On September 14th, Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham and grandson of Billy Graham, will make his acting debut in the movie "Unbroken: Path to Redemption." In the new Christian movie, Graham plays his grandfather Billy.
Faith Family America attended the Dallas premiere of "Unbroken," which tells the second half of the story of the life of Louis Zamperini. Louis Zamperini—American Olympian and war hero—has already been the subject of a movie, which came out in 2014. That film, directed and produced by Angelina Jolie, didn't cover an important part of Louis' life: his PTSD and conversion after hearing Billy Graham preach.
Released in theaters on September 14th, "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" picks up where the 2014 film left off. When Louis Zamperini returned to the United States, he was hailed as a hero, but he intensely suffered from PTSD and nightmares that kept him from sleeping. He quickly turned to alcohol to numb the memories of the torture he endured at the hands of a Japanese guard, nicknamed "The Bird."
Louis tries to fill the God-shaped hole in his life with love, success, and alcohol. All of those fall short because only God can heal our wounds. Louis has to read rock bottom before he learns that life-changing lesson, and he is able to experience and give forgiveness.
At the premiere, we sat down with Graham to talk about what it was like to play his grandfather, why Billy Graham was able to reach so many people, if he learned anything new about his grandfather while playing the part, and if being a preacher is a foregone conclusion for a Graham.
What was it like to portray your grandfather, Billy Graham, in a family, especially at such an important part of his life?
It was extremely special. While we were filming in California, I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm preaching a sermon that probably hasn't been heard since 1949, and I'm preaching it about 20 miles down the road from where he did.' It was a sermon that my grandad probably never preached again because it was entitled was, 'Why Does God Allow Communism?' When's the last time you heard a sermon like that before? That was the sermon we believe that Louie came to know Christ on, so that's what we used as the script. So when I'm preaching in the movie, I'm actually using my granddad's sermon from 1949. I get a little bit emotional preaching it, and I loved it.
What was it like acting for the first time?
I had never experienced a movie set, so I was a fish out of water when it came to that. But Matt [Matthew Baer, producer] and Harold [Harold Cronk, director] did a great job calming me down and making me feel all right. It was a great privilege and not just to play my granddad, but to be in the story of Louis Zamperini. That's the big story, and it was awesome to have a small part in completing it.
Why do you think that Billy Graham resonated with people—like Louis Zamperini—to whom no one else could get through?
That was a God thing. That had nothing to do with Billy Graham. God used my granddad. A lot of people thought that Billy Graham was always preaching to them. That was supernatural. Billy Graham had nothing in him. He was a farm boy from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was a dairy farmer of all things, you know, and he wasn't even a good dairy farmer. His brothers used to tease him, saying he got called to preach real early in life, so he didn't have to milk cows anymore because it was too hard. But God used my granddad, and he was willing to be used for God's purposes—not for his own purpose—for God's purpose, and God's used him in a special way.
Is there anything you learned about your grandpa while playing the role?
Playing him placed an emphasis on the urgency he had when preaching. He preached like Jesus is coming back tomorrow or you're going to be dead tomorrow. He wasn't saying, "Hey, this may be a good idea if you want to come on down, we'll pray."
I remember around the time of the 1949 Crusades, he was staying at a hotel in the south. He couldn't get any sleep because there was a party going on in the same hotel. He put his robe on and marched down there and knocked on the door. He knocks on this person's door, and they open the door. My granddad said, "I want to address the people in this room." And they said, "Okay." That's how bold he is, right? Total strangers.
He said, "Some of you should be ashamed of the way that you're acting tonight. Your pastors would be ashamed of you right now. Some of you are in the church, and you know you shouldn't be acting like this but you are anyways."
All of a sudden someone said, 'You're right. I'm a deacon." Another person added, "I'm a Sunday school teacher." It just kept going like confession time. He walked away and never heard another peep from them. That's an example of the boldness he had when he preached in 1949.
Do you have a new career as an actor?
Do I have my new career? No! I better be at work tomorrow. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but I don't want to be a movie star. God's calling me to something bigger and that's to tell people about Jesus Christ. Can movies do that? Yes. But God has given me a platform to preach the Gospel crusade style, in interviews, and one-on-one.
Was it a foregone conclusion that you would be a preacher?
No, my dad [Franklin Graham] did everything to discourage us from being in the "family business." I'll be the first one to tell you it's not a business—it's a ministry—and there's a difference between a ministry and a business. You can inherit a business, but you can't inherit a ministry. When it comes to ministries, they're not ours—they're Gods.
My dad never encouraged me because he wanted to make sure I wasn't doing it just because it's expected of being a Graham. He never wanted to try to push us into it because he was told at a young age, "You're going to be the next Billy Graham." He didn't want anything to do with it, and it drove him away from Christ for many years.
When it became clear God was calling me to ministry, he was very supportive of that.
"Unbroken:Path to Redemption" comes out on Friday. If you want to find out more about the movie, read our review.