Hollywood is hoping that a movie focusing on restoring faith will make big bucks at the box office this weekend when the adaptation of the best-selling New York Times best-selling novel “The Shack” opens countrywide. Starring Octavia Spencer, Sam Worthington and country singer Tim McGraw, “The Shack” shows a father (Mr. Worthington) on a spiritual journey after suffering an immense family tragedy.
The Christian novel by Canadian author William P. Young has seen its share of controversy as well as fostered discussion about the nature of what part God may play in life’s tragedies. Furthermore, the film casts African-American actress and Oscar-winner Miss Spencer as God, Jesus is portrayed by Israeli actor Avraham Aviv Alush Also, and the Holy Spirit — called “Sarayu” in the film — is portrayed by Asian actress Sumire Matsubara.
Miss Spencer and Mr. McGraw — who also recorded a song with his wife, Faith Hill, for the movie called “Keep Your Eyes On Me” — discussed the faith-based film bowing this weekend in the District.
Question: Are you drawn to roles that have a spiritual angle?
Octavia Spencer: This is actually my first one. It has to resonate with me on some level.
I love the message [of “The Shack”], I loved the fact that [William] Paul wrote this book where a regular man has a conversation with God and asks him some very hard-hitting questions. I like the way God answered them.
I thought it was a unique way to look at religion and for regular people to look at their role and how they influence their [own] environment.
Q: Had you read the book?
Tim McGraw: When I read the script, I hadn’t read the book. My wife actually had the book on her nightstand, and we had heard about it and knew what the story was.
About a week later I got the phone call that they were sending me a script to read. I was completely [in] emotional meltdown after reading it. I told Faith about it, and we had a lot of conversations about whether I had time to be involved as they were shooting in Vancouver.
Q: What did you take away from the book when you read it?
OS: My friend gave me a copy and told me it had forensic thriller aspects to it — with a big surprise. I thought I was going to be reading something very different than the life lesson I was bound to get. I was deeply moved because it felt organic.
The questions asked of God somehow felt like every man’s journey, including my own. I have experienced loss in my life, but the thing that brings you back is your faith, so I understood Mack’s journey in a lot of ways.
Q: What about the representation of the divine in the story?
OS: What I like about this presentation is that it dispenses with the conventional images of God and what we have in our minds as God. It also represents this time in Mack’s life where the only person that showed him any kindness was a woman like myself. She is pure love and wisdom, and she is trying to impart that in him while he’s trying to reconcile all his grief, his anger and all the losses in his life.
It’s only when he walks back and asks those questions and confronts all those issues in the shack that he’s able to find redemption and fill that hole that loss has created within him.
For me, when you have to prepare to play God, and then walking away from that, you realize just how tough God’s job is. I don’t want that job.
Q: It seems like you have done many family and faith-based films. What kinds of movies do you like to make?
TM: Even in my music, I am always searching for big, universal things — ways that you can sort of reach outside the norm of what you are doing.
I have always been very family-oriented. I came from a dysfunctional, broken family growing up, and it’s probably instilled in me the need and the want to have a strong family and a great foundation. So I think that is something that I naturally gravitate toward.
Q: What drew you to “Shack” specifically?
TM: I was looking for a great story that moves and inspires [people]. Music, movies, books — when you see [or] read through it, you want to be literally moved.
I do everything in a way that I want to be impacted viscerally.
Q: What lessons have you learned?
TM: The older you get, you always learn more. Sometimes it’s a process of learning about yourself and what your journey is. Sometimes the process moves forward at a rapid pace in a short amount of time — or moves backwards. And you’re like, “Man, I thought I had made so much progress, and now all of a sudden, I’m 10 steps further behind than when I started.”
I don’t think you learn as much about yourself when you are moving forwards as when you have fallen backwards. That’s when you really learn who you are. And reach for the things that have propelled you forward and made you a better person.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
TM: The universal themes of love, compassion, forgiveness, constantly searching for the next level of your spirituality, the next consciousness of who you are as a human being, what you contribute to society and what God means to you. I think it’s always a search that everyone goes on.
What I think this movie does — regardless of what your belief system is — is offer a view and a perspective that can open the door a little bit to think about what in your life has broken you, propels you forward and what allows you to forgive other people and accept forgiveness.