Interview: Randall Wallace on the Braveheart Life

Posted on September 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Randall Wallace tells his story, from seminarian to songwriter to screenwriter of the Oscar-winning “Braveheart” and other inspiring films in his new book, Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart. It was a great pleasure to talk to him.

You write a lot about fathers in the book. Why are they so important?

I think in everybody’s male or female, we come to see our dads in a unique way. They represent a kind of strength or weakness. They represent a power. They are our first contract with the mystery of manhood. I heard years ago, I believe it was when I was in the seminary, that some psychologists say that the way we feel about God is almost always directly linked to the way we feel about our own earthly fathers. That if our dads were loving and kind and strong then we tend to think of God that way. If our dads were violent and brutal and unpredictable then we have that impression of God and we spend our lives dealing with that. I say in the book that I believe the father relationship is one of the pinnacles of the Braveheart life, and I mean that not even if it’s not your biological father, you need to find a man in your life you can respect and you need to find someone in your life that you can parent even if that’s not your biological child. And not necessarily mean to raise them from infancy but to have that kind of loving, caring relationship with.

Was there really a piano-playing pig you named Pigarache?

Absolutely true story Nell. I majored in religion and spent a year in seminary after that and got the opportunity then to go to Nashville to explore writing and writing songs like Kris Kristofferson. He encouraged me to go to Nashville and my first job manager at the animal shows at Opryland, USA. And one of the shows that I managed was called Barnyard Animal Opry. We had 8000 people a day who would see this show. The barnyard animals were trained to play musical instruments. We had a razorback who played the piano and I named him Pigerache and put a little bright, red sequin bow tie around his neck. He was a show stopper I tell you. You can imagine how proud my parents were.

You are great at creating strong female characters in your films, and in the book you talk about women warriors.

Copyright 2015 Thomas Nelson
Copyright 2015 Thomas Nelson

The first book I ever did, the first two books in fact, had women as the main characters and one of the greatest compliments I ever got was when an editor from New York who was not my editor said she thought Randall Wallace writes the strongest women characters in fiction today. I thought that was a really striking compliment particularly because I didn’t think of a particular difference. When people ask me how I write strong women characters I’ve always said I just imagine myself in the situation that they are in and I suppose that their feelings in that situation would be mine, that we all long for a reason to have faith, even in the darkness. The power of believing as opposed to knowing, meaning that when we know or we think we know we’re relying on what we take to be facts but when those facts are proven to be wrong then our knowing crumbles. When we believe we are acting on something that’s greater than knowledge, we’re acting on a hope and courage. Women I believe manifest that sometimes in a deeper way than even men do because women rely on their intuition more than their brute strength and intuition I think is one of the first steps on the road to faith.

You’re not ashamed to talk about faith but that’s very rare today. Why do you think that our culture makes it so difficult to acknowledge that?

I believe the difficulty arises from what we have all perceived to be the falseness of people who present themselves as having faith when what they’re trying to do is convince others of what they don’t believe themselves and that is manifested in the people who preach a certain morality and don’t live by it themselves. People who preach tolerance but are in fact intolerant. The strange thing about this is that intolerance is so often manifested by people who claim to be tolerant. That is the secular world is more hypocritical it seems to me than the faith based world is. We’ve entered the age of the thought police in which we want to say that it should be illegal to hate. And hatred is hateful. Hatred is heinous but we are free creatures and if we suppress the freedom of other people then I believe what we lose is their freedom to change and grow and love. I didn’t invent that way of being. I believe God did. That’s why we are creatures of free will. God created us I believe and I say this in the book for the purpose of love and that’s why we have the choice to love or not because if we don’t, it’s not love, its fear and God is the opposite of fear.

The word “freedom” of course is very important in “Braveheart” and which you have it carved on your mantle.

And carved into the stone of my heart.

Copyright 1995 Paramount
Copyright 1995 Paramount
And which you found that word and motto connected to your family when you first started researching your ancestry. So tell me a little bit more about what that means to you, freedom from what and for what?

