pretty well known, and I would never do anything that I think crossed the line."
5) Martin Sheen
The undisputed star of The West Wing and a range of films spanning several decades, the man born Ramón Estévez is a committed Catholic, having been won over by 'Vatican II' and its focus on the social gospel. He told Christianity magazine that he defines himself as a "radical Catholic", who knows he's loved because of genius of God who chose to be human, small and broken... That makes me realise I am healed, here in this reality, and I can heal others."
6) Ralph Winter
By no means a household name, Ralph Winter is nevertheless one of the most successful producers in the history of modern cinema, with a string of hits to his name including four X-Men films and five of the William Shatner Star Trek movies. More recently Winter has been involved in bringing faith into the cinematic mainstream, partly through his involvement with 20th Century Fox's dedicated 'Fox Faith' label. Winter regularly speaks at Christian conferences and prayer breakfasts, and told CBN's The 700 Clubthat he considered becoming a pastor as he was growing up. In a fascinating interview, he outlines a bigger vision for Christian involvement in film: "How come we, as Christians, don't tell stories that we're so fascinated by? It's got to have a happy ending; it can't be dark. It's got to be happy...I don't think we know our audience. Well, Jesus' stories resonates with everyone whether you're a Christian or not. We have to learn about telling original and interesting stories."
7) Angela Bassett
Best known for her portrayal of Tina Turner in 1993's What's Love Got to do With it? and more recently a key role in Olympus Has Fallen, Bassett is entirely comfortable talking about her beliefs. She recently told the LA Times, "When you realize that every breath is a gift from God. When you realize how small you are, but how much he loved you. That he, Jesus, would die, the son of God himself on earth, then you...you just weep." Bassett attends the same LA church as Denzel Washington, another actor who often talks about his Christian faith.