The Curious Savage

During the mid-90s I played the character of Jeffrey in an Off-Off-Broadway production of The Curious Savage, directed...

Posted by Rich Swingle on Saturday, September 26, 2015

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Woodlawn

We got to see a pre-release screening of Woodlawn and it's outstanding AND completely uncompromising. John 14:6 is at the top of their posters: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"

It tells the story of a revival that broke out in Woodlawn High School, Birmingham, Alabama, during the race riots of the '70s. A Fellowship of Christian Athletes chaplain, who happens to be the filmmakers' father, played by Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Mom's Night Out), asks for five minutes with the team, and miraculous results follow! It's an outstanding work of art that doesn't compromise its Christian message. The filmmakers had 400 clergy members give feedback to make certain it's a God-honoring production.

After the screening we watched, Caleb Castille, the lead, shared how he was rejected after his audition, but he went to the "football audition" and was cast as the lead's body double. Three days before they started shooting the British actor who was cast as the lead had unsolvable visa issues. They brought Caleb in to have him re-audition. He had taken his body double role seriously and had been reading through his lines every day to become the character. He nailed the audition and is now in almost every scene of the film.

Caleb talked about how he's walked away from projects that promote a secular worldview. He said that one way he's stayed centered is to remind himself that Jesus is the most popular person to him, and Jesus' desires for him are the most popular concepts for his thought life and actions. In the theatre lobby off of Union Square, NYC, in front of the giant poster featuring him pointing to heaven, indicating there's only One Way to get there, several of us laid hands on him and prayed that the Lord would use this role strategically and keep him solid in his faith and uncompromising in his convictions.

Here's the filmmakers' vision behind it...


His thesis is proved by the fact that War Room became the NUMBER ONE FILM IN AMERICA!

The thing that was most convicting to me was when he spoke of the three reasons we watch films:

1. We want our worldview to be represented.
2. We don't want to be offended.
3. We want to be entertained.

We sacrifice the first two for the third. Now that more and more Christian-made films are rolling out we don't have to do that anymore! For a list of films I recommend click here.


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Coveting: Seeing, Taking, Tanking

In my opening to this morning's service at Westchester Chapel I shared some spiritual illustrations from Captive and how this may very well be an historical week with three films with a Christian worldview in theaters simultaneously. At the time this service was posted they were all in the top twelve places at the box office: War Room90 Minutes in Heaven and Captive.

Rev. Dr. Linda Warren preaches on Exodus 20:17 with examples from Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-8. Click to hear Part 1 on covetingPastor Jim Warren shared an opening illustration about the simplicity of brain surgery from Foolations (Galatians) 3:1-3.



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

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Captive

Joyce and I recently saw a pre-release screening of Captive at The Sheen Center.

It's a very powerful film about how Ashley Smith, played by Kate Mara (Fantastic Four), was held captive by Brian Nichols, played by David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma),  in her own home for seven hours. Brian put a woman in a coma and then shot and killed four people as he made his escape from an Atlanta area courthouse and carjacked one vehicle after the next. He took refuge in Ashley's home, where she read from The Purpose Driven Life, the second most translated book next to The Bible, to Brian, and he [SPOILER ALERT for any who weren't aware of this front page incident over ten years ago] turned himself in to authorities.

The film has the crucible of Ashley's home at the center of its tightly wound plot, with glimpses of the world outside, terrorized. Michael K. Williams (RoboCop) plays Detective John Chestnut, who is leading the pursuit. Joyce pointed out that his character sets up a picture of the power struggle between Satan (Nichols: "I have a demon"), Man (Chestnut, so frustrated by his powerlessness he destroys a coffee machine while Brian Nichols' image mocks him from the monitor behind him), and Jesus Christ (in a postlude Oprah says to the real Ashley, "Jesus loves you!").