Nell, all I have to use is metaphors. I don’t pretend that I have now figured out how to replace freedom with new rules of my own. I see freedom as the power to grow. Freedom from fear. Freedom to move into a life of faith, freedom to live a brave life. I think that the restriction on our lives is an idea that everything we do matters, that we are God. I think the fundamental problem is the violation of the first commandment and that all the other commandments are wrapped up in the first one, love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, have no other God before me. If we are saying that God is our physical lives then we will be condemned to a life of fear and trying to hold on to what we can’t hold on to. Young people ask me a lot when I’m teaching it various schools. I’m frequently asked by sincere, ambitious, young Christians, “How do you hold onto your faith in a business and an atmosphere that is so hostile today?” And I tell them that I don’t hold on. Holding on is fear and I’m manifesting what you just described. If I am afraid that someone else’s expression of their belief or their disbelief in anything that I believe is going to make me crumble then I am rigid and dead. If I am alive and open and trusting that whatever challenge I encounter I don’t have to come up with the answer to that God will give me the strength, the wisdom, whatever it is that I need or even the silence whatever it is that I need to respond and to grow myself and I am the only one that I am really responsible for or. And I think I said in the book there was a rabbi who once said, “if you don’t see God in other people they’ll never see God in you. “And I try to do what Jesus saw, when Jesus saw in the outcasts of society people who were flawed in every way, he saw in them the love of God. And those people were the quickest to recognize that he was the son of God.

My favorite insight from the book, which I think you’ve put very beautifully, is when you say that prayers makes us listen. I think that’s something that is fundamentally misunderstood by many people about the purpose of prayer. So I’d like you to talk about that.

This comes from hard personal experience. I so often approach prayer out of fear. My fear is that whispering voice inside me that it says if you don’t say just the right words or if you don’t pray for everyone you love every single day then God is going to let those people be hurt and God is going to turn those words against you. This is not the voice of God. Jesus clearly teaches the Father knows what’s in your heart already and who of you has a son ask for a fish would give him a stone so don’t worry about the words. And then I think I’m always giving God advice: make these to do lists for God. “I know you’ve been waiting for instructions from me.” [Laughs} It goes to that humility that says God is God and God and I’m just trying to bring myself into hearing God and listening for God. And that’s part of what I need to tell myself every day in one of my prayerful meditations that I listen for God. I don’t hesitate to do that, to pray for others. I think the Bible teaches that we should intercede but it’s not my power or my responsibility that work there. It’s God. Clearly I don’t do very well in the rest of my life but I need to listen and I recognize it and prayer reminds me of that. That’s part of the majestic mystery of prayer.

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Interview: Douglas Gresham of the Narnia Movies

