Joel Courtney, who plays a young Greg Laurie in the movie Jesus Revolution joined Leah and Gwen from V180 to talk about his role in the movie. Jesus Revolution is based on Pastor Greg Laurie’s life as a young hippie living in a trailer park with his alcoholic mother.
Joel began his acting career by chance, at the age of 14, when he visited his brother, Caleb in Los Angeles. Caleb’s acting coach encouraged Joel to audition for Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Super 8 feature film and to his amazement, he got a starring role.
Preparing For the Role of Greg Laurie
Joel has never played a real life character before so he felt very blessed for Greg’s guidance and generosity with his time. Greg was on set most days, which helped him a lot in preparing for the role.
‘I got to talk to him before filming started and we were on the phone for almost two hours,’ said Joel. ‘He answered all my questions and was telling me stories from his past and about his relationships. He basically gave me a carte blanche phone number situation where if I had any questions or I just wanted to talk to him about anything, I could text or call him. I took him up on that for sure.’
‘There’s a lot of pressure, that is assumed by the person who’s trying to play the character who’s still alive and going to come hang out with you on set, said Joel. ‘You don’t want the person to be upset with the telling of their story … I was definitely nervous for the first two days. I was pretty good by the third day because he was so cool and so relaxed. He was so encouraging and positive about everything. He’s such a nice guy.’
Leaving A Safe Christian Community for Hollywood
Joel was raised a Christian in northern Idaho in the United States, He attended a small Christian school where both his parents taught. When he started working in Hollywood, he had to find how to walk in his Christian faith on his own, drawing on his parents’ influence and sermons he’d heard over the years that had impacted him in a powerful way.
‘I realised when I was 14 and started working that I’d left the very safe bubble that was my home and the Christian community that I was so familiar with,’ said Joel. ‘Jesus has been my rock through crazy times in Hollywood, low times in my career, and in the good times. Jesus revolutionised my life by loving me. That was one of the things that connected me with Greg so quickly was our mutual love of Jesus.’
Being a Christian in Secular Hollywood
One would imagine that working in a secular industry would be difficult as a Christian. However, Joel said there’s a tight-knit community of Christians in Hollywood. They pray for each other and get each other through the tough times which come whether you’re a Christian or not.
The Value of Not Sugar-Coating Christian Stories
Jesus Revolution didn’t shy away from the realities of the seventies. It was the hippie era when there was a lot of drug use and promiscuity. In keeping with the reality of the times, this was depicted in the movie, giving a more powerful impact to the message when we see Greg’s life transitioning after his baptism.
‘I do think that’s one of the things that Christian movies possibly get wrong is shying away from sin in a real life situation,’ said Joel. ‘There’s darkness in the world and in our lives … your problems don’t go away once you become a Christian.’
Greg told Joel that when he became a Christian he still had the same friends who did drugs. Greg thought that he would still be able to smoke weed with them and be a loaded Christian and go partying like he was used to doing. But he was convicted at a party and he knew it wasn’t right and not what he should be doing.
While the storyline is related to drug use, it shows the darkness in that lifestyle without being unnecessarily vulgar or going too far with it.
‘One of my favourite things about this film is there’s darkness and there’s a lot of light,’ said Joel.
Two Year Delay Was a Blessing
As devastating as it was to have the movie delayed, it was all part of God’s plan. The delay meant that Kelsey Grammer became available to play Chuck Smith, the American pastor who despite the objections of his congregation, welcomed hippie street preacher Lonnie Frisbee and his followers into his Calvary Chapel. And Jonathan Roumie from The Chosen became available to play Lonnie.
Let’s pray a new revival comes, in God’s perfect timing!
To listen to Joel’s full interview with Leah and Gwen on V180, click the link below:
God has always been passionate about turning unlikely people into His most fervent followers. Prostitutes and pagans, tax collectors and tricksters, the pompous and the pious–the more unlikely the people, the more it seems to please God to demonstrate His power, might, and mercy through them. America in the 1960s and 1970s was full of many such unlikely characters–young men and women who had rejected the conformist religion of their parents’ generation, iconoclasts who didn’t follow the rules and didn’t fit in. It was the perfect setting for the greatest spiritual awakening of the twentieth century. Click here to purchase your copy.
In the 1970s, young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) is searching for all the right things in all the wrong places: until he meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie-street-preacher. Together with Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), they open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to an unexpected revival of radical and newfound love, leading to what TIME Magazine dubbed a JESUS REVOLUTION. Click here to purchase your copy.