Ashley's book is titled Unlikely Angel because she was a methamphetamines addict at the time she was taken hostage in her own home. After the screening we saw, Ashley was a part of a panel interviewed by Gayle King of CBS Good Morning. Gayle asked Ashley about a moment in the film when Brian asks Ashley for drugs. She brings out the methamphetamines she almost flushed earlier. Brian tells her to take the drugs along with him. Ashley told the audience at the screening that in that moment she knew she had been more of a captive to drugs than she was to Brian that night. She refuses the drugs as he's taking them, but later, when he thinks they were laced, he tries again to force her to take them. Still she refuses. Ashley told us that her Aunt Kim had prayed for the Lord to take Ashley Home if she were not able to stop taking the drugs.  Ashley thought that if she capitulated to taking the drugs when Brian held the gun to her head, she would literally die.  Caught between death at Brian's hand and death at the drugs' hand, she chose obedience to God, risking her life with the man who'd killed four people that morning. Brian hijacked five vehicles within fifteen minutes, and one woman reported that he told her, "Don't you see this blood on my hands? I'm a dead man." Ashley also knew he had nothing to lose, but still she chose not to take those drugs. Ashley told us that after that moment she began to see Brian through the eyes of Jesus. Later in the interview Gayle King asked Ashley what compelled her to make pancakes for Brian. She took us back to that moment of refusing to take the drugs and how it sparked her ability to see him through the eyes of Jesus and treat him as a real human being.

Ashley told how she watched Captive for the first time sitting beside her daughter, Paige, who is now 16. Ashley thought she'd gone through all of the emotions since that day, but the film brought them flooding back for both of them.

Ashley was joined in the talk-back by Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Mrs. Nichols the mother of the murderer, and Terry Botwick, one of the producers. In the audience were director Jerry Jameson, Mr. Nichols and Ashley's Aunt Kim, who had a major role in Ashley's recovery.

Kate talked about spending the day with Ashley. She focused on being truthful to who Ashley was at the time she was a hostage, though Ashley has been drug free since that night and was clearly transformed.

David Oyelowo pointed out that his character didn't speak for the whole first act of the film. We don't hear his voice until he was in the apartment with Ashley. That was an intentional choice to make him the two-dimensional mugshot we all saw on the news when he was the most wanted man in America. When we first hear his voice he's yelling over Ashley: "If you scream again I'll kill you!" But as Ashley is able to see him through the eyes of Jesus, gradually, so are we.

Gayle King asked David what drew him to portray someone who could murder four people in one day. He's made it clear he is a Christian, and he told us he doesn't naturally go after that kind of role. He said that was a sacrifice he knew he had to make so that Ashley's story could be told. He believed in it enough that he came on board as a producer.

On August 27, 2013, I was in LA to perform in my former student Nathan Clarkson's Confessions of a Prodigal Son. While there I was having lunch with Susan and Ken Wales (producer of Alone Yet Not Alone, Amazing Grace, Christy), who I've taught with on a number of occasions. He told me how excited he was that the LA Times had run a full-page spread the day before: "David Oyelowo delves deeper for role in 'The Butler'." It was confirming to Ken that David had what it would take to pull off the role for Captive and get it some attention.

David was unable to meet Brian Nichols because Brian is still -- a decade later -- in solitary confinement serving four consecutive life sentences. His mother explained during the talkback that she and his father are the only ones allowed to see him at this time. When Brian's son turns 18 he will be added to the list.

Mrs. Nichols told us that she feels no personal guilt over what Brian did because they raised him right. They always brought him to church, and he was living a good life, but when he was accused of raping a woman something snapped. Mrs. Nichols said demons entered him.

David asked Mrs. Nichols what it was like to watch the film. He almost stopped himself from asking the question, acknowledging how awkward it might be. Mrs. Nichols honored him, saying she was so drawn into David's work that there were times she forgot it wasn't her son.

She and her husband continue the ministry into Brian's life that Ashley began. His mother said he is deeply repentant and knows that turning himself in was the very best thing he could have done. He recognizes that part of his purpose is showing others that they should never turn from God.