Posted on December 9, 2010 at 9:36 pm

When Douglas Gresham was a little boy, his mother Joy married C.S. Lewis (known to friends as Jack), the author of the Narnia books. There are two different movies about the touching story of the romance between the sheltered British bachelor, an scholar who lived almost entirely within the academic community and the outspoken American divorcee, a Jewish/atheist/communist-turned Christian and an award-winning poet, who challenged everything Lewis thought he knew. Gresham had two sons, and after her death they were raised by Lewis. Her son Douglas is now the literary executor of the Lewis estate and he is a producer of the films. I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to him about “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and what he learned from his mother and step-father.
I know many people have come to you over the years with proposals for Narnia films. What made you decide that Walden was the right group to work with?
I’ve got a secret technique. When we’re making decisions like that within the C.S. Lewis company, where I am one of the leading people, I go inside in a closed room and I pray lots. And then I follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God, which is what I’m praying for. And the Holy Spirit of God indicated to me that Walden were the people to go with. So that’s why I went with Walden, and I’m not sorry. As always, the Holy Spirit is right.
Like any other relationship, we have our storms, mostly storms in a teacup. But if you look on the screen, you see what it is like to work with them. We’ve put very good movies on the screen, very beautiful movies. And that’s proof of the pudding.
I was so glad to see how well the movie did in portraying the gallant soldier mouse, Reepicheep.
I love Reepicheep. He’s great! We worked hard on him. He had a relatively small part in “Prince Caspian.” But in “Dawn Treader,” Reepicheep is one of the stars of the movie. They often say you should never work with animals and children. Our whole movie is animals and children! And we have a two-foot-high mouse who steals the show. We had to make sure we wrote his dialogue very carefully and got it right. And we had to make sure that the special effects guys got it right and he looked absolutely realistic and he does come across as a real character in the movie. He’s a star! He’s an absolute star. We don’t have to pay him, but he’s a star.
He’s really the heart of the story.
He’s a pure knight of Narnia, who goes to Aslan’s country without having to die first. That’s Sir Galahad all over again. So we really have to get him right, and I think we did. And Simon Pegg did a wonderful job with the voice, absolutely perfect for him.
One thing I love about the movies is that they are very welcoming. If you are familiar with the books and the other movies you will find what you want to see. But if you are not, you won’t be left out.
That’s largely the part of the books. We don’t make sequels. We make stand-alone adventures that happen to include some of the same characters and places. This one shows us new parts parts of Narnia we’ve never seen before and many new creatures. There’s a continuity of casting but it’s a new story each time. You don’t have to have seen the other movies. You don’t even have to have read the other books.
But they’re also very respectful of the people who are fans, and as you know, those people have very strong views about how everything should look on screen.
I’m probably the most demonically fanatical Narnia purist of all time. So I do try to protect Narnia as much as I can. We do have to make changes in translating a book on screen. But I’m like a dragon jealously protecting the books; they’ll tell you I’m a real nuisance.
The Dawn Treader itself, the ship, looks just like I wish I could have imagined it. the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader.jpg
Pauline Baynes, who did the drawings for the Dawn Treader originally gave us these fabulous drawings and gave us a guide from which to work. We took that and wound up with this beautiful ship.
You were essentially raised by C.S. Lewis after your mother died. What did you learn from him?
He was my step-father and the only one who lasted long enough to have any real parental role in bringing me up. I think what I learned most from him is that Christianity is not something you just believe in. It is not enough to just believe in Jesus unless you believe Jesus and do what he says. Jack was someone who lived his Christianity every hour of every day. That was a huge example to me. It took me a long, long time to wake up to it, mind you. I’m trying hard to follow his example but I’m nowhere near as good as he was. But I’ll keep trying until I shuffle off to Buffalo.
What gave him that gift of faith?
Humility. In his 30’s he realized he’d been going the wrong direction. It took me longer. But he suddenly realized that and he turned himself entirely over to Christ. He made no secret of the fact that the Holy Spirit of God was the real author of these books and brought the stories to him. He crafted them with his enormous literary talent. But he was a humble man and that enabled him to follow Christ very closely. I’m an arrogant and conceited man and that makes it harder for me.
I am the man I am today because Jack was my step-father.
What did you learn from your mother?
Courage and the value of courage. She was still making jokes on her deathbed and laughing at her disease. She said, “I have so many cancers I could form a trade union of them.” Once Jack said something particularly pedantic and my mother said, “Could someone please pass the pedanticide.” And once he said, “What do you take me for, a fool?” and she said, “I took you for better or worse.”
What has been the best part of the reaction to the film for you?
Just yesterday, our church was having a baptism at our house because we have a pool. A little girl we know brought a friend over because she told her I was one of the producers of the Narnia films and she didn’t believe there was someone who had been living in Narnia all his life. I met her at the foot of our stairs and her eyes grew as big as saucers. When someone is so enthralled and affected by the movies, it is lovely to see, a rewarding thing. And I heard from an Anglican priest who had conducted a funeral, and then went to the movie and said he was “ministered to” by “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” That means a lot to me.
Be sure to watch the movies about Joy Gresham and C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands with Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins and C.S. Lewis: Through the Shadowlands with Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom. Both are superb.

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Behind the Scenes Interview

List: Spiritual Movie Families

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Beliefnet’s “How Spiritual is Your Family” quiz made me think of these movie families, among the very few on screen who are unabashedly spiritual.

