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WWE Comedy about a washed-up former child star

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a movie produced by WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). This WWE Comedy is an inspirational film about faith and forgiveness, which is due for release to theaters on January 20. In this movie, wrestling star Shawn Michaels, is featured in a comedic role. In our current times, when celebrities speak as authorities on social subjects out of their field, it is refreshing to see a humble celebrity who does not take himself overly seriously.

The story in this movie is about Gavin Stone who is a washed-up former child star who is forced to do community service at a local mega-church. He pretends to be a Christian so he can land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play. However, he discovers that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood. This movie is rated PG and is appropriate for older children through adults.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone stars Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (MAD TV), Shawn Michaels (legendary WWE Pro wrestler and Hall of Famer), and DB Sweeney (Taken 2). It is directed by Dallas Jenkins (What If…, Hometown Legend).

“I’m a strong Christian, and I love making movies

“I’m a strong Christian, and I love making movies that have Christian values but I don’t like many movies that are exclusive only to Christians,” director Dallas Jenkins says. “A movie has to have humanity about it that anyone can relate to. And the key to this WWE Comedy is the main character is not a churchgoer. He’s a nonbeliever. So anyone who isn’t a regular churchgoer can still enjoy this movie, because they’re seeing it through the eyes of themselves.”

Dallas Jenkins produced the independent feature Hometown Legend at the age of 25. It was distributed by Warner Brothers. He made his directing debut with the short film Cliché, and his next short film, Midnight Clear, starred Stephen Baldwin. It won a Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival and was the opening night selection of the San Diego Film Festival. He is the co-executive producer of Though None Go With Me, a Hallmark Channel movie. He directed and produced Midnight Clear, based on the short, which won awards in festivals all over the country. His latest feature What If…, stars Kevin Sorbo.

Dallas recently accepted the position of Director of Media at Harvest Bible Chapel, a mega-church in Chicago, where he’s directing and producing feature-length and short films. His two short films at Harvest, The Ride and Once We Were Slaves have won multiple festival awards all over the country and are currently available on DVD.

Dr. Diane Howard had an exclusive, insightful interview with Director Dallas Jenkins on The Resurrection of Gavin Stone:

Interview with Director Dallas Jenkins:

DH: What has been your experience and training in directing?

DJ: I started working with film before it was digital. In college I studied theater and Bible, working with film on the side. I worked with my Dad, Jerry B. Jenkins (American novelist and biographer best known as co-author of the Left Behind series of books with Tim LaHaye). Our work was picked up by Warner Bros.

DH: What experience and training would you recommend for directing?

DJ: Most importantly, start doing it. Start doing now what you are best at doing. Get a job in film. Have access to film equipment. If you work on film in college, you need training that is more than just theory.

DH: What is the value of a comedy?

DJ: It is lacking most in faith-based movies. We need to laugh at ourselves and not come across as too earnest. Comedy keeps the audience engaged. When they laugh, the filmmaker knows he or she has won them over and that the audience feels safe. Comedy is less preachy and “on the nose.”

DH: What are the primary themes in this movie?

DJ: The movie is about unconditional grace. This what Christians and Christian churches do: welcome without judgement, love without condition, forgive without limit.

DH: Why are these themes important in faith-based, comedic movies today?

DJ: Movie audiences are turned off by sermons. A movie needs to be welcoming. There is time and place for everything. A movie is not the place to preach.

DH: Who is your target audience?

DJ: Our target is everyone, Christian and non-Christian. We have received high scores for our movie from Christian and non-Christian audiences.

DH: What does the non-Christian see in this movie?

DJ: They see Christians and a church honestly. They see them through the eyes of Gavin Stone, an outsider.

DH: What do you hope audiences will take away from this movie?

DJ: The church comes to the theater and the theater can come to the church. Audiences can see in the theaters that the church is a place where lives are impacted.

DH:  What paradigm shifts and developments with movies and audiences do you see today? 

DJ: Christians have an important message that needs to be shared through the most influential medium of movies. The films need to present an accurate portrayal of the church.

DH: Why did WWE produce this movie?

DJ: WWE loved the script. This movie gives Shawn Michaels, WWE star, the opportunity to share his life and testimony.

In this movie, Gavin Stone is a former child mega star living the fast life on the fumes of his faded fame, but his hard partying during a trip to Chicago lands him a sentence of 200 hours of community service. Looking for what he perceives to be the least physically taxing option, he opts to serve the sentence at a local church in his suburban hometown near the Windy City.

However, he hasn’t been welcome in years at home due to conflict with his father (Neil Flynn) over money and career direction. When he arrives at the church in his hometown, his celebrity status goes unacknowledged by Pastor Allen Richardson (D.B. Sweeney), who only recognizes Gavin by tying his name to the name on his rap sheet. Pastor Allen then assigns Gavin to the task of mopping floors. However, Gavin notices the church has just started casting for its holiday play.

