Joel Courtney and Anna Grace Barlow play real-life minister Greg Laurie and his wife, Cathe, as teens in “Jesus Revolution.” Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
NEW YORK, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The Kissing Booth, Sick and Super 8 actor Joel Courtney says his new, faith-based film, Jesus Revolution, offers two simple, but essential, messages: Be kind to others and give people who are different from you a chance.
“It’s a story of grace and of love and forgiveness. Greg is taken out of this world of drugs and he’s saved,” the 27-year-old actor — who plays real-life, artist-turned-minister Greg Laurie — told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Emphasizing how it is just as important to accept mercy from others as it is to extend it, Courtney said he hopes Jesus Revolution, which opens in theaters Friday, gets viewers talking because “there are too many people nowadays just judging others immediately and not having a conversation.”
Set in 1970s California, the film follows teen Greg, an aspiring filmmaker and comic book illustrator looking for meaning and purpose when he meets street preacher Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) and Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), the leaders of an enormous, enthusiastic Christian revival movement for hippies seeking fulfillment through faith, not protests or drugs.
Kimberly Williams-Paisley plays Greg’s troubled mother, Charlene, and Anna Grace Warlow plays his girlfriend and eventual wife, Cathe.
“Greg is a real guy, a lost soul in this era when there were so many lost people who were just searching, doing what they needed to do to be seen, to really be present — tuning in, turning on and dropping out, trying to do whatever they could do to feel like they mattered,” Courtney said.
“It turns out LSD and these drugs can be incredibly harmful to your system and corrosive to your soul.”
Courtney described the real Greg, who is now 70 and has been a church pastor for decades, as a “great guy,” who was supportive and generous with his time when the actor approached him to discuss the nuances of his life story.
“What a gold mine of insight into the character that I’m playing is the man himself,” the actor said.
“It was a little nerve-wracking the first couple of days when he was on set and I was playing him. [I wondered,’] ‘What does he think?’ But he was so encouraging, that totally evaporated,” Courtney said.
“He was saying he felt like he was being transported back to his childhood in the 1970s because of how good [the film] was turning out.”
The role required the actor to explore the depths of despair, the peaks of joy and just about every other human feeling in between.
“The emotional journey on this was so tantalizing. When I was reading the script at first, I thought, ‘This is going to be fun,'” Courtney recalled. “We really wanted it to be as natural and real as possible.”
Although Greg’s introduction to Christianity happens after the mesmerizing, but egotistical, Lonnie comes to his aid after a drug-fueled, near-death experience, Greg more closely aligned with Chuck’s less-ostentatious style of ministry and followed in his footsteps after Lonnie burned out and hit the road.
“Lonnie had this relationship with the Holy Spirit in a profound and daunting way. He had this power of healing in which people have these testimonies where they truly had no hearing in their ear and they had hearing after he blessed them and prayed over them,” Courtney said.
Numerous former drug addicts also insisted that they were miraculously relieved of their cravings after meeting Lonnie.
“The way that Chuck really structured his ministry as a pastor was scriptural from the pulpit, theological, almost heady, as opposed to leading from the heart, which was Lonnie’s style,” Courtney said.
“Greg sought the balance of both. He got some of that scriptural cornerstone foundation from Chuck, where it is the Gospel first, but he has a powerful way of speaking similar to Lonnie. I almost want to say he is the perfect middle ground of the two of them.”
The actor said the title of his movie might scare some moviegoers away, but he expects others will check it out and find themselves pleasantly surprised by an entertaining, uplifting story.
“The way that you get audiences that you wouldn’t otherwise get is you make a high-quality movie, and ‘Oh, you know what? It also talks about faith,'” he said.
“I think there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be curious more than anything and excited to maybe just go to the theater, see a fun movie and then have a profound conversation afterward about it.”