- - Friday, April 1, 2016

“Faith-based” films have shifted from heavy-handed, poorly produced, badly acted movies to high-quality, well-shot, well-written films packed with name talent, among them 2014’s surprise hit “God’s Not Dead.” Made for less than $2 million, the film grossed over $80 million, all but assuring a sequel.

Stars of “God’s Not Dead 2” Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina The Teenage Witch”), Robin Givens (“Head of the Class”), Maria Canals Barrera (“Wizards of Waverly Place”), Pat Boone, Sadie Robertson (“Duck Dynasty”) and Hayley Orrantia (“The Goldbergs”) spoke on the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere about the pressures and making a faith-based film in the modern movie landscape.

Question: What attracted you to your role?

Melissa Joan Hart: I read the script first. I had not seen the first film, so I was untainted. I came into it kind of blind. This story really stands on its own.

I loved the script, loved the characters. Then I watched the first film and felt very called to do this. I felt this was an important story to tell and as a Christian woman, I wanted to be a part of this.

Robin Givens: My family and I were such big fans of the first film. It was sort of an honor just to be in the movie. I don’t think I cared at all what role I did. I just wanted to be in the sequel. I want this film to be as popular as the first one.

Pat Boone:  I was not eager to play an 80-year-old man, but I had been practicing the 80 part. [laughs] I’ve got that down.

I’m so elated to be part of a faith-based film and that they are doing so well right now. Their studios and producers are making excellent films production- and acting-wise. They are worthy of being compared to the other films out there today.

Hayley Orrantia: The fact that it was a drama and I’m more used to doing comedy [appealed to me]. Doing a drama has a different energy. And the work went quicker.

I was hesitant at first. Being an actor in Hollywood, I debated talking about my religion. That can be very controversial. You wonder if you’re going to get another job of not. I stand by my faith in God.

Maria Canals Barrera: My daughter’s friend from her youth group said, “I want to show you “God’s Not Dead.” I watched it and liked it. It was really good. There were things in there that are never really discussed. Less than a month later, my family and I were on vacation in Maui and I got the offer to be in “God’s Not Dead 2.” My daughter was so excited.

Sadie Robertson: It really encouraged me and pushed me to be more supportive of my friends. I felt some pressure because the first movie was so good. This is more than a movie, it’s a message. I wanted to do the best job I could do because I knew it would speak to people.

Q:What was the best part of making the film?

MJH: It was a fantastic cast. Best of the best. We had a great time [filming in Little Rock, Arkansas]. The whole filming process was so much fun.

RG: I was excited to work with Melissa. We didn’t know each other before we worked on the film. I sort of fell in love with her. People forget that on sets there is always so much downtime. We got to know each other . We’re both moms. We talked about politics, religion and our boys. It was just a really nice experience.

Q: How important is faith in choosing your role?

RG: For me it’s my whole life. Just in terms of living. I think in a world that oftentimes gets confusing and that has no real rules, where things don’t seem fair, it’s nice to have something greater to lean on.

MCB: It has become important. I have sought a higher power on decisions for many years now. I’m very proud to be part of a quality, well-written film that is not afraid to tackle issues and freedoms people feel are being threatened: freedom of religion, freedom of speech.

PB: I turned down a movie with Marilyn Monroe when we were both under contract to Twentieth [Century Fox]. I would have loved to have made a movie with Marilyn Monroe, but it was a very immoral story. They made the film with another actor and actress. It bombed at the box office. I made “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which turned out to be a huge success.

SR: I believe that if you give God the first fruits of your life and stay on the blessed side, that he is going to take you farther than you have ever dreamed.

Q: Pat, what kind of advice did you give the younger cast?

PB: I always tell young kids, “Make God your agent.” An agent opens doors, creates opportunities, supports you and encourages you to make the most of your opportunity if you get it. If it’s good for you to be what you wanna be in this business, he’ll open the doors.

“God’s Not Dead 2” opens Friday in the District.

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