He hopes to make his 200 hours fly by fast by doing acting.  Gavin decides to audition for the role of Jesus, which ends up requiring some ”improvisation” of his Christian faith and knowledge of Jesus. The cast members (including wrestling legend Shawn Michaels who stars as “Doug” – a once hard-living biker whose life was dramatically changed by his faith in God) are awed by him and take to him immediately. However, the show’s director Kelly (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who is also the pastor’s daughter, seems unimpressed by Gavin’s charms. Reluctantly, she agrees to cast him as the lead at the insistence of her father and because of the belief that everyone deserves a second chance.

WWE Studios and BH Tilt present this delightful family movie in association with Walden Media as a Vertical Church Films and Power in Faith Production. The film is produced by Michael J. Luisi and Fred Adams.

WWE Studios president Michael Luisi has said, “It is a privilege to be working with the Harvest Bible Chapel and Vertical Church Films, as they share our understanding of the importance of a strong foundation for storytelling… The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a heartwarming tale of faith and redemption that will allow us to continue growing our audience as we expand into new genres.”

“We’re excited to combine resources with a dynamic company like WWE on such a funny, but meaningful project,” said Fred Adams, Harvest Bible Chapel Executive Business Pastor. Director Dallas Jenkins has said, “Gavin’s story is such an entertaining one to tell because the ‘fish out of water’ aspect is so relatable, no matter what the setting.”

This WWE Comedy does not preach

Although more than 75 percent of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone takes place in a church, the movie does not preach. Instead, the film entertains as a romantic comedy while keeping the central themes of faith and forgiveness universal. The film celebrates church and gives a fresh take on church as a fun and welcoming place.

Hollywood party animal Gavin Stone, as Jenkins put it, “has not been to church a day in his life,” yet he finds himself among a flock of the faithful when his wild ways land him 200 hours of community service in which he decides to serve in a church in his Midwestern hometown. To act in the church’s Easter play, in the lead role of Jesus Christ, Gavin pretends to be a Christian. He studies the lingo and activities of churchgoers from Google in a failed attempt to fit in.

Former professional wrestler Shawn Michaels (Doug), a WWE Hall of Famer who was a legendary bad boy out of the ring himself before becoming a Christian in the late ‘90s, said the Gavin’s trying too hard to “be Christian” resonated with his own church experiences. “We have simple folks, they’re nice, they’re kind, yet every now and then they spend a little too much time jibber-jabbering about one another,” he says with a chuckle. “That’s one of the things I really liked about the script: It’s truthful about the fact that people in church aren’t perfect, they’re just bumbling along in a lot of cases like everyone else.”

That honesty, more than anything else, is what Brett Dalton, who plays the title character, says makes The Resurrection of Gavin Stone a film that will resonate with audiences outside of church culture.

“All of these characters are real people, likeable people – people with issues and problems, but with the relationships and the integrity to work them out,” he explains. “It’s kind of impossible not to feel good after watching this film.”

According to Jenkins, that’s because the journey Gavin Stone undergoes ends in something all people inherently need and desire: unconditional love. “Gavin Stone is someone who, throughout his life, has never had that,” Jenkins notes. “It’s always been, ‘What can Gavin do for his manager? What can Gavin do for his team? What can Gavin do for ratings?’ And when he’s not delivering, they don’t need him anymore. So, in Hollywood, he has no real friends.  “But back home at the church, it’s the first time in his life he has a group of people who accept him unconditionally – whether he’s successful or not. They don’t care if he’s famous. They don’t care if he has a hit movie. They like him because he’s him.”

Patrick Gonyell, who plays another of the churchgoers with a part in the play who befriends Gavin, agrees that audiences will be moved by the relationships they see develop on screen. “It feels real and it feels honest,” he says. “And it’s not an agenda movie. It’s not saying, ‘Hey, join the church and your life will be perfect.’ It’s a story about some real people who have flaws and are pulled in different directions. And that’s something everyone can relate to.”

In the movie, Gavin winds up being pulled back toward Hollywood. Just as he’s settling in to his lower-key life, he gets a call from his agent that a plum part has opened up, in part because of his headline-making brush with the law that landed him in community service, and he’s torn over what to do. The offer comes just as he’s broken through the relational walls Kelly has put up to guard her heart after a failed relationship, which doesn’t make it any easier for Gavin. “He has to decide if he’s really a changed person – or is he going back to what he thought was his dream of getting a second chance in Hollywood,” Dalton says.

What makes the decision particularly tough, Jenkins points out, is that “playing the part of Jesus ends up teaching him a lot about the character of the man he is playing – and that starts to rub off on him.”

So does Kelly – and vice versa.

“She teaches him a few lessons,” says Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, who plays Kelly. “But he teaches her some stuff, too.”

In the end, the filmmakers and actors alike hope audiences walk away having had more than a few laughs and with a fresh appreciation for the power of forgiveness and redemption – wherever it may be found.