Caroline Duffy is Ashley Smith's publicist. When I contacted her she was on her way to a screening of Captive, but she took the time to send the following about working with Ken Wales:
I can’t recall if I found Ken through connections or he found me, but I can tell you that it felt like a God thing when he called me out of the blue in the middle of so much chaos.  He had worked with ‘instant celebrities’ before and gave me a primer on what to expect.  Ashley was too overwhelmed to even consider the dozens of movie offers coming her way and Ken understood that the movie would only happen in God’s timing.   She initially was very wary about Hollywood, so it was critical for us to do the movie with someone who respected her faith and frailty at the time.   We agreed to table any movie discussions until after the book launched.  Ken stayed in touch, assembled the right players, and persevered with this project through many highs and lows.   The fact that it has landed with a major studio and major actors has us all in awe of what God can do when you get out of the way and just let him direct the show!
Ken Wales came out to see my
performance of Beyond the Chariots
in 2006.
One of the lows Ken shared with me was how at least one studio wanted to run with the story only if they left out The Purpose Driven Life angle. Ken refused to give in to that kind of thinking. When he was spending time in Atlanta with Ashley it occurred to him that The Purpose Driven Life was actually a character in the film! So he brought director Jerry Jameson and writer Brian Bird out to meet with the book's author, Pastor Rick Warren.

Ken happened to be in Atlanta with Ashley and her family when she was honored by the governor. When she received the award she thanked, "my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

When I called Ken to congratulate him on making such a great film and confirm my recollections over the many years I've been tracking this production he said, "We kill and badly wound people every day with our attitudes and remarks, and God's saying, 'Stop it! You have a choice!'"

Here's a shot from someone else who was there that evening.  Each preview of the movie is dubbed a "Night of Purpose"...




Our friend Jim Betts was interviewed before seeing the film. He helped 130 recovering drug addicts of the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center be a part of that Night of Purpose.



Christians should know:
*Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse.
*In Unlikely Angel Ashley mentions that she was dressed comfortably for an evening alone, and that when Brian was there she was uncomfortable with what she was wearing. Costuming reflects that.
*A single use of dam_.

MovieGuide review: 5 Things You Need to Know About the Movie CAPTIVE.

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Choose to Be Content

Joyce teaches on Exodus 20:17, "Do not covet." As her illustration she looks at Jesus' temptations in the wilderness from Luke 4:1-13. Opening and prayer by Linda Warren. I closed with an offering of Salvation, and also mentioned that War Room was the number one film in America.



This service is available for download free on iTunes, where you can also subscribe to our podcast. Search for "Westchester Chapel" on the iTunes Store.

You can read my review of this week's theatrical release with a Christian worldview: 90 Minutes in Heaven.


 Photo of Joyce courtesy of NicolettiPhoto.com.


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90 Minutes in Heaven


I believe one of the reasons my faith has remained strong all my life is that every year on the anniversary of my grandpa's death in 1942, my grandma retold the story of how Grandpa saw heaven.  He died of spinal meningitis, but Grandma, one of the greatest prayer warriors I've ever known, begged the Lord to let him live, so she wouldn't be left alone with my 9-week-old mother, my 17-month-old aunt and an insurmountable debt. The Lord did bring Grandpa back from the dead, and he proceeded to beg Grandma to let him go back to heaven. "Hilda, I'll miss you and the girls, but it's so wonderful there! I've seen the Lord. It's far better to be with Him. He will give you another husband who will be a father to our daughters," he prophesied. "Let me go." Grandma continued to beg the Lord to keep him here, but about a week later, when she released him in her heart, he went Home to be with the Lord he'd seen when he had died.

In 90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper, played by Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes II and III) begs the Lord to take him Home after he is prayed back to life by a friend, played by Michael Harding (Captive), who doesn't recognize him in his injured state. We see glimpses of heaven throughout the film, but we see it most vividly through Don's apathy for life back in this pain-filled world. He asks the Lord to take him back. "That's my Home," he pleads.

Fred Dalton Thompson's character breaks
has some harsh words with his friend.
But an arc of hope begins when his father, played by Tom Key (artistic director of Theatrical Outfit and fellow performer of one-man plays), a three-war veteran whispers the greatest love into his son's soul. Then a mentor, who stepped out of retirement to fill Don's pulpit, played by Fred Dalton Thompson (Law and Order, 23 Blast), rebukes him for not allowing people to express God's love by serving him. Soon Piper gets a chance. Then we see light stream into his dark room (well lit by Denny Mooradian) and into his soul as he ministers to a teen in the next room going through the same painful rehabilitation.

His wife, Eva, played heroically by Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane in Superman Returns), asks Don what he thinks of the smaller single-story home she picked out to match their budget and his recovery. He's finally able to say, "I'm home."

