Shivering in the rain with The Chosen star Jonathan Roumie was the most touching moment for young actor Joel Courtney as they filmed the Jesus Revolution movie, which is released in Australian cinemas tomorrow, April 20.
Jonathan as charismatic hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee and Joel as a young Greg Laurie had to spend hours in freezing rain filming a scene where Lonnie rescues Greg from a bad acid trip and has a vision of Greg going on to preach to thousands of people.
“Jonathan Roumie and I are sitting in the rain together – it’s probably 4 AM and about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10C). It’s cold!” Joel tells Eternity via Zoom from his home in Tennessee.
“And he was so strong in that situation. It was great to have a fellow brother with me. There were times when we were both shivering. We had a heating tent and so we would go and film for as long as we could, and then we would go back to the heating tent to warm up and then go back out in the rain.
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“And there were times where Jonathan and I would look at each other and be like, ‘You got one more in you?’ ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And we were jumping around together to get that internal temperature back up. Having a fellow brother in that situation really helps you push through those hard times. That was a very clear memory of mine.”
As someone raised in the church with an active faith, Joel says he was blown away by some of the testimonies of the people on whom this powerful true story of the Jesus movement of the late 60s and 70s is based.
“I learned to be quick to listen on this film because I was just listening to people’s life stories and acknowledging they were around at this time. People were doing some crazy stuff back then, and an initial reaction is, ‘Oh my gosh, you were doing what?’ But to love people and to accept forgiveness and to pursue Jesus is such a beautiful calling that I felt so moved on this set. And stories from these people are so beautiful. I think my takeaway is listening and loving,” says Joel, an actor known for his Super 8 and The Kissing Booth roles.
In Jesus Revolution, Joel’s character Greg is an army recruit – or “square” – who abandons military school and searches for meaning in all the wrong places.
“Greg was in military school, which is very heavy, structured smothering. He was an artist – all he wanted to do was draw and listen to music and get out and experience life,” Joel explains.
Like so many young people of that turbulent time, Greg expressed his spiritual hunger and search for truth through rebellion against materialism and experimentation with drugs. It was the “tuning in, turning on and dropping out” era of peace, love, and protests against the Vietnam War.
After hearing the good news of Jesus from Lonnie, however, Greg and his girlfriend Cathe Laurie (Anna Grace Barlow) realise that in their search for truth through getting high on drugs, they have discovered only lies.
Greg and Cathe find joy, healing and lasting peace in Jesus. In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, they, along with hundreds of hippie believers, are baptised in the ocean at Pirates Cove, Newport Beach, California.
Lonnie leads this growing group of new believers to join a languishing church led by Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), shaking it to its foundations with their unwashed, bare feet and groovy folk music. Though some of the old guard of the congregation are driven away, the young believers make Calvary Chapel their home. This leads to an unexpected revival of radical and newfound love as the church runs out of space and starts tent meetings, leading to what TIME magazine dubbed a Jesus Revolution that sweeps the country.
“The largest impact that this had for me towards my faith was seeing other people’s experiences come to life,” comments Joel.
“We had some background actors the day we were filming the baptisms in Newport, California. And some of them came up to me and said, ‘I was actually baptised by Chuck at this beach 40 years ago. And honestly, to see them reliving the time, seeing it happen again differently on film – it was really cool to be telling a true story and hearing the true stories of people from that time, and their experience is just powerful.”
“We had a really good budget and we had terrific writers. And those two blessings gave us great production values.”
With Jesus Revolution having already earned $US52 million at the US box office, it has received mixed reviews from critics but overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences.
Joel is very proud of the film and urges those sceptical about the quality of faith films to give it a go.
“You should absolutely give this one a try. And the reason I would say that is because we had a really good budget and we had terrific writers. And those two blessings gave us great production values. So you look like you’re in the 70s. Truthfully, we all looked wonderful. The production, the cars, the wardrobe, the music just jive; you live in that period, and it just looks good. It’s a good movie.
“And then having good writers allows for a good story. So it’s a solid telling of the gospel without forcing it down people’s throats. It’s loving, it’s gentle, it’s sweet. The conversations between Chuck and Janette [his daughter, played by Ally Ionnides] are some of the most beautiful father-daughter conversations. So I highly recommend people go see it, everyone, not just Christians. This is a terrific film.”
Jesus Revolution is showing at select Hoyts cinemas across the country. Click here for details.