“There’s nothing in this movie that isn’t accessible to someone who doesn’t regularly go to church,” Jenkins explains. “This is a story about finding a family and finding traditional values and finding a place to call home, whether you are successful or not or whether you’ve made a big mistake or not.

“Any one of us, all of us, can use a little more of that message in our lives.”

If you’ve spent any time on social media, or watched a segment or two on an “entertainment news” show, or spied one of those tabloids at the grocery-store checkout line, the title character of The Resurrection of Gavin Stone will seem quite familiar: a onetime child star known by his sassy TV sitcom catchphrase who falls on hard times and into hard partying as he gets older and typecast and finds it harder to find work, he winds up making headlines not for his acting but for his acting out, only seeming to capture the public’s attention any more when he’s in trouble with the law.

Reality TV has created an entire subgenre

Reality TV has created an entire subgenre out of documenting the trials and tribulations of such fallen stars, but GAVIN STONE screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfell and director Dallas Jenkins wanted their movie to go beyond the easy laughs of poking fun at such celebrities.

They wanted to evoke affectionate laughter and real poignancy  in depicting how finding a family can trump losing fame. “There’s a celebrity culture where you can be famous just for being famous.” Jenkins says. “And you don’t have to work hard just to get your name out there. If that happens a little too early to someone, that narcissism sets in and they think, ‘Wow, everything I say matters. Everything I do matters. Even if I didn’t say or do anything really important.’ “When that starts to go away, and TMZ stops coming around,” he adds, “now they’re thinking, ‘I’m no longer important and I’ve nothing to fall back on because what I was doing wasn’t very important to begin with.’”

That’s precisely the situation Gavin Stone find himself in. Sentenced to 200 hours of community service at a church in his hometown where his celebrity has no currency, he discovers the more time he spends with parishioners there that he has value beyond the Nielsen ratings.

“Being a part of a community that loves him unconditionally is something he’s never had before,” Jenkins explains. “He hasn’t been forgiven in years, so he ends up coming to value it even though it’s not something he was interested in to begin with.”

The journey of the fictional Gavin Stone is not unlike that of the real-life Shawn Michaels without the career nosedive. Michaels, one of the most celebrated professional wrestlers of all time who makes his feature film debut as the quiet and humble Doug, a biker who gave up hard living for a higher calling in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.

“Shawn’s playing a character who reflects a lot of himself,” director Dallas Jenkins says. “Becoming a Christian didn’t make him boring. He’s still the same cool guy; he just has a humility about him he didn’t have before.”

Michaels, known as The Heartbreak Kid during his wrestling days, did a fair bit of rule-breaking when he wasn’t performing as one of sports entertainment’s top draws. That changed in the late ‘90s when he realized his lifestyle was hurting him and his family.

“When I gave my life to Christ is was a natural development – it wasn’t something that I tried to do,” Michaels remembers. “The things that I do now are from the heart, and for me they come from my salvation. I’m fully aware and grasp that what is good within me comes from the Good Lord above and not actually from within me.”

So, playing Doug, who has a similar story, if on a dissimilar stage, seemed the perfect role for his feature-film debut. But that’s not to say it was an easy transition from life in front of fans to life in front of the camera.

“Shawn was just as nervous and giddy about this as I was because he has no experience with it,” says Patrick Gonyell, who plays Anthony, one of Doug’s two best buddies. “It’s a departure for him, and it’s kind of fun for The Heartbreak Kid to be so down-to-earth and unsure and humble and self-deprecating about it all.”

“He is the most humble, sweetest, most caring guy I’ve met,”

It was also a bit surprising to the film’s star, Brett Dalton, who grew up a major wrestling fan. He remembers well Michaels’ persona in and out of the ring – a lothario with an attitude who never met a rule he didn’t gleefully bend.

“He is the most humble, sweetest, most caring guy I’ve met,” Dalton says, “You don’t get that if he’s just walking down the street in the leathers and long hair with that swagger. But as soon as he opens his mouth and looks you in the eye, you’re like, ‘Man, I misjudged you.’”

It’s a quality Dalton tried to bring to his portrayal of Gavin Stone as his journey reaches its end.

Those interested in this WWE Comedy can find more information about it movie on its Web site.   They can see the trailer on You Tube. Social media information is also available on Twitter and Facebook.

Dr. Diane Howard is a frontline journalist known for exclusive interviews with leading figures in artistic, redemptive media. She has been involved in decades of qualitative and quantitative research on the verifiable power of role models. She also serves as talent and as a dialogue, dialect, voice-over coach. A former Professor of Performance, Media, and Film Studies with a Ph.D. in Performance Studies (College of Communication, University of Texas, Austin), she has been involved in multiple aspects of artistic, redemptive communication media, regionally to internationally. She can be found online at dianehoward.com.

 

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