Interview by Paul Salfen
“It all started with the character of Greg,” says producer Kevin Downes, one of the founders of Kingdom Story Company. “Joel Courtney was the first person cast before this movie was ever even greenlit. There was nobody else because he has the heart and soul of who Greg is and was as a teenager.”
Joel Courtney is best known for his starring role in Steven Spielberg’s SUPER 8. More recently, he played Lee Flynn in Netflix’s THE KISSING BOOTH.
To embody Greg Laurie, Joel dove deeply into research for the role.“ I watched a lot of his sermons,” says Joel Courtney. “I wanted to see him embody the pulpit, watch how he connects with people. I am a Christian as well, and so I feel like I had a very good understanding of where he came from in his lost days.”
Those lost days in Greg’s life were marked by a difficult childhood and a broken home. The real Greg Laurie shares that the situation with his mother was “a lot worse in real life than it’s shown in the film.” His mother Charlene (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley) was a raging alcoholic who was married and divorced seven times, often getting into violent fights at home.
“I would have to make sure she got into bed at night,” says Laurie. “She would wake me up and say, ‘Make me something to eat.’…I felt like I was a 70-year-old in a 17-year-old body because I’d seen so many things already. Things a little boy should never have seen. And it got me searching. I wanted something better, something purer, something real. I didn’t know it was God.”
Seeing his life story unfold as a film has also given Laurie a new perspective: “I wish I could go back to little Greg, a younger me, and say, ‘You’re going to get through what you’re going through. It’s going to get better. And there’s a God in heaven who loves you and has a plan for your life, and it will unfold through the passing of time.’ And I hope that people who see this film, especially young people, will realize that there’s always hope for the future. Things can and will get better if they put their hope in God.”
Anna Grace Barlow, best known for her performance as Ashley Monroe in SUPERNATURAL, plays the captivating Cathe Laurie in the film. She was immediately drawn to the script’s dynamic portrayal of Cathe. “I love Cathe’s friction with her parents and how far she comes,” says Barlow. “She’s unapologetic in how she feels, and she fights for things. And she’s like me. I saw myself in how the character was written, and I really wanted to play her.”
Barlow’s attraction to the character of Cathe was only deepened when she had the chance to talk to the real Greg and Cathe Laurie. “They put me on speakerphone and they were texting me wedding photos and talking about their relationship…Their love story is very inspiring to me because it wasn’t perfect. They have really worked and fought for their life together.”
No one’s story is perfect: and Cathe Laurie is open about how she came to faith.“My faith journey began when I started taking drugs,” Laurie says. She was raised in a religious household but felt like her family’s religion was all ritual, all rules. There had to be something more to life. Laurie tried LSD, mysticism, psychedelic music, and meditation.
“I was coming up empty in all of this,” she says. “I was at the point where I would say to myself, I can’t do this forever. And at that point, I heard the Gospel from some young people who looked like hippies.”
These hippies approached Cathe and her sister while they were hanging out on a college campus, waiting for a concert. These hippies told her they used to do drugs, too, but they didn’t anymore. They found what they were looking for.
“It wasn’t a what, it was a who,” says Laurie. “They said Jesus Christ was who I was searching for. I started to laugh.” For Laurie, Jesus was etched in stained glass windows and held in the communion cup for only select holy people. What these hippies described—a personal relationship—was a revolutionary idea to Laurie. “That offer of a personal relationship with God was available to everyone, not just to certain special saints out there.”
This encounter changed the trajectory of Cathe’s life. The very next day, she joined the hippies at Calvary Chapel where she heard Lonnie Frisbee preach. The church experience challenged her presuppositions of how “church people” were supposed to look, dress, act, speak, or sing. “Packed into this church, I saw hundreds and hundreds of kids who looked like I did, who had come out of what I had come out of.”
Laurie herself was baptized at Pirate’s Cove during one of the many ocean baptisms conducted by Calvary Chapel. She wasn’t planning to be baptized when she showed up: she was wearing jeans, had no change of clothes and no towel. But when the call to baptism came, she accepted. And she went home dripping and sandy to her shocked and confused parents.
“I feel like, for those of us who are adults, we are sometimes very fearful about what’s to come for this next generation,” says Laurie. “I have to remind myself that’s exactly how my parents felt. And the transformation in my life, which my mom and dad came to appreciate so much, is possible.”
In addition to the faith components at the heart of the story, Anna Grace Barlow hopes viewers are moved by the fun elements: the color, the music, the outfits, and the Romeo-and-Juliet love story between Greg and Cathe.
“Audiences are going to love JESUS REVOLUTION because it has this retro feel,” says Barlow. “And it’s a love story. And it’s a story of finding yourself, finding your way, finding faith.”
Lionsgate presents a Kingdom Story Company production, JESUS REVOLUTION. Starring Jonathan Roumie, Joel Courtney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Grace Barlow. Written by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn, the film will be directed by Jon Erwin (I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, AMERICAN UNDERDOG) and Brent McCorkle (UNCONDITIONAL) and produced by Kevin Downes and Jon and Andrew Erwin, along with Josh Walsh and Daryl Lefever.
Production Design by Aimee Holmberg. Cinematography by Akis Konstantakopoulos. Art Direction by Jenny Wentling. Costume Design by Anna Redmon. Casting by Anthony J. Kraus and Jill Anthony Thomas.
JESUS REVOLUTION will be in theaters nationwide February 24, 2023.
ABOUT THE FILM
At the periphery of JESUS REVOLUTION, witnessing the mass baptisms and conversions, is a reporter from TIME Magazine. He considers himself a neutral observer. He’s even a little skeptical. But in the end, he admits he’s deeply moved by what he’s seen: “Our country is a dark and divided place these days. And there’s hope in that tent. A kind of love and unity…that I can’t fully explain. And it’s not just here. It’s spreading.”
JESUS REVOLUTION may be “historical nonfiction,” but its message has never been so urgently needed today. It is a raw, real-life story about how God calls and redeems the outcasts.
In the early 70s, the thought of a Christian hippie was an oxymoron. Hippies were considered liberal radicals, anti-war fanatics, who lived in communes and indulged in erratic and dangerous behavior. How could God save the hippies? Nevertheless, a revival began in hippie communes.
“It was 1970, and people who looked like us, with long beards and coming out of the drug culture, just really scared church people,” recalls Tommy Coomes, one of the musicians in the early Christian music group “Love Song,” a band depicted in the film.
And he was right. The hippies did scare church people.
But this is what the real reporter wrote in the 1971 cover story for TIME:
“Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son…It is a startling development for a generation that has been constantly accused of tripping out or copping out with sex, drugs and violence. Now, embracing the most persistent symbol of purity, selflessness and brotherly love in the history of Western man, they are afire with a Pentecostal passion for sharing their new vision with others. Fresh-faced, wide-eyed young girls and earnest young men badger businessmen and shoppers on Hollywood Boulevard, near the Lincoln Memorial, in Dallas, in Detroit and in Wichita, “witnessing” for Christ with breathless exhortations.”
“In America, we’ve had four great spiritual awakenings,” says Greg Laurie, the American pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship and author of the memoir Jesus Revolution (Baker Publishing Group, 2018). “The Jesus Movement was the last. I feel like we’re overdue for another. And I’m hoping that this film will inspire people to pray, ‘Lord, do it again.’ Because the fame of revival spreads the flame of revival. Yes, people will go to this movie, they’re going to be entertained. They’re going to laugh. They’re probably going to cry. They’re going to be deeply moved.”
“The world needs this movie right now,” says DeVon Franklin, who plays the reporter in JESUS REVOLUTION, “because this movie can actually start the revolution again.”