Soon there are a stream of friends sitting watch on the Don Patrol, including Susan Long (Ashley Bratcher of Princess Cut) and Cliff McArdle (Michael W. Smith in his second feature film). "I can sing for you," he offers, and the Contemporary Christian Music icon does... in the sound track.

Eventually Don's able to tell his best friend and his wife what we've been dying to know more about as we journeyed through the hell of Don's rehab... about seeing heaven, something that felt too personal to share with anyone until his friend, played by Jason Kennedy (90201) helped him understand that sharing heaven's hope was one of the reasons the Lord brought him back to earth.

Three thousand churches have been inspired by Don's story as he's told it around the world, and now you can be inspired in a theater near you. I hope it does for you what Grandpa's story did for me as a boy.

If you're able to see it before opening weekend is over, I hope you can get out there and keep the momentum rolling from War Room's NUMBER ONE PLACE AT THE BOX OFFICE! As I said as the theater was emptying, "Next week: Captive!"



See more trailers, scenes and photos at www.90MinutesInHeavenTheMovie.com.

Christians should know:
It's rated PG-13 for intense accident and injury images

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Divine Appointments

Joyce and I were hanging out with Nathan when Josh texted to see if we could get together. I asked if Nathan Clarkson could join us. He said, "I just had dinner with someone who said I should connect with Nathan Clarkson!" So I told them both about how a friend gave Patricia Mauceri a DVD of Settled (2012), and how her son noticed my name on the DVD. Our friend told them he ran into me on the subway about an hour earlier! Josh was also in Settled. You can watch it for free: www.RichDrama.com/Settled.


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To Be a Person

I was interviewed by Miranda A. Uyeh for her online magazine To Be a Person: Interview ~ Chatting with Actor/Filmmaker, Rich Swingle! She focused mostly on my lead role in the upcoming film Providence.

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Lifestone Velocity

During the 2015 Christian Worldview Film Festival Guild one of the classes on offer included the filming of a scene in the upcoming feature Lifestone Velocity. I got to play former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Dr. Alistair Walker, and my character was interviewed by the character played by Beth Becka, who was the acting coach on War Room and also played the principal role of Julia in what is currently the number one film in America, over Labor Day Weekend, no less!

Performing with War Room's
Beth Becka.
It was a genius idea! Co-directors Daniel Knudsen and Tim Kaiser got a scene filmed which called for a classroom filled with students, and the students got a great opportunity to watch an actual film in process. Throughout the class Daniel would talk to the class about his approach to directing, Beth and I gave insights as actors, and we had a major bonus! As we were setting up for the shoot/class Jim Goodwin, who was doing sound for 19 Kids and Counting at the time, popped his head into the classroom and asked if we could use his help. After he set up his gear the value of the sound equipment on hand jumped exponentially. Jim also popped in throughout the process to explain things like how he was changing the location of lapel mics to work with the camera angles. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

Later in the year I got to coach Jonathan DeRoos for his scene in Lifestone Velocity while he was a student of ours at The Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp. Other students took up roles from his scenes, so I was able to help Jonathan prepare to be on set in Detroit where the bulk of principal photography took place. In the actual scene he played the boyfriend of a character played by a former student of mine, Vickie Smith.

Committing the scene and the whole
film to the glory of God. Left to right:
Jim Goodwin, Daniel Knudsen,
Rich Swingle, Beth Becka.
This is seventh feature film either directed and/or produced by twenty-something Daniel Knudsen. I've been able to perform in four of his previous films: Creed of Gold, Rather to Be Chosen, Indescribable, and I first met him on Christmas Grace.

Here's an interview with Daniel Knudsen, Kristina Kaylen and Vickie Smith...

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Reprising a Role


I got to reprise my role as the slave trader in Polycarp in a review of the film by Zack Lawrence. We filmed the opening sequence at The Rocky Mountain Christian Filmmakers Camp, where I taught film acting and coached the actors in their student films. This was a great bonus to the students since student films can't be listed on the Internet Movie Database, but Zack's Indy Christian Review has long been recognized by IMDb, so all of our students got a credit there. For most of them that meant getting a page there for the first time, a great start for their professional work!

Congratulations everyone! And congratulations to everyone in Polycarp since it was a very positive review.

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