1. The Blind Side Based on a true story, this movie makes it clear that a wealthy white family’s decision to adopt a homeless black teenager was not an impulse but was strongly grounded in a deep religious conviction.

2. The Friendly Persuasion is a rare movie that grapples with a loving family’s challenges in applying religious principles to difficult and complicated circumstances but with a supportive community. It is an even rarer movie that shows a character praying for guidance.

3. The Sound of Music a postulate brings not just music and warmth to a motherless family, but also the strength of her faith.

4. Fiddler on the Roof We see the family’s connection to their Jewish traditions and faith and to each other in the way they work to apply God’s laws and in their Sabbath rituals.

5. Not Easily Broken A young couple finds that it takes three to make their marriage work — the husband, the wife, and God.

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Why and when do we pray? — “Then She Found Me”

Posted on May 13, 2008 at 9:00 am

Oscar-winner Helen Hunt returns to the screen in the upcoming “Then She Found Me,” adapted from the book by Elinor Lipman. Hunt not only stars — she co-wrote and directed the film, which is about a teacher who tries to cope with the immature husband who abandons her (Matthew Broderick), the sensitive single father of one of her students who cares about her (Colin Firth), the sudden appearance of her biological mother (Bette Midler) after the death of her adoptive parents, and overpowering desire to have a baby.

Hunt’s character, April, is an observant Jew, like her adoptive parents. Her biological mother, Bernice, is not observant in any religion. At the doctor’s office, about to undergo artificial insemination, Bernice suggests that April pray. April refuses. And then, almost unheard of in a Hollywood film (and not in the book, either), the two of them have a private discussion of the meaning and importance of prayer. Do we pray when we feel closest to and most trusting of God or when we feel most lost and bereft? One reason April cannot bring herself to pray at this moment is that it will require her to think about just how much it means to her and to think about the role the connection that God plays in her life. She does not want to think about either. She does not want to give up the notion that this thing she is doing is human — and therefore controllable, not divine. We see for the first time how sensitive Bernice can be and how much she cares about April, how well she understands how much April needs to be more honest with herself about what is going on.

April does pray. But I wonder if the prayer she says is the one a real-life observant Jew would say in those circumstances. I guessed she would say Mishaberach, a prayer of healing, or Shehekianu, a prayer of gratitude and being in the moment. Instead, she says the oldest and holiest of prayers, the Shema. Perhaps the screenwriters use that prayer because it is the most widely recognized. Or perhaps, in her moment of greatest hope and anguish, April would reach back to the first prayer she learned, the one that reminds us that God is One.

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Spiritual films

Interview with Ilana Trachtman, director of “Praying with Lior”

Posted on March 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

Ilana Trachtman found the subject of her documentary, “Praying with Lior,” at Rosh Hashanah services. Lior has Down syndrome. His devotion to prayer has inspired the members of his close and loving Jewish community in Philadelphia. But the movie is not just about him. It is the story of a family.
Trachtman was a successful director of television programs . Her work was meaningful and satisfying and she was not looking for an independent film project.
What happened?
I prayed with Lior, that’s what happened to me. I was feeling estranged from prayer and went to a Rosh Hashanah retreat. The morning service was very long. I was counting the pages, thinking of what we would eat when services were over. It was literally like hearing a call. Behind me there was this off-key but consistently engaged and enthusiastic voice. I was really compelled because I had never seen anyone like Lior in services before. I grew up in a huge synagogue that never had anyone like Lior. Lior_postfront-1.jpgThe struggle I had with prayer, this person with half my IQ seemed so natural. I was filled with curiousity and envy. This was in the fall. His bar mitzvah was in May. I needed to get started quickly.

How did you get the permission of the family?

I expected I would have to do a lot of explaining, but when I started talking, Lior’s father said, “We’ve always wanted to do a documentary about the bar mitzvah.” That same spirit of generosity pervaded the entire experience. It was one miraculous moment after another on every level, a very b’shert (destined) experience all the